Chapter 3: Women at Bates College
In addition to taking pride in its early position on minority students, Bates College celebrates its place as the first New England college to admit women, and one of the first co-educational colleges in the United States. Although women were present at Bates since its inception, it cannot be assumed that women and men interacted as equals and were viewed as such by the College community. In this chapter I explore the degree to which white women were accepted into the Bates community and describe how students, faculty and other institutions viewed this integration from 1855 to 1877. The conclusion, which I draw from an examination of evidence from the Bates Student, College Catalogues and first hand accounts, is that, regardless of certain exceptions, Bates was relatively egalitarian in its acceptance of women into the community.
In order to understand gender issues at Bates, it is helpful to consider the context of nineteenth century gender dynamics, especially in regard to higher education. Middle class gender in nineteenth century Americawas largely seen as being comprised of a woman’s sphere and a man’s sphere. According to historian Nancy Woloch, woman’s sphere “stressed the significance of domestic roles and maternal influence,” while its male counterpart was “the opportunity to rise in the world.” Nineteenth century society assessed the worthiness of activities for men and women based largely upon this assumption of spheres. Interestingly, higher education was not necessarily seen as “a male bastion,” because, while “college education may have been a frontier for women…for men it was a retreat from the ‘real’ world of business.” While the college world was therefore not as intensely male as the army or other professions, it was sufficiently male dominated to discourage the participation of women. It was into this male “backwater” that American women first treaded in the 1830s at Oberlin College. Oberlin historian John Barnard wrote that “Oberlin…acquired some unusual features such as coeducation, a policy of admitting Negroes, an intense and constant support for abolitionism and other moral and social-reform causes, [and] adherence to a mild form of Christian perfectionism.” These practices were largely repeated at other progressive, predominantly evangelical colleges throughout the northern United States. Bates College was founded in 1855 and followed the path of western colleges such as Oberlin (Ohio) and Hillsdale (Michigan) in regard to co-education.
Many early Bates students became Free Will Baptist ministers and the Free Baptist church’s decision allowing women to enter the ministry may have impacted the decision to make Bates a co-educational school. The Lewiston Evening Journal reported in 1867 that “[s]tatistics were read from about 40 colleges, which shows that Bates College has the largest percentage of its students preparing for the ministry.” Bates College and Hillsdale Collegewere both founded by the Free Will Baptist denomination and educated many Free Baptist clergy members. According to Emeline Cheney, there were in the early nineteenth century, “a number of women preachers and evangelists in the denomination [Free Will Baptist].” This likely influenced both Hillsdale and Bates in their decisions to accept women as students. As Bates College was largely educating Baptist ministers in its early days, it is not surprising that women were accepted as students. They had already been accepted into the Free Baptist ministry earlier in the nineteenth century.
According to historian Glenda Riley, another factor that may have influenced colleges in admitting women was that at many of the first co-educational colleges:
Women teachers were willing to work for low wages and to accept seasonal employment. As men deserted the teaching profession for better paying jobs in industry or to take up western homesteads, women gladly filled the void. This in turn put pressure upon existing colleges to admit women as students.
It is also easy to see how predominantly male colleges could make the transition to accepting female students if females were already teaching at those institutions (as was the case at the Maine State Seminary). The hypocrisy of rejecting female applicants and accepting female teachers would have been blatantly obvious to those associated with the colleges.
In choosing to admit women, Bates ran against the conventions of the time. Significant social barriers existed to admitting women to colleges for the first time. As feminist historian Anne Scott points out:
In the beginning there were so few girls prepared for college that these institutions had to organize preparatory departments. Nor did women’s colleges win wide public approval. It was seriously suggested that education was physically detrimental to women, that they would get brain fever, and that –anyway—their minds would not be able to cope with hard subjects. Other critics claimed that college women did not marry and therefore the education of women would lead to race suicide.
