“Co-ed From the Start: Women Students at Syracuse University in the 19th Century”

Mary Lydia Huntley

In May 2005, the University Archives mounted an exhibition on women students of the 19th century. The exhibition ran in the Goldstein Alumni and Faculty Center until September 2005.

At the 1870 inauguration of Syracuse University Dr. Jesse Peck charged the faculty to remember that the University was to be impartial and general. "The conditions of admission shall be equal to all persons... there shall be no invidious discrimination here against woman.... brains and heart shall have a fair chance... "

These were astonishing words at a time in history when education for women was usually a secondary consideration, but no more astonishing than the remarkable women students who accepted the challenges that a higher education offered. It is interesting to note that many of these 19th century scholars (such as Mary Huntley, Belva Lockwood and Mary O'Bryon Sibley) earned not only undergraduate degrees but went on to attain masters and doctorates. This determination to excel is evidenced in student Sarah Loguen's vow upon entering SU's Medical College: "I will never, never see a human being in need of aid again and not be able to help."

19th century women's enrollment in the College of Liberal Arts was even with men. The College of Fine Arts was predominantly female with a small ratio of women students in the College of Medicine and the College of Law. Classes were gender mixed as were many class societies, clubs, and activities. There were also "women only" venues, such as the Ladies' Glee Club, the Y.W.C.A. and various sororities.

Athletics or "physical training" was required for every undergraduate student in the belief "robust health is necessary to attain high scholarship in college and to perform successfully the duties of later life." Women students embraced the benefits of health and stamina and it should be noted that at Syracuse University intercollegiate basketball was first played by the women's team in the 1890's.

Greek life combined sisterhood with the academic and philanthropic ideals of the 19th century woman student. Residence in either a chapter house or group of rooms set aside for a sorority was an acceptable alternative to the "ladies' only" boarding houses or recommended private family residences suggested by the University.

The first 30 years of Syracuse University's existence admirably demonstrate that the "brains and heart" of her women students were an integral part of the University's ultimate and continuing success.

~ Exhibition curated by Mary M. T. O'Brien