by Katherine Banks, University Archivist

“No distinction as to sex in studies, examinations, or the giving of Diplomas.” Thus states the Annual of Milligan College for the 1880-1881 Session, when the Buffalo Male and Female Institute became Milligan College. Being a coeducational college – a college that educated men and women together – was unusual for the time, but it was not surprising due to the college’s original status as a primary/secondary school as well as the influence and ideals of Josephus Hopwood, the first president of Milligan. A new exhibit from The Holloway Archives examines Milligan as a coeducational institution during the Hopwood era, from 1881-1917, from the beginning of Josephus Hopwood’s first term as college president through the brief presidencies that followed to the end of Hopwood’s second term.

Coeducation in colleges in the mid- to late-1800s existed but was not common as it is today. Oberlin College, which was founded in 1833, was coeducational, offering degrees at the bachelor’s level to women beginning in 1837 (McCandless 1990, 199). Barbara Miller Solomon (1987) notes in her essay “The Oberlin Model and Its Impact on Other Colleges” that “[other] colleges in the Midwest soon followed Oberlin’s initiative” (84). Antioch College, founded in 1853, was coeducational from its opening (Rury and Harper 1986, 481). In 1865 the University of Iowa became the first public or state university to educate men and women together (McCandless 1990, 199-200). Most of these coeducational colleges were in the Midwest and “by 1850 there were a number of small denominational colleges in the Midwest that were educating women” (Rury and Harper 1986, 481). Additionally, “[in] the Midwest and West, where financial pressures tended to be greater, coeducation become the norm” (Rosenberg 1988, 111). Therefore, coeducation was an idea that was gaining merit in certain parts of the country and among certain groups.

However, the entire country was not quickly converted to the merits of coeducation. The South was not as quick to adopt coeducation for many reasons, including the historical status of colleges as being for men, the association of women’s rights with abolition, and a fear that “[women]…would corrupt and be corrupted by the masculine atmosphere of the university” (McCandless 1990, 200-201). Andrea Radke-Moss (2008) notes, “Critics of coeducation argued that women were intellectually inferior to men and had no need for the same education in the same environment as male students. Many felt that too much education weakened women physically and mentally. Further, skeptics suggested that women distracted impressionable young men and that mixed-gender environments inevitably led to moral depravity, because young men ended up too confused to keep their minds on their studies” (21). This was the environment in which Milligan came into existence – one where colleges were slowly allowing women to study alongside men, but where resistance to the idea was strong.

A large part of Milligan’s status as coeducational was due to the influence of its first president, Josephus Hopwood. Josephus and Sarah LaRue Hopwood came to the Buffalo Male and Female Institute in 1875 to educate both male and female students from elementary to college age (Cornwell 1989, 15, 17). Josephus Hopwood had a history with coeducation already, having attended Abingdon College (now Eureka College), where he had been part of an effort to combine men’s and women’s literary societies into one (Hopwood 1932, 36). Abingdon College was a coeducational institution whose first graduates had been women (Eureka College Alumni 1894, 223). Hopwood also hailed from a Methodist and a Stone-Campbell Movement background (Cornwell 1989, 12). Women’s education was important to Methodists and they “promoted women’s education through support of coeducation” (Moudry 2013, 37). Alexander Campbell of the Stone-Campbell Movement supported women’s education (Morrison 2004, 293). Additionally, D. Duane Cummings (2004) notes in The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, “Stone-Campbell schools were pioneers in extending education to females and in developing coeducational institutions….Virtually every institution founded by the Stone-Campbell Movement was either coeducational or female” (391). Finally, Hopwood’s (1932) autobiography reveals that he lived in the Midwest in Illinois (34-35), where, as noted earlier, coeducation was more normal. Thus, Hopwood came from an environment with a favorable view of coeducation.