With critics using “scientific,” health and racial arguments to invoke fear in order to support their cause, it is not surprising that many colleges refused to admit women until well into the twentieth century. Prestigious private colleges and universities such as Princeton and Bowdoin refused admission to women until 1969 and 1971, respectively. Perhaps because of this public pressure against co-education, relatively few women in the general population attended college. According to Nancy Woloch “in 1870, when 1 percent of college-age Americans attended college, 21 percent were women” and most women attended all female schools or public land-grant colleges which “welcomed women because doing so cost less than creating separate institutions for them.” Clearly, higher education in the nineteenth century was an elite enterprise for men and even more so for women, and private co-educational colleges such as Bates, Hillsdale and Oberlin were especially rare at the time.
When Bates College was chartered in 1855 as the Maine State Seminary, it did not, however, seem to be outwardly breaking gender barriers. Oren Cheney founded the Maine State Seminary in 1855 to replace the Parsonfield Seminary that burned down in 1854. Parsonfield Seminary and many other seminaries in United States at that time admitted both male and female students. These seminaries were somewhere between colleges and preparatory schools in caliber, and many of the male seminary graduates later enrolled in regional colleges. It was not until 1863, when Bates became officially incorporated as a college, that the institution started breaking larger gender barriers.
The fact that women attended Bates does not mean that they received the same educational experience as men. Although the Maine State Seminary opened its doors in 1857 to both men and women, students were treated differently because of gender. Male students typically enrolled in the three-year “College Preparatory Course” resulting in a diploma for “those who are fitted for college.” Female students, on the other hand, enrolled in the “Ladies Course” which resulted in a “Classical Diploma” or “Scientific Diploma” for those “who complete their entire course, except the Ancient Languages.” The two courses seem to have been relatively similar but the “Ladies Course” was one year longer and had more electives and fewer language requirements than the “College Preparatory Course.” Because no colleges existed for women in New England (Mt. Holyoke and other institutions were still seminaries), it seems unlikely that any female graduates of the Maine State Seminary went on to attend college (unless they enrolled at Oberlin or Hillsdale) until Bates College was officially incorporated in 1863. The different requirements for men and women thus may have resulted from the expectation that this was a terminal diploma for women and simply a preparatory diploma for most men. Knowledge of Latin and Greek was a necessary prerequisite at many colleges, and therefore prospective college students needed to master these languages. This was not necessary in the “Ladies Course.”
Although most American women apparently did not attend college during this era, three of the eight original faculty members of the Maine State Seminary in 1857 were female. Their educational backgrounds are unclear, although they are all listed as teachers, and likely had at least a seminary level education. “Miss Rachel J. Symonds” was the “Preceptress, and Teacher of Modern Languages.” “Miss Jennie W. Hoyt” was listed as a “Teacher of Botany, and Assistant Teacher of Latin” and “Miss Mary R. Cushman” was the “Teacher of Ornamental Branches, and Assistant Teacher of Mathematics.” Although these instructors apparently taught classes of both men and women, it is unclear if they were paid equally and treated equally with their male counterparts. Little evidence survives to answer these questions. Two of the three female teachers are listed as an “Assistant Teacher,” although none of the male teachers are listed as such. This may suggest that there was an educational or social gap between the male and female faculty. After the College was incorporated in 1863 no women were listed as professors, although many of these women continued on as teachers at the school. Their presence may very well have influenced Bates’ decision to admit female students from the beginning.
Outside of the classroom, the first female students at the Seminary were literally separated from their male counterparts. In its first year, the Seminary put into place strict rules governing male and female relations. This is not particularly surprising because most of the students were teenagers. The 1857 Seminary Catalogue stated that “Young ladies and gentlemen are not allowed to walk or ride in company without special permission from the faculty” and “Ladies and gentlemen may meet each other at such time and places as designated by the faculty.” Men were also required to pay for their laundry to be washed, while “ladies who wish can do their own washing on Saturdays” or they could pay. These rules seem to have reflected cultural mores of the era. Although women and men were both present at the Seminary, they were clearly relegated to separate locations and spheres and had distinct obligations and “opportunities.” This strict social separation seems to have continued after the Seminary became a College in 1863.
