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Evanston College for Ladies



In 1869 the Women's Educational Aid Association, formed of Mary F. Haskins and several other “prominent and public-spirited” Evanston women, founded the Evanston College for Ladies in order to provide female students with a respectable boarding house and supplemental or preparatory studies as they began or contemplated coursework at Northwestern University, which had adopted coeducation in 1869 at the insistence of president E. O. Haven. The College opened in 1871 and eventually became the Woman's College of Northwestern University.

The Evanston College for Ladies took pride in an all-female administration and board of trustees that included Frances E. Willard as College President, Elizabeth M. Greenleaf as President of the Board, Mary F. Haven as Treasurer, and Anna S. Marcy as Recording Secretary. Reportedly the College's first graduating class of six students (1872) was “the first which ever received diplomas from the hands of women,” as well as the first to hear a woman deliver the baccalaureate sermon.

Absorbing the Northwestern Female College, the Evanston College for Ladies opened in fall of 1871 to 236 students (including Sarah Rebecca Roland, later Northwestern University's first female graduate) in facilities rented from William P. Jones, former president of the Female College. Construction immediately began on a new building (the present-day Willard Hall), located on property donated to Northwestern University in 1869 by the town of Evanston and funded through $30,000 in subscriptions gathered at the popular “Ladies' Fourth of July” event (1871). However, the Chicago fire of 1871 rendered many financial donors unable to honor their pledges, leading the College for Ladies to make a desperate appeal for funding in 1872. Stephen P. Lunt responded by donating proceeds from the sale of 50 acres of Rogers Park property. Still unfinished, the new College building opened in spring of 1873.

While the Evanston College for Ladies provided mainly room, board, and supervision to female college students enrolled in Northwestern University's classical or scientific courses of study, it also offered supplemental instruction in fine arts, deportment, housewifery, and modern languages. Students also could opt for the College's “Historical and Aesthetic Course of Study,” a combination of Northwestern and College coursework , emphasizing history and modern languages, that concluded in a Baccalaureate of Arts degree from the Evanston College for Ladies. In addition, the College operated a college preparatory department open to both girls and boys and a training department for kindergarten teachers. Students' conduct was regulated through an innovative honor system that allowed select “self-governed” students unusual freedom to “do as they please—so long as they please to do right.” Although social rules were less rigid than those of the former Northwestern Female College, the College for Ladies still instructed students in etiquette; required church and Sunday school attendance (at individual students' denomination of choice); and aimed to provide the “safeguards of a Christian home” to vulnerable females.

Under pressure from Northwestern University's new president, Dr. Fowler, as well as from financial embarrassments, in June 1873 the Evanston College for Ladies ceded its property and management to Northwestern University in exchange for the University's assumption of College debts and the promised inclusion of at least five women in the University's Board of Trustees. The Evanston College for Ladies became the Woman's College of Northwestern University, with Willard serving as Dean of Women.

Found in 4 Collections and/or Records:

Records of the Board of Trustees Executive Committee

Identifier: 1/1/2
Abstract The Executive Committee of Northwestern University's Board of Trustees is composed of from eleven to seventeen Trustees, including the Chairman of the Board. The Executive Committee meets regularly, and is empowered to act for the full Board in all matters concerning the university except the appointment of a Chancellor, President, Vice President, Provost, or Professor; the establishment of chairs; and the enactment of by laws governing the university. The Records of the Executive Committee...
Dates: 1853-1898

Records of the Evanston College For Ladies

Identifier: 39/1

The records of the Evanston College for Ladies document the College's operation from 1869 to 1933. These materials consist of one box of historical materials, circulars, newspaper and catalog extracts, minutes, contracts, leases, financial statements, correspondence and catalogs.

Dates: 1869-1933

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

Women's Educational Aid Association

Identifier: 55/38
Abstract The Women’s Educational Aid Association (WEAA; organized in 1871 as the Educational Association) was founded by Evanston women to help promote the higher education of deserving students at the Evanston College for Ladies. The Women’s Educational Aid Association records document the activities and operation of the organization. The series fills twelve boxes, including one card file box and three drop front boxes, and spans the period 1871-2000. Records are arranged into nine categories:...
Dates: 1871-2000