If you have heard the story about IU’s first coed, Sarah Parke Morrison, sending in her Trustee ballot marked “For some woman” and thought it was just old university folklore, here you go.
Dated June 3, 1906, Sarah, who entered as IU’s first female student in 1867, mailed in her replacement ballot with the note, “For some woman. Every new man who allows his name to appear does that much to keep out some woman.”
There are no women appearing on this year’s ballot but nonetheless, if you are an alum, it is important to get that vote in!
The year is 1841, you’re a resident of Bloomington, Indiana, and you would like to expand your mind … and oh yeah, you’re female. What opportunities are available to you? Indiana University wasn’t co-ed until 1867, so you cannot stretch your mind through higher education. Is it your lot to resign yourself to a life of quiet domesticity and motherhood?
These are some of the questions the charter members of the Edgeworthalean Society were asking themselves when they came together to form the first Bloomington, Indiana ladies’ literary society in 1841. Clearly these women were not resigned to keep quietly at home, and their decision to gather and learn among themselves was not without opposition, as Mrs. M. E. Hughes, first society president, alludes to in her inaugural address. She also describes the purpose of the society as follows:
“Our object is the cultivation and improvement of the mind; and to effect this we have adopted such exercises and regulations as other societies of the same nature have found most conducive to the same end.”
Article 9 of the Edgeworthalean Society constitution states:
“The exercises of the society shall consist of recitations, composition arguments, Reading, writing, diction, analysing [sic] sentences or any such exercises as may be found to be conducive to the improvement of its members.”
Further in her address, M. E. Hughes states:
“In the progress of society the belief has been gradually gaining ground, that the station assigned to women in the social scheme, is one of much greater importance than it has hitherto been considered, and that her position in the various relations of daughter, wife, mother, mistress of a family and the acknowledged arbitress [sic] of the rules which regulate social intercourse, gives her an influence which may be powerfully wielded either for good or for evil. To enable her therefore to fulfil [sic] her destiny with credit and happiness to herself and advantage to others, philanthropists now deem it necessary to give her the aids of a solid and useful education.”
The minute book, which consists of the constitution and by-laws of the Edgeworthalean Society, as well as meeting minutes, contains the inaugural addresses of six society presidents from 1841 to the last entry dated June 1844. These speeches are rather rich in terms of early commentary on women’s education and position in society.
The Edgeworthalean Society met weekly, usually at the Monroe County Female Seminary at 7th Street and College Avenue, though it no longer stands. They also had fairly strict rules for entering the society, such as requiring a letter of petition with the support of two current members of the society. They aimed to remain respectable and include the role of “Censoress [sic] to generally supervise the moral character of the society” in their constitution.
Also in the contents of the minute book are philosophical/ideological questions posed for debate in the meetings.
Such questions include: Which most improves the mind: observation or reading? Which exerts the most pernicious influence over society, a Slanderer or a Murderer? Is manual labor a blessing or a curse? Which has the greatest reason to complain of their treatment, from the Whites, the Indians or Negroes? Which profession affords the best opportunities to benefit mankind — Law or Physics? Is Conscience an inate [sic] principle? Which would be most conducive to our happiness: to be at once created with all the knowledge to be acquired, or to obtain it by slow degrees? Did Napoleon exhert [sic] a good or evil influence over Europe? Is there more happiness found in the married, or in the single state? Should novels be abolished? Should capitol punishment be inflicted or not? Is happiness more dependent on the mind or surrounding circumstances? And these are only some of the questions debated through November 26, 1841!
With such a mass of student organizations available to choose from on campus today, it is hard to imagine a time when the very first groups were established. As discussed previously on this blog, early popular student groups at Indiana University were literary societies which sought to give students the opportunity to develop critical thinking and oratory skills through debate and to establish a social identity on campus. Established in the 1830s, the two major IU literary societies were the Athenian and the Philomathean.
However, when the university accepted the first female student, Sarah Parke Morrison in 1869, male students balked at allowing women to join their organizations so the women set about to remedy the situation by establishing their own. In response, the Hesperian Society was established in 1870 to encourage the intellectual culture of women. With their first meeting on October 28, 1870 in Hesperian Hall, they quickly got down to business with their first debate: “Classes A and B debate, A affirm, and B, deny. Question. ‘Resolved that a town or city is a better situation for a college than the country.'” The group continued to meet once a week, debating past and current issues such as whether the execution of Mary Queen of Scotts was unjust or if capital punishment should be abolished.
Lest you think it was all work and no play, it was popular for literary societies to host entertainment programs for the entire student body. The Hesperian Society hosted exhibitions and programs on campus, which included musical performers, oratory essays and poetry readings of local and out-of-town talent as well as an annual celebration honoring the groups founding on October 28th.
After nearly two decades of activity however, it seems that enrollment in the Hesperian Society was dwindling as the October 1887 issue of the Indiana Daily Student advertised the need for young ladies to join the society. It is assumed the group officially ceased in 1890.
Interested in learning more about the Hesperian Society? A finding aid for the small collection of records held by the Archives is now available!
Interested in the literary societies in general? There are several resources available to you! Search through Archives Online for literary societies – we hold several collections, including from the heavy hitters, the Philomathean and Athenian (the latter of which has been fully digitized!). Additionally, we have created an online exhibition on 19th century student life which, of course, discusses the literary societies!
In 1867, Sarah Parke Morrison became the first woman admitted to Indiana University.
Morrison’s parents, John and Catherine, were themselves well-educated. John graduated from Miami University in Ohio in 1828, at which time he returned to his hometown Salem, Indiana and opened the Washington County Seminary. At the Seminary John was in charge of Catherine Morris’ education for six years. In 1830, Catherine’s parents sent her to the Quaker-run Westtown Boarding School near Philadelphia, where she studied for two years. Upon her return to Salem, John proposed to Catherine and they were married September 11, 1832. Their first child, Sarah, was born in 1833.
In addition to the Washington County Seminary, John and Catherine worked together to open the Salem Female Seminary in 1835. Instead of hiring the customary male teaching assistants, they employed young female teachers from the East, a rarity in this time.
After a considerable amount of home schooling, Catherine decided it was time for her daughter Sarah to receive more formal training. Sarah attended Mount Holyoke Seminary, graduating from that institution in 1857. She went on to Vassar College, where she was a pupil-teacher and later to Williams College to do post-graduate work.
After studying at Williams, Sarah returned home to Salem. While preparing to attend the 1867 Indiana University commencement, Sarah’s father, formerly president of the IU Board of Trustees and now Treasurer of the State, remarked to Sarah that it was time for the University to open its doors to women and offered Sarah $5 to prepare an appeal to the Board of Trustees.
This Sarah did, and the Trustees found nothing in the University’s charter that barred women from entering the University. They declared women could enter under the same terms as men. Sarah, at 34 years of age and years of education behind her, had no desire to attend Indiana University and hoped some other woman would step forward. To her disappointment, no young woman did, so