Of course, Milligan College also developed out of the Buffalo Male and Female Institute, which, as the name states, was already coeducational. The Institute had its beginnings as a school provided for local children and run by the local church, the Buffalo Creek Church, that then developed into the Institute serving up through college-aged students (Cornwell 1989, 3-9). Thomas Woody (1929), recounting the history of women’s education, notes, “As coeducation may be said to have grown up into the high school from the general practice in the elementary schools (this was asserted to be the case by numerous superintendents in Western towns and cities), so in colleges the influence of the earlier seminary or academy may sometimes be seen, and is probably greater than can be proved by direct evidence” (230). In addition, Goldin and Katz (2011) state, “Coeducational colleges and universities proliferated in regions that led in the high school movement. In fact, the main reason there could have been a shift to college coeducation in the United States is that (coeducational) secondary education spread across much of the nation in the mid to late nineteenth century” (384). This holds true for the Buffalo Institute/Milligan College story, as Milligan did develop as a coeducational college directly out of a coeducational institute without collegiate status. Another reason that could have bearing on why the Buffalo Institute was coeducational was that “coeducation came into being rather unobtrusively as the more economical, and often the only possible means of providing a more advanced education for the majority of American youth” (Kolesnik 1969, 90). A rural Appalachian church wanting to educate students probably did not have the monetary means to educate them separately. Thus even for practical reasons, it is possible that the Buffalo Institute and its earlier predecessor contributed to this trend. Finally, because it was already coeducational, it would not have been hard to become a coeducational college, as “[institutions] that were coeducational from their founding…generally succeeded more readily in integrating women and men than did institutions that simply added women to an already established male student body” (Rosenberg 1988, 112).

Therefore, thanks to Josephus Hopwood’s background with coeducation and the history of Milligan itself, it was not that strange that Milligan was coeducational. Hopwood still had to convince parents that coeducation was a good thing, however, as evidenced in catalogs and papers defending coeducation. An often-made argument that was not unique to Hopwood was the argument that coeducation was the natural mode of education (Woody 1929, 264). The first annual of Milligan College, for the 1880-1881 session, states simply, “The idea that boys and girls should be educated separately, is not true to human nature” (15). The same 1880-1881 annual further argues, “Co-education tends to lead young men to good morals and gentle manners. It helps to govern and develop them. It gives strength and easier address to young ladies. It enables them to contrast, observe and learn the ways of life. With wise oversight it brings less occasion for clandestine notes, letters, runaways, and such evils as are connected with entire prohibition, but encourages manly frankness, truth and honor. Its difficulties are acknowledged, but it is believed by the wisest and most progressive men who have tried it that the beauties and excellencies of the system are more and its defects are fewer than any other plan of education. It is the plan of the home, ot [sic] the Sunday School, of the church, of life, and of many colleges and great universities, which twenty years ago practiced the contrary” (15). Amy Thompson McCandless (1990), in discussing coeducation in the South, points out, “By the beginning of the twentieth century, the majority of public universities and denominational colleges in the United States saw single-sex education as prohibitively expensive and philosophically objectionable” (215). Milligan would have certainly been in this group at least as far as second point in concerned. The arguments found in this early annual would also fit Walter B. Kolesnik’s (1969) description quite well too: “The principal argument in favor of coeducation at the college level, as had been the case with regard to the lower schools, was economic. Also frequently advanced were arguments centering around democracy or ‘true equality’ between the sexes; that coeducation as in accordance with nature; that it had a refining influence on both young men and young women; and that it permitted young people to get to know one another better” (95). Josephus Hopwood and Milligan were right in line with other coeducational schools in making the argument that coeducation was the natural mode of education that provided for a more moral atmosphere.

Men and women could study and learn side by side at Milligan and its predecessors in theory, but how did that translate to real life? For the most part, the axiom that there was “no distinction” was upheld in most areas. But there was certainly some segregation by gender at the college during the first thirty-five years of the college. Several photos from The Holloway Archives at Milligan University show classes that include both men and women, including a German class, a math class, a shorthand class, and a general photo of students. The catalog for the 1912-1913 year lists several women (as well as men) in the ministerial course (25). Some clubs were also mixed gender. A photo of the Glee Club from 1895-1896 from the Holloway Archives demonstrates this fact. Milligan faculty was also mixed, although typically there were more male teachers than female. However, catalogs consistently list Sarah LaRue Hopwood among the faculty, from teaching in the primary and preparatory departments to teaching English Literature. The catalogs also indicate that Olive Hanen Garrett, first lady from 1903-1908, taught music while first lady and that Pearl Archer Kershner, first lady from 1909-1911 (and a graduate of the University of Michigan), taught languages 1904-1906 and 1908-1911. Elma E.R. Ellis, a graduate of the University of Tennessee, taught at Milligan for several years, beginning in 1900, according to catalogs. A survey of the catalogs reveals that most women listed in the faculty taught the younger students in the primary and preparatory departments or taught music and foreign language.

