Co-Education at Hopkins

A guide that examines the history of co-education on the Homewood Campus under the Freshman Fellows 2022-2023 program. Curated by Amy Li (A&S '26) under the mentorship of Katie Carey.

When Hopkins was founded in 1876, coeducation was already a reality at other American colleges, pioneered by several Eastern colleges (Oberlin, Swarthmore, Cornell, and Boston University). President Daniel Coit Gilman carefully sought the advice of other university presidents. From the guidance of Presidents Charles William Eliot of Harvard and James Burrill Angell of Michigan, President Gilman reasoned how coeducation would lead to undesirable outcomes as women would confront “rougher influences” in university. Although he decided to not admit women as full-time Hopkins students in the beginning, Gilman still encouraged the establishment of a women’s college—Girton College for Women—that was never materialized. Nevertheless, this lack of coeducation did not deter women from seeking an education at Hopkins. While Thomas and Nunn tried to join a degree program, other pioneering women include Christine Ladd-Franklin (the first woman in the Hopkins Faculty of Philosophy), Florence Bascom (the first woman awarded a Hopkins Ph.D.), and Florence Bamberger (the first woman to be appointed a full Hopkins professor).  

             

First pages of remarks from Presidents Eliot of Harvard (left) and Angell of Michigan (right), 1874. 

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While many women sought education at Hopkins, it was not until the late 1970s when Hopkins started to reconsider their decision. This shift was primarily due to the influence of other undergraduate institutions, notably the Ivy League, becoming coeducational. Understanding the importance of diversity in the scholastic sphere, the administration also recognized how “the real world is bisexual… women perform equally well if not better than men of comparable capability” and acknowledged how women would provide “a more varied outlook on scholarly problems.” The Academic Council at Hopkins even recommended that coeducation was to be implemented “as rapidly as feasible.” 

In 1969, President Lincoln Gordon formed the Task Force Committee on Coeducation, consisting of two members of the faculty, two undergraduate students, and one representative each from the Office of the Dean and the Office of the Vice President for Administration. According to a report from the Committee on Coeducation, Hopkins’ movement towards coeducation was to enhance the intellectual atmosphere and motivation by diversifying the natural science-leaning community and seeking a more liberal education (reminder that this was 1969). The committee cited a Princeton analysis on how women are more likely to expand the student field of study to include more humanities. Especially when most of the applicants who responded and denied admission to matriculate to the coeducational Ivy League (except Dartmouth), they believed that their response to changing the social conditions would allow Hopkins to continue to be comparable to its Ivy League competition. Despite these goals, the committee faced debates regarding number of women admitted, housing arrangements, athletic program adjustments, budgeting, advising, counseling, and health services, and overall legacy for Hopkins to become coeducational.  

Notes from the Task Force Committee on Coeducation, 1969. 

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By Spring 1970, there were a few Baltimore students who entered the university early, and by Fall 1970, ninety women (twenty-one freshman and sixty-nine transfer students) matriculated to Hopkins as full-time undergraduate students. While the students faced issues regarding housing and treatment by male students, they spearheaded significant change at the university by collaborating to enhance their quality of life. Gradually, the undergraduate women enrollment and overall female representation on campus increased, ultimately allowing Hopkins to embrace its fully coeducational community.