Oberlin College: The First College to Accept Women

Oberlin College: The First College to Accept Women

Melissa W.

March is Women’s History Month and we’ll be highlighting women-centered colleges and organizations. It’s a bit eye-opening to learn that despite colleges being established in the The United States in 1636, women were not allowed to attend and receive a higher education/baccalaureate degree until 1837. Oberlin College in Ohio was the pioneer.

Founded in 1833, Oberlin College and Conservatory, then Oberlin Collegiate Institute, is a private liberal arts college/conservatory of music and the oldest US institution to be co-educational and accept both men and women for higher education learning. Known for its social justice and progressive student activism, the college was also one of the first in the US to accept Black students. The college admits that while they were always considered a co-educational institution, women were not allowed to receive baccalaureate degrees until 1837 and instead earned diplomas from the “Ladies Course.” The first women to be admitted to baccalaureate learning were Mary Kellogg (Fairchild), Mary Caroline Rudd, Mary Hosford, and Elizabeth Prall. All but Kellogg graduated on time with Kellogg taking a brief hiatus for financial reasons before returning to finish her degree years later. Additionally, Mary Jane Patterson graduated from Oberlin in 1862, becoming the first Black woman to earn a B.A. degree in The United States.

According to their website, “Oberlin seeks a disparate and promising student body. Recognizing that diversity broadens perspectives, Oberlin is dedicated to recruiting a culturally, economically, geographically, and racially diverse group of students. Interaction with others of widely different backgrounds and experiences fosters the effective, concerned participation in the larger society so characteristic of Oberlin graduates.” They go on to say that “Oberlin seeks students who are talented, highly motivated, personally mature, and tolerant of divergent views. The conservatory in particular seeks talented musicians with considerable potential for further growth and development. Performance is central to all curricula including music education, history, theory, composition, and technology.”

Social justice has always been the cornerstone of Oberlin with it being considered a key stop on The Underground Railroad, providing safe houses for escaped enslaved people, assisting in ushering many to safety in Canada. Continuing their push for social justice and activism, the college offers 40 campus organizations centered on politics, activism, and identity today.

The college has significantly grown since its founding and women now make up 54% of students at Oberlin with 20% being students of color. Acceptance to the college is 36% with an 85% graduation rate.

Are you a student or a graduate of Oberlin? Let us know in the comments!


Photo by Leon Wu on Unsplash

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