In 1862 “sixteen young men and seven women petitioned the trustees of the Seminary for collegiate instruction, and in September of ’63 Bates Collegeopened her doors to them.” (Bates was not considered a college until 1863). It is significant that women as well as men called for a college education. The seven women who lobbied the trustees were hoping to create a co-educational college, something that was unprecedented in the Eastern colleges at that time. According to Emeline Cheney, President Cheney supported this idea of co-education, although he realized that the new College would have “to brave the criticisms from other Institutions because of what would be called an erratic course.” Cheney understood that the path to a co-ed college would not be a smooth one, and indeed there was a great deal of controversy surrounding the first female students in New England as they crossed into the male sphere. Twenty years later in the Annual President’s Report, Cheney wrote:
How much it cost the college [Bates] in standing and influence to admit a woman…before it had graduated a class—I very well know. But the change in public opinion during the last twenty years on the question of admitting women to college is wonderful. The porches of some of the conservative colleges are now open for women to enter. If women, however, may enter the porches of colleges why not the colleges themselves? That they are to be allowed to do this—that all the colleges of our country will welcome women to their numbers—is only a question of time.
Cheney obviously saw Bates as a pioneer in breaking gender barriers in the field of higher education, and recognized the loss of “standing and influence” (at least in the short term) that resulted from this decision. Cheney also accurately foresaw the future of American higher education in predicting that “all the colleges of our country will welcome women.” This was a bold assertion to make when Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Dartmouth, Williams, Tufts, and all the other New England colleges were still closed to women. Bates was clearly not modeled after any of these schools. As the Bates Bulletin from 1910 put it, “at the outset Bates was modeled after Hillsdale [a Freewill Baptist college]…[and] [t]he first Charter of Bates guaranteed to women students equal opportunities with men; and as we have seen, six women were members of the first Freshman class.”
In the fall of 1863 six women and sixteen men (all of them were presumably white) enrolled at Bates in the first freshmen class, but none of the women stayed at the College. All six of the women eventually dropped out by 1867, and only eight men graduated that year. There is a conflicting story about why the first women dropped out of the class. Early alumnus George C. Chase, class of 68, wrote that “I suppose it was because some of those in authority had a subtle influence upon them to the effect that they began to regard themselves as out of place in College.” This statement assumes that the faculty or administration did not welcome the earliest female students at the College because of their gender. In contrast, Professor Alfred Anthony interviewed male and female members of the first class and concluded that although their sex affected the decision, the first women were not asked to leave strictly on account of their sex,
but because the women who presented themselves had… been moved up out of the Seminary into the College without due preparation for the studies of collegiate grade, as they had not read all of the required Greek and Latin, nor studied mathematics as far as had the men; and the men thought they had reason to believe that the women were enrolled with them, not because of qualification, but because they were women and were to be favored in order to keep the purpose of the College plainly apparent to all who might see the catalogue, because here were women actually listed with men in the same college, the first college in New England to receive men and women without distinction as to sex!
Anthony believed that the male students were opposed to this early kind of affirmative action by the College. This account portrays the faculty or administration as wanting to enroll female students to gain the distinction of being the first co-ed college in New England, while the male students were not in favor of the admission of these women. They were even resentful of their presence. This account also reveals how the College did not accommodate the female students in regard to prerequisites they may have needed and was unwilling to expand its preparatory training to allow them to be brought up to necessary level.