Despite opportunities for genders to mix in some classes and clubs, there was certainly still gender segregation heavily enforced at Milligan. As John Rury and Glenn Harper (1986) point out, “The fact of coeducation, however, did not always mean that men and women were educated on an equal standing.” For example, in the early days of Milligan College, the business institute at the College offered a special women’s business course, as opposed to the regular business course offerings, as revealed in catalogs. In 1913, before the Hopwoods came back to Milligan after being gone for several years, Milligan began offering Home Economics (circa 1913) for the first time as a new type of course. While the catalog does not say that the course is only for women, it refers to the history of women teaching their daughters how to cook, sew, and so on and how this has developed into the present course. All literary societies, clubs focused on literature and music, at Milligan during this time period were for one gender only. This did not mean that they did not mix in other ways, such as by giving performances, however. The Annual of 1880-1881 states, “Some of the most entertaining programmes we have ever had at the institution has been by the young ladies of the Tibiserian ranks,” the Tibiserian Society being one of these societies for women (19).

Additionally, women at Milligan were subjected to stricter rules than men were. The 1901-1902 Annual gives rules for a uniform for women to wear. None is mentioned for the men outside of the general statement about “economy in dress” (24). The June-July 1907 Milligan College Bi-Monthly states, “To avoid extravagance and unpleasant rivalry in dress, pupils boarding at the Young Ladies’ Home will be furnished uniform caps and gowns at a reasonable cost….” (34). According to the annuals, women could live in the Young Ladies’ Home, but for many years were not permitted to live anywhere else without special permission while attending Milligan. Teachers living in the Young Ladies’ Home held a weekly meeting for noting any unladylike behavior they noticed among the students. Meanwhile, over the years, men had the option of boarding with local families, living in a student-run club, or living in a dormitory. Therefore, coeducation did not always mean equal opportunities and rules by today’s standards.

In reality, coeducation at Milligan meant equality between genders in some areas – but not all areas. Still, Milligan’s accomplishment as a coeducational college was significant, thanks to everyone from the original church that started a school on the banks of Buffalo Creek to Josephus Hopwood leading the Buffalo Male and Female Institute to becoming a full-fledged college.


Annuals of Milligan College, 1880-1894, 1896-1908,1909-1914, 1914-1923.

Cornwell, Cynthia Ann. Beside the Waters of the Buffalo: A History of Milligan College to 1941. Milligan College, TN: Milligan College History Project, 1989.

Cummings, D. Duane. “Higher Education, Views of in the Movement.” In The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, edited by Douglas A. Foster, Paul M. Blowers, Anthony L. Dunnavant, and D. Newell Williams. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2004.

Eureka College Alumni. A History of Eureka College with Biographical Sketches and Reminiscences. St. Louis, MO: Christian Publishing Company, 1894.

Goldin, Claudia, and Lawrence F. Katz. “Putting the ‘Co’ in Education: Timing, Reasons, and Consequences of College Coeducation from 1835 to the Present.” Journal of Human Capital 5, no. 5 (Winter 2011): 377-417.

Holloway, Clinton J., and Fierbaugh, Dr. A Lee. Scholarship, Community, Faith: Milligan Celebrates 150 Years. Milligan College, TN: Milligan College, 2015.

Hopwood, Josephus. A Journey Through the Years: An Autobiography. St. Louis, MO: The Bethany Press, 1932.

Kolesnik, Walter B. “The Rise of Coeducation in the United States.” In Coeducation: Sex Differences and the Schools, 68-96. New York: Vantage Press, 1969.

McCandless, Amy Thompson. “Maintaining the Spirit and Tone of Robust Manliness: The Battle against Coeducation at Southern Colleges and Universities, 1980-1940.” NWSA Journal 2, no. 2 (Spring, 1990): 199-216.

Morrison, John L. “Education, Philosophy of.” In The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, edited by Douglas A. Foster, Paul M. Blowers, Anthony L. Dunnavant, and D. Newell Williams. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2004.

Moudry, Susan Lyn. “‘A Society of Our Own’: Methodists, Coeducation, and the founding of P.E.O.” Methodist History 52, no. 1 (October 2013): 33-42.

Radke-Moss, Andrea G. Bright Epoch: Women and Coeducation in the American West. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2008.

Rosenberg, Rosalind. “The Limits of Access: The History of Coeducation in America.” In Women and Higher Education in American History: Essays from the Mount Holyoke College Sesquicentennial Symposia, edited by John Mack Faragher and Florence Howe, 107-129. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1988.

Rury, John and Glenn Harper. “The Trouble with Coeducation: Mann and Women at Antioch, 1853-1860.” History of Education Quarterly 26, no. 4 (Winter 1986): 481-502.

Solomon, Barbara Miller. “The Oberlin Model and Its Impact on Other Colleges.” In Educating Men and Women Together: Coeducation in a Changing World, edited by Carol Lasser, 81-90. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987.

Woody, Thomas. “Coeducation.” Chap. 5 in A History of Women’s Education in the United States. Vol. II. New York: The Science Press, 1929.

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