EDITORS HARVARD HERALD : The founder of Cornell University, in his introductory speech at the inauguration of the university, and President White, in his inaugural address, took strong ground in favor of the co-education of the sexes. This was entirely in the spirit of the liberal views which those gentlemen held in regard to education in general, which guided them in the early history of the university, which have placed Cornell in the front rank of American colleges and which are still held by the guardians of her welfare. Though the far-sighted philanthropist lives only in memory, his co-worker has heard the experiment declared successful by the fair-minded and the result given a tacit endorsement even by those whose early attacks were most virulent.
Ezra Cornell described his plan in these words : "I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study," a statement certainly broad enough to embrace the female sex. Accordingly, President White, in 1872, admitted the first young woman who presented herself with a State certificate, without discussing the metaphysical question as to whether she was a "person" and so came within the limits of the charter.
On May 15, 1873, the corner stone of Sage College was laid with imposing ceremonies. There was much in the occasion to call earnest words from the distinguished men present, among whom may be mentioned Henry W. Sage, a man to whose liberality Cornell owes Sage College and much besides, Ezra Cornell, Chancellor Winchell of Syracuse University, Moses Coit Tyler, Goldwin Smith, Colonel Homer B. Sprague, President Angell of Ann Arbor, Dr. W. D. Wilson, Prof. Babcock, architect, and President White. Since the opening of Sage College the number of young women who have availed themselves of the privileges of Cornell University has steadily increased. At the last commencement two Baccalaureate degrees were awarded to ladies, while two received master's degrees. There are now fifty-two young ladies, undergraduates and graduates, whose names appear in the Register for 1882-83 in the list of students.
Most of the "co-eds," as they are called in student slang, live in Sage College, which is the most attractive building, from an architectural point of view, on the campus, with the possible exception of the new Physical Laboratory. It is finely located on the hill, commanding a view of the town and lake; indeed, from the upper stories of Sage, the eye can take in the country for miles up and down the valley. In the summer, when the hillsides are covered with verdure, and the sun, just dropping behind the western hill, lights up the valley with its farewell glories, the poetic part of the co-ed nature receives a stimulus which forms a powerful antidote to the prosaic effect of Calculus and Psychology.
Sage College is in the form of a quadrangle. The front portion of the building is four stories in height and contains, on the first floor, a parlor, reception rooms, matron's rooms and several students' rooms; and, on the other floors, a library, preacher's parlor, music rooms, infirmary and dormitories. The south wing gives accommodations for the botanical department of the university, a lecture room, analyzing rooms, herbarium, professor's study and museum. Recent additions have greatly increased the facilities of the botanical department.
Directly back of this wing, and connected with it, are extensive conservatories, now filled with rare and beautiful plants. In the north wing are the dining room, kitchen, laundry, bakery, pantries, storerooms and servants' rooms. The upper stories are arranged as dormitories or students' rooms. The eastern portion is the gymnasium. There are accommodations for about one hundred and twenty students, besides officers, teachers and servants. In this building most of the lady students live, their material wants looked after by a steward, whose wife, as matron, carefully orders lights out in the reception rooms and parlors at 10 o'clock, and performs other duties of a similar nature and equally onerous.
Every department of the university is open to the co-ed, and she avails herself of her opportunities. She listens to the same lectures as the men, recites in the same classes and passes the same examinations, usually with more satisfactory results. The young women are said to excel especially in languages and studies not requiring great breadth or depth of thought, while the men surpass them in heavier work involving original methods. As a rule the young ladies who are willing to spend what are usually considered the most interesting four years of life, at college, have too earnest a purpose in view to be easily turned aside from its accomplishment. Having no athletic interest to look after or other distractions of that nature, the young women apply themselves more closely to their studies. Again, living on the hill is favorable to health and study. A run of a mile up hill to an 8 o'clock recitation after a hasty breakfast, with its concomitants of indigestion and ill-temper, is unknown to them. Sage College boasts a flourishing fraternity, or more accurately sorosity, Kappa Alpha Theta, which has chapters in several other colleges, most of them in the West.
Having told you what the "co-ed" is, how and when she came, how she lives and where, I can better answer the questions you put in the letter which called forth this communication.
From files of the Era, I find that student opinion was opposed to the admission of lady students when the proposal to admit them was first made. The following table, compiled from statistics of graduating classes, will illustrate the changes which that opinion has undergone. Many seniors do not care to give their opinions :
Class, '75 '76 '77 '78 '79 '80 '81 '82.
For, 16 29 33 37 25 38 45 20.
Against, 37 29 29 32 26 36 22 24.
It is difficult to ascertain the present status of undergraduate opinion, which is in reality of little value, being formed in many cases for mere whim.
In an interview with President White he informed your correspondent that his views on the subject of co-education have not been changed by experience. He says that its influence on student life is to make that life more decent; that co-education at Cornell is a success; and that sooner or later it will be the rule at all live educational institutions deserving of the name. Columbia will probably not adopt it until the dwellers at that unfortunate monastery emerge sufficiently from barbarism to give over duelling and other mediaeval practices.
The misrepresentations in a letter from Cornell to a Western paper, which you copied and which was recopied by the Era with comments, which amounted to an endorsement, have drawn forth an indignant rejoinder from Prof. J. E. Oliver, the distinguished mathematician. It was insinuated in uncomplimentary terms, by the correspondent referred to, that the Cornell faculty was subjected to humiliating tyranny by President White. Professor Oliver is personally responsible for the statement that "the president would be the very last man to seek to impose his wishes as law upon his colleagues as against their own judgments and that, in point of fact, the responsibility for those innovations which have most grieved the Era and its disinterested exchanges rests upon the faculty at large and not especially upon him." What those innovations are, I may tell you in a future letter.
ITHACA, N. Y., April 12, 1883.