Clearly, it was difficult for the person(s) who caused the women’s dismissals to take responsibility for their actions. This avoidance of blame indicates that the rejection was somewhat of an embarrassment for the College and hints at both support for and ambivalence about female students. Emma Rand, class of 1881, who was married to Professor John Rand, class of 1867, a member of that first class, recorded a slightly different account of the situation, as her husband explained it. Rand described how her husband and the other “young men never thought of objecting” to the women, but that it was actually President Cheney’s decision to ask the women to leave. According to Rand, Cheney thought that it was a mistake that “the young women had not been required to have Greek for entering or to take it in the College” and “if it was to maintain its standing as a college, the scholastic requirements must be the same for young women as for the young men.” Therefore, Cheney asked the female students to leave, claiming that “the young men objected.” Cheney thought it was “only fair to ask the sixteen young men…to assume the burden” because if he “had taken it all upon himself, he would have stood alone.” Clearly, Rand’s account places responsibility for the withdrawal of the first women on Cheney’s shoulders. While this story seems credible, it is nearly impossible to verify the veracity of its claim, and it is unclear if the faculty (Cheney) or male students were primarily responsible for the women dropping out.
Although President Cheney may have asked the first women at Bates to withdraw, presumably because of “inferior” credentials, he seems to have been fully supportive of the next female student to enroll at the College. In 1865, Mary Wheelwright Mitchell applied to Bates College and “instead of the negative reply that was given to Mary A. Livermore by a New England college President, Mary W. Mitchell was assured that she was in Bates College to stay.” Four years later she became the first female graduate of a New England college. According to Emeline Cheney, Mitchell was “well qualified to enter and, if character were to be considered, a young woman, who by working in the mill had earned money to pay off the mortgage on her father’s farm and then to fit herself for college, surely showed energy and ability worthy of any development she desired.” President Cheney appeared to have done everything in his power to ensure that Mitchell graduated from the College. Knowing that Mitchell was still working in a cotton mill to support herself, Cheney “went to Augusta and made a personal request to the Governor for a scholarship for his protégé,” and he was successful in his lobbying. The 1865-66 College Catalogue prominently recorded that “a State Scholarship has been awarded to Mary Wheelwright Mitchell of the Freshman Class.” Although Cheney attempted to present Mitchell with this scholarship, she declined it, asserting, “I cannot take that, Mr. Cheney. Give it to the brethren. I can take care of myself.” Mary Mitchell continued to work at the cotton mill and to pay her own way through college, graduating with honors in 1869. Mitchell apparently rejected what seems to have been a relatively paternalistic attempt by President Cheney to make her journey easier. Although he tried to make Mitchell’s times at Bates easier, Cheney later realized that Mitchell’s presence at Bates was, in his own words, “the great struggle in the history of the College…relating to its rank among New England colleges beginning in 1865 and ending in 1869 [the years of Mitchell’s attendance].”
Mitchell’s graduation from Bates was recognized as a significant event at the time. During Commencement Week of 1869, Professor Thomas Angell wrote in his diary that “Bates graduated first—lady in a N.E. Coll.” This is the first of many mentions within the Bates community of the first female graduate of Bates College. With regard to this accomplishment, President Cheney wrote in 1885 that Bates “has the honor of leading the way in New England on this subject, an honor that can never be taken away” Mitchell went on to become a professor at Vassar College and to found a school for girls in Boston, Massachusetts, before her death in 1898.
Although Mitchell was largely celebrated by for expanding the women’s sphere, she and other early female students attracted detractors of the school as well. All male colleges, such as Bowdoin, used the early female graduates of Bates as a means of de-legitimizing the school during this period. The first fifteen graduating college classes (1867-1881) only had eight women (3.14% of the total graduates), but this did not prevent Bowdoin and other schools from denigrating Bates. Shortly after Mary Mitchell gained attention for turning down the governor’s scholarship in 1865, “friends of another college” created a bitter joke about Bates. One of these friends asked, “How many College students have they down at Bates Seminary?” and the other responded “Five and a nigger and a woman.” Emma Clark Rand, class of 1881, recorded that Bates’ first female graduates caused “the Bowdoin men to jeer at ‘Bateses Seminary'” and to “suggest more feminizing of the college.” By the 1870s when Emma Rand enrolled at Bates, the Seminary was no longer an entity (it had dissolved into the Nichols Latin School and Maine Central Institute ten years previously), and therefore the jeers of the Bowdoin students were obviously meant to insult Bates’ women, African American students and the former institution. Because seminaries were assumed to be of a lower educational level and often all female, this insult was particularly painful for Bates’ male students as well as the female students. These offensive quotations provide further evidence that mainstream male colleges such as Bowdoin were much more skeptical of co-education and more resistant to change than Bates.
