Section: Features

From the Archives: Kenyon’s thorny history with coeducation

Women have always been present on the Hill, and this Women’s History Month, a look into the Collegian archives reveals the College’s complicated relationship with feminism, coeducation and inclusion. Despite the fact that the College only began allowing female students to study at Kenyon in 1969, women have been making profound contributions to the campus community since its inception in 1824, and their legacy is felt in all aspects of Kenyon life today. 

After Kenyon was founded in 1824, most of the women affiliated with the College were donors, librarians and secretaries. In 1887, the Harcourt Place Seminary for Young Ladies and Girls opened where the First-Year Quad stands today with the intention of providing young women from surrounding communities with an opportunity to pursue an education. The seminary had a limited relationship with the College, with very little fraternizing between the two communities. A recent Collegian article noted that male Kenyon students “made little effort to make the female students at Harcourt feel welcome, and Harcourt itself, as an institution, had many rules in place to ensure separation.” Harcourt closed its doors in 1936 as a result of the Great Depression, but the presence of women on the Hill was far from over.

The campus community raised the question of coeducation as early as 1892, when the editors asked in the January-February issue of the Collegian, “Is it not high time that Kenyon offered the same advantages to women which for more than 60 years she has been offering to men?” Despite this forward-thinking editorial, it would still take decades before the prospect of welcoming women to Kenyon became a serious consideration. In fact, a June 1946 issue of the Collegian mocked the notion of coeducation, featuring the satirical headline “Announce Kenyon to go Co-Ed Next Fall.” The article took on a tongue-in-cheek tone, saying that the women would be housed in Leonard Hall to the delight of existing Leonard residents: “The Leonard men seem willing and anxious to make this change — and who wouldn’t, in exchange for 200 girls on campus.” 

While all this was happening, women were still relegated to domestic and clerical roles within the College; in a March 1962 issue of the Collegian, it was announced that maid services would no longer be available to Kenyon men. 

As the College trudged into the second half of the 20th century, it began to experience serious financial difficulties. Former President Edward F. Lund and the Board of Trustees were faced with two options to save the College in June of 1964 — recruit more men (a significant challenge, according to the Office of Admissions) or admit women. In February of 1965, the Board approved the creation of the Coordinate College for Women, which would bring 175 new students to campus in the fall of 1969. A 2013 Alumni Bulletin expressed the many mixed opinions of Kenyon men toward the grand change on the horizon: “As news of the plan leaked out, alumni and students reacted, often vehemently.” Indeed, the sexist attitudes of Kenyon men at the time went on full display, with the Bulletin quoting Walter Butler III ’68 P’01, “We like women — when we want them. But not cluttering up the Hill all the time!”

Kenyon officially announced its Program for Expansion in 1967, and in December of 1968, Doris Crozier was selected as the Dean of the Coordinate College for Women. Crozier’s arrival in Gambier was complemented by the hire of Harlene Marley, assistant professor of drama and the second woman to be hired to a tenure-track position at Kenyon. On September 8, 1969, women officially joined the campus community.

The years following the introduction of coeducation were filled with struggles and even more firsts; the first class of female Kenyon students included the first Black women to study at Kenyon: Barbara Johnson ’73, Doretha Leftwood ’73 and Glory Shuler ’73. Mieko Muto, who attended the College between 1969 and 1970 as the first female international student, was the circulation editor of the Collegian. Sept. 18, 1969, marked the first instance of a female student, Linda Sears ’73, having a byline in the Collegian. But despite the many achievements of the newly-minted female Kenyon students, they were still barred from many College traditions — at Founder’s Day in 1969, the Oath of Matriculation was only administered to male first years. 

As more and more women became involved in campus life, performing in theatrical productions, working for the Collegian and pioneering the formation of women’s sports teams, Kenyon awarded degrees to its first female graduates: Belinda Bremner ’71, Judith Hobbs Goodhand ’71 and Patricia Sellew ’71. Shortly thereafter in February 1972, the Board of Trustees officially voted to make Kenyon a completely coeducational institution, closing the Coordinate College and welcoming women to the Hill for good. 

Women continued to face significant adversity at the College in the years following its full integration, including a lack of gender-informed medical care and ongoing sexism from male community members. Despite this, women occupied an increasing number of positions in College life and became indispensable to the institution as a whole. Alumnae gained national attention for their achievements in fields ranging from academia to business and everything in between. In 2001, Kenyon enrolled more female than male students, a trend that has continued to the present day — currently, women make up 56% of the student body.

Kenyon has had a tumultuous relationship with women’s history, but its female students both past and present have made tremendous strides toward fostering the College community we know and love. The fight against sexism and gender bias in higher education is far from over, and this Women’s History Month, Kenyon students can reflect on the remarkable past of women at Kenyon while continuing the fight towards equity and inclusion on the Hill.


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