Exhibit - Early Women of M.A.C.: A look at the first three decades of classes, activities, and landmark moments for women on campus.
Higher education for females would not have been possible if not for the hard work and perseverance of a number of dedicated Michigan women. Mary Mayo, one of the first female members of the State Grange, was ahead of her time when she called for a women’s curriculum at Michigan Agricultural College. She believed, along with much of the faculty at the college, that higher education was just as necessary for women as it was for men in order to solve “many of the social and poor problems” which she saw in late 1800s society. Her efforts led to the creation of a women’s program in 1896, the first of its kind in Michigan. Nevertheless, before Mayo’s initiative, women still held respected places among the faculty at the college. After first teaching English at M.A.C. for a time, Linda Landon changed positions in 1891 and became one of the most popular librarians the college has seen. Reputedly, she knew every student who visited her shelves. She was also instrumental in the development of the college’s library-collection numbers more than doubled, and a new library was built during her term.
Female professors made every effort to continue and advance the women’s program after it was established. The changes Maude Gilchrist, Dean of Women after 1901, implemented for the curriculum directly led to the rise in female students we see during this period. Attendance increased 125 percent during Gilchrist’s term, due in no small part to her development of the available courses for the female students. Following in Gilchrist’s shoes was Louise Campbell, who is remembered today for her own contributions to the existing women’s studies program after her induction as dean in 1923. She reorganized the curriculum as well as the faculty, promoted education for farm women, and created a graduate school in Home Economics for women.
The acceptance of women to M.A.C. meant, however, that measures had to be taken to accommodate their numbers at the college. When the women’s curriculum was opened in 1896, co-eds, as they were called, were placed in the newly refurbished Abbott Hall. An addition was built on the hall to include a cooking lab, a sewing room, and a dining hall, along with forty rooms prepared for the incoming women.
The female population quickly outgrew Abbott. The Women’s Building, now known as Morrill Hall, was built in 1900 as a top-notch facility for the co-eds. The building housed a gym, domestic art rooms, a kitchen lab, a woodworking shop, and rooms for socializing, in addition to housing for 60 women. Even the artwork and dining hall were meant to be used as learning tools. M.A.C. was known for the studious and proper conduct of its students, and the WB was a prime example—parties were only held a few times per month in the building, chaperones always attended the ladies, and curfews and quiet hours were strictly enforced.
By 1913, the co-eds overflowed the Women’s Building. The establishment of sorority housing helped, but professors in the department recognized the need for additional space. In 1924 they were granted this wish with the construction of the Home Economics Building. The new building was “conceded to be one of the finest in the United States,” filled with the newest equipment for all areas of women’s education. The new location also made it possible to remove the classrooms and labs from the Women’s Building, freeing space for new students and creating a building purely for dorm life.
Maude Gilchrist herself was a strong advocate for having a Women’s Building that was separate from their classrooms, which could very well have been due to the fact that the required coursework for M.A.C. females was quite demanding. Home Economics, the main course of study, was approached the same way M.A.C. taught agriculture, engineering, or any other course—as a science. Women had classes in bacteriology, chemistry, physics, medicine, and dietetics, and the scientific approach was also used in the Home Economics curriculum. The co-eds needed an understanding of cookery, for nutrition of children and the sick, and knowledge of sewing, for understanding the functions and durability of fabrics. They also learned woodwork and the handling of tools, as well as household science, for laying out and furnishing a building, and for knowing the physics of heating, lighting, and plumbing, and understanding household bacteriology. On top of all this there were required courses in language, literature, music or drawing, math, history, and calisthenics.
Early M.A.C. women were busy, to say the least, yet It did not take long for the new co-eds to establish themselves at the college. Multiple clubs, societies, and social activities were created within the first decade of the women’s curriculum being in place. They performed annual spring plays called pageants, they formed their own sports teams and guilds, and they organized banquets and dances. The newspapers from this era especially give the impression of how busy these women were, naming the meetings of society after society and the on-goings of the co-eds throughout campus.
M.A.C. was a leader in the state for acceptance of women for higher education, and the co-eds of the school made certain to take advantage of their situation and firmly entrench themselves among the student population. They were active in all areas of college life, and, according to newspapers of the period, greatly respected by both the faculty and their fellow students.
Exhibit created by Emily Field, June 2012
University Archives and Historical Records