Bowdoin students may have been more conservative than its administration. Bowdoin’s President, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, claimed in his 1871 inaugural address that “woman too should have part in this high calling. Because in this sphere of things her ‘rights,’ her capacities, her offices, her destiny are equal to those of man. She is the Heaven-appointed teacher of man, his guide, his better soul.” Although Chamberlain seemed to approve of women having some part in Bowdoin’s future, he did not specify his goals and does not appear to have acted upon this urge, as co-education at Bowdoin was not seriously considered until well into the twentieth century. As Bowdoin historian Charles Calhoun has written, “women probably could be found at nineteenth-century Bowdoin—on the edge of the crowd as the academic processions passed or seated amid the flock of genteel ladies who endured hour after hour of the young men’s ‘exhibition’ speeches and recitations.”In contrast to Bates, Bowdoin remained closed to female applicants until 1971, when women immediately started enrolling at the school.
Although President Cheney and other faculty members may have desired that Bates be a co-educational institution, evidence from the Bates Student in the 1870s suggests that the Bates student body was decidedly more mixed on the issue. In 1873 and 1874, a series of articles in the Student written by both male and female students voiced support for and opposition to for female enrollment at Bates. In the June 1873 Bates Student, an unnamed male editor published an article opposing co-education. The author wrote that although women should receive a college education, “we do not believe that the training given to young men in our colleges is just the kind needed by young women” and “our second reason for a negative reply…is to be found in the fact that the influences of many kinds, which affect a young woman who enters one of our colleges for young men, are not always the most pleasant and beneficial.” This student believed women at Bates were suffering from an educational and social atmosphere that was geared more towards men, and therefore women and men should be educated separately through “the establishment of more colleges for young women.” The author did not suggest that Bates should bend its policies to make women feel more comfortable. He clearly believed that innate differences existed between how male students and “the gentler sex” learn, and that separation was the best way to accommodate these alleged differences.
Not surprisingly, a female writer presented a counterargument to this article. The September 1873 Bates Student carried an article entitled “Woman in College.” It is not clear who the author was, but after Mary Mitchell’s graduation in 1869, one woman graduated in 1873 and, two in 1877. Therefore, several female students were enrolled at Bates during 1873 year, so the author may have been one of these individuals. In her essay, the author claimed that the first article “though clothed in courteous language, has a slight soupcon of bigotry and selfhood.” The author went on to attack the male writer for failing to point out how his proposed women’s curriculum should differ from the current course. She also pointed out that he overlooked the fact that men and women are already educated together in public schools, and “why should the propriety and expediency of such co-education suddenly cease at the college threshold?” In addition to these criticisms, the author included several of the benefits of educating women, especially female teachers. She stated that “if the mental moulding of Young America is to be so largely accorded to women, let it be seen to that the republic suffers no detriment by neglect to give these educators the fullest and widest intellectual development.” The author seems to be using the Republican Motherhood argument, in which, according to feminist historian Glenda Riley, “the ideology of the new nation demanded ‘Republican Mothers,’ whose primary task was to train their sons for future citizenship and their daughters for future domesticity.” The author’s assertion assumes, however, that separate education is not equal education for women, something the first writer clearly believed. The author finished her article stating that “Bates College solved this problem for New England,” and “I propose that the women of New England shall endow a Professorship in this, the first New England college to disregard the unpopularity of such a concession.” This anonymous author correctly predicted that co-education would be the future of college education in America.
