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Woman's College of Northwestern University



The Northwestern University Woman's College had its origins in two earlier institutions, the North Western Female College and the Evanston College for Ladies. The North Western Female College was founded in 1855 by the Reverend William P. Jones, its President from 1855 through 1862 and again from 1868 through 1871. It occupied a building on Chicago Avenue at Lake Street, and operated until 1871, when its charter was transferred to the Evanston College for Ladies. In 1869, some students of the Female College began to attend classes at Northwestern, following the University's decision to admit women students at the insistence of its newly elected President, Erastus O. Haven.

The Evanston College for Ladies was an outgrowth of the Ladies' Educational Association of Evanston, formed on September 25, 1868, with a vaguely defined objective of drawing on the resources of the University to improve educational opportunities for women. Shortly after the formation of the Association, it broached with President Jones of the Female College the possibility of bringing that institution into an official relationship with Northwestern. Jones, however, was not inclined to do so until the Association's plans asusmed more definite shape.

Early in 1869, the Ladies' Educational Association procured a charter from the Illinois Legislature for the Evanston College for Ladies, and began negotiations to absorb the North Western Female College and to affiliate officially with the University. This arrangement was acceptable to President Jones, and the University Trustees agreed to it in June of 1870. In June, 1871, the North Western Female College held its last commencement and transferred its charter to the Evanston College for Ladies.

The advent of the new college was marked by a mammoth fund-raising celebration known as the "Woman's Fourth of July" (July 4, 1871), which included the laying of the cornerstone of the College's new building on Clark Street, later known as Willard Hall, and still later as the Music Administration Building. Work on the building was suspended after subscriptions to the building fund dried up in the wake of the Chicago Fire on October 9, 1871; it was resumed in the spring of 1872 and the building was completed in the spring of 1873.

The Evanston College for Ladies held its first classes in the fall of 1871, in the former Female College building on Chicago Avenue. Its President was Frances Willard, a graduate of the Female College. During its first year of operation, the Evanston College for Ladies enrolled 236 students, ninety-nine of whom were also taking course work in the University or its Preparatory School.

Apparently, however, President Willard found her administrative tasks complicated by the existence of separate boards of trustees for the University and the College. Her problems seem to have worsened following the departure of President Haven in 1872. In June of 1873, with the cooperation of Northwestern's new President, Charles H. Fowler, President Willard presented to the annual meeting of the University Trustees a plan to incorporate the Evanston College for Ladies as a unit of the University. This arrangement was finalized in the fall of 1873, and officially confirmed by the Trustees in a March 9, 1874 agreement which created the Northwestern University Woman's College and gave its presiding officer the title of Dean. The agreement also provided that the University's Board of Trustees should always include at least five women; that there should always be at least one woman professor on the University faculty (generally, in practice, the Dean of the Woman's College); and that all women students at the University should reside at the Woman's College.

During the first years of its existence, the Woman's College continued to have its own faculty and offer its own classes in such "feminine" subjects as hygiene, painting, and penmanship. In the fall of 1873, there were 345 students in the College, of whom about half were also taking work in the University's College of Liberal Arts or the Preparatory School. Gradually, however, the Woman's College became, in effect, a supervised women's dormitory. The College's third Dean, Jane M. Bancroft, wrote in 1881 that the College, though it was "the direct outcome of a separate and distinct institution for the instruction of women," had by then become "the home for the girls and young women who are attending the Preparatory School and the College of Liberal Arts." In 1886, the University Catalogue stated explicitly for the first time that "the Woman's College is not a separate department of the University, but is simply designed to be a pleasant, refined home for the young ladies, while they are pursuing their studies in the various departments of the University." This reality was reflected in the change of the College's name to "Woman's Hall" in the summer of 1892. The name was changed again to "Willard Hall" in 1901.

Found in 2 Collections and/or Records:

Northwestern University Woman's College Register

 Collection — Box 1
Identifier: 40/3

The Register of the Woman's College is a chronological listing of students in the College ("Woman's Hall” beginning in the fall of 1892). It contains sections for the Spring and Fall terms of 1874 and for each of the three academic terms (Fall, Winter, and Spring) from Fall 1876 through Spring 1896.

Dates: 1874, 1876-1896

Records of The Woman's College of Northwestern University

Identifier: 40/1

The Records of the Woman's College of Northwestern University span from 1872 to 1893, with the bulk of the series dating from 1874 to 1886. Correspondence files (1874-1886) comprise mainly incoming correspondence relating to College students, events, and facilities. The collection includes a scrapbook, reports, minutes, bulletins and circulars.

Dates: 1872-1893