Post Classifieds

First female students at MU faced challenges

By Lauren Ceronie
On January 19, 2012

This is part of a series The Miami Student is running about the University Archives. All information in the following article was obtained from the University Archives with the help of University Archivist Bob Schmidt.

Any girl reading this article probably didn't think twice before picking up the paper today. She probably didn't think twice about her ability to read or her attendance of Miami University. This was not the case when Miami admitted its first female students in 1887.

Many colleges and universities, including Miami, lost a number of students during and after the Civil War. Dwindling attendance (and tuition money) spurred colleges to begin accepting female students and by 1880 about half of American colleges were co-educational.

In 1882, three years before Miami reopened, University Trustee Nelson Saylor declared that, "no applicant should be refused on the grounds of sex."

University President Robert McFarland (1884-1888) was also a supporter of co-education. April 4, 1887, he wrote a letter to the board of trustees saying that he had received applications from two women.

"I see no objection to their being allowed to continue their studies in Miami," he said in the letter.

While McFarland was not alone in supporting co-education, he did experience some vehement opposition from Alfred Emerson, professor of Latin and Greek, and former Miami President Andrew Hepburn. Despite the controversy, the board of trustees adopted a resolution opening Miami to women June 21, 1887.

The fact that Miami was open to women did not mean equal treatment for those women, however. Oct. 10, 1887 Elizabeth McFarland, daughter of President McFarland, and Daisy McCullough were admitted to Miami as "special students." This meant they could attend class but not earn degrees.

Three other women — Sarah Jeimer James, Elizabeth McCurey, and Katharine O'Byrne — joined McFarland and McCullough as Miami's first female students. The women appear to have lasted only a year at the university, however, as the 1888-1889 academic roster does not list them as students.

The next year, Ella McSurey, whose father was a University Trustee, was admitted to the university. Despite his open opposition to women at Miami, Hepburn allowed McSurey to live with his family.

"It would give me great pleasure to have your daughter with us if she will be satisfied with our primitive style of living," said Hepburn in a letter to McSurey's father dated Aug. 11, 1888.

Though McSurey lived with Hepburn and has family, he never spoke to her in class. Ironically, the first female residence hall was named after Hepburn in 1905. McSurey apparently survived Hepburn's cold shoulder and graduated in 1904 and received a Master of Arts in 1907.

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