Not surprisingly, the male editor (there do not appear to have been any female editors during this period) wrote several other articles defending his stance on the subject. In November 1873, he published another article attacking the female author for assuming that he believed in the “entire unfitness and incapacity of women for the course of training and culture usually pursued in college.” The editor stated that he was in favor of higher education for women, but “[l]et males be educated in male colleges and females at their own colleges.” Perhaps more revealing is what he said in the December 1873 edition of the Student. In this paper the editor published a disclaimer about his personal views stating that “the editorial was not an expression of the views of the College authorities, and of many of our students” and that “the editorial did not represent the general opinion of the College” It seems as though the author was under pressure from students and faculty to let it be known that his views were not condoned by the community, and that other Batesies frequently opposed his views. This suggests that this particular student was perhaps more of an anomaly on campus than a mainstream member of the Bates community.
Indeed, by January 1874 another anonymous male student or faculty member had written an article supporting co-education and refuting the editor’s arguments. This author claimed that no physical harm is done to female students as opponents of co-education claimed. He cited a report from the University of Michigan that showed that there was no “evidence that their (the young ladies’) success in their intellectual pursuits is purchased at the expense of health.” The author also refuted the argument that differences in the male and female mind necessitate separate colleges for each sex, by arguing that “[n]o two individuals are alike…If this objection is to have any force, why not let it be urged against the admission to colleges of men who are unfortunately endowed with feminine traits of character?” It would be impossible for a college to have identical students, and the exclusion of women is not justified, the writer comments. The third argument used against co-education was that women would be corrupted by “the influences of college-life.” This argument was weak if true, according to the author, because “the refining influences of female society are needed in our colleges,”if this is the case. The author seemed convinced that there was no legitimate reason to oppose co-education, and that the root cause of this opposition was unjustified prejudice against women. As seen by this debate in the Bates Student, some prejudice seems to have been present in the student body at Bates College, but resistance to that prejudice surfaced as well.
A later Bates Student article from June 1878 recorded that out of the members of the graduating class (all male), “9 favor co-education, 8 opposed.” If this poll and the articles are indicative of other Bates students’ attitudes, it appears as though the male students were relatively divided over the issue of co-education during this time period, with some visible dissenters voicing their prejudices.
Emma Clark Rand, class of 1881, noted some of this early prejudice in her “Reminiscences of Bates College.” Rand was the seventh female graduate of Bates College and she grew up near the College before enrolling in 1877. Rand mentioned that many New Englanders at the time believed that college training for women “would make them coarse, unattractive and man[n]ish.” After having applied to Bates, one of Rand’s friends (presumably from outside of the College) stated, “You’ll find they won’t comb their hair, they’ll cut it off; they’ll go without corsets and won’t lace up their boots.” This was not the case at all according to Rand, as “many a romance” developed among male and female students. (It is also possible, of course, that the men simply appreciated this loosening of decorum.) Historian Nancy Woloch notes that this seemed to be an exception because only “a bare majority of late-nineteenth-century women college graduates married [and] they married later than non college women.” Although some relationships undoubtedly developed at Bates among male and female students there was still, according to Emma Rand, “a very definite desire to keep them [women] in a decided minority.” Rand claimed that this was natural considering that almost all of the early alumni were men, and “we [female students] had prejudices to overcome that were unknown in the west where co-education flourished from the first.”
Alfred Anthony, a Bates professor of religion, described additional institutional prejudices against co-education. Professor Anthony claimed that a quota system was utilized to limit women in the early years of the college. In Bates College and Its Background, Anthony asserted:
The policy was early adopted of limiting the number of women in proportion to the total expected size of the class, so that the ratio of women to men should be about that of three to five, or at the most of four to five…It may have at times made it a little more difficult for a woman to gain admission than for a man, but probably with no ultimate loss to either men or women.
Anthony’s assumption was that having more men than women in the College would be beneficial to both parties. This assumption of limited female numbers and influence provides further evidence that men were attempting to dominate the College in the 1800s while still allowing women to attend the institution in limited numbers. The College seems to have been worried about its reputation among other more prestigious schools in later years; therefore, this quota system is not at all surprising. In the 1860s and 1870s the number of women enrolled at Bates came nowhere close to three to five ratio mentioned by Anthony, and this quota system must have been instated in the 1880s or later (the last all male class was in 1879).
Even though there were relatively few women attending Bates before 1880, animosities certainly surfaced. George Loring White, class of 1876, recalled some of this tension in an article titled “My Life at Bates College.” During his time at Bates, White asserted that there were no girls in his graduating class, but
[w]e felt that the class of ’78 must be a martyr class, a long-suffering class, as it had imposed upon it two of the female species. They seemed to be well-behaved girls. They stepped on the toes of none of the ’76. I think the boys of ’78 looked out pretty well that none of the members of the other classes had anything to do with their girls.
In this passage, White revealed some of the attitudes of early male students toward their female counterparts. White expressed both disdain for and tolerance of female students, as long as they did not step on any “toes.” As long as the women stayed somewhat within their prescribed roles or sphere, White and his male counterparts tolerated their presence at the College. White’s description seems to have reflected the attitudes toward co-education that appeared in the Bates Student articles from the 1870s.
Even after the Reconstruction era, various prejudices against women at Bates were evident. Ella Knowles, Class of 1884, became an attorney and was appointed the Assistant Attorney General of Montana after being defeated in the Attorney General race of 1892. Knowles gained national fame for winning the nomination for this office, and in 1892 the New York Times gave a description of her educational background, asserting that:
she went to Bates College, Lewiston, Me., from which she was graduated in the class of ’84 with high honors…when she entered Bates College there were only four other girl students there. The prejudice against admitting female students was still strong at the college, but not so strong as it had been some years before, when the only girl there was forced to leave because the boys decided to strike in a body unless she did. So Miss Knowles has gone through all the various degrees of ostracism which attend the efforts of women to make their way in fields which the had been in the habit of considering peculiarly their own…Still she is not a man hater. It is also to be noted that during her time at Bates College she was the only woman in a party of eight who took part in a political debate, and she carried off the prize.
This New York Times article reveals several interesting details about co-education at Bates College, although sources used for the article are not given. The article mentioned that prejudice was still “strong” at the College, reaffirming what Emma Clark and others claimed. Like many of the other female students, Knowles seems to have succeeded at Bates, graduating with high honors and winning the prize at a political debate. The author also mentioned that previous to Knowles’ enrollment at Bates, a female student was forced to leave because of the boys’ threats to strike. It seems as though the article is referring to the incident with the Class of 1867 when all of the girls “dropped out” allegedly because of the boys’ complaints. This provides further evidence for the hypothesis that the male students were to blame for that particular case. Interestingly, the New York Times article also refutes what appears to have been a common assumption at the time, that many educated women were “man haters.” Nancy Woloch confirms this common assumption by claiming that colleges and professions were places where a nineteenth century woman “would risk her feminine identity.”
Despite or because of these prejudices that women may have encountered while students at Bates, most of the early female graduates went on to successful careers after graduation. Mary Mitchell, class of 1869, became a professor at Vassar. The next female graduate, Hannah Haley, class of 1873, was “ordained and traveled as an evangelist” until her death in 1897. Other graduates of this era such Ella Knowles, class of 1884, went on to careers in politics, business and law. Many of Bates’ early alumnae seem to have led careers that were clearly not within the so-called women’s sphere of the nineteenth century. It seems as though their experiences at Bates College played a role in shaping their future careers, or else perhaps they were more willing from day one to break gender barriers than many of their contemporaries.
The degree to which women such as Mary Mitchell and Ella Knowles were accepted into the Bates community seems to have been somewhat limited in the earliest years of the College. Although women were enrolled at Bates since its inception, they obviously faced prejudices from their male counterparts and society in general. Clearly, many Americans believed that higher education for women would be detrimental to their health, their gender and society. Because of these preconceptions, the small numbers of female students at Bates were often discriminated against in admissions policies and in social relations. Despite hostility and some well-meaning paternalism by certain individuals, Bates was among the more progressive institutions in admitting women alongside men, when many other colleges refused to do so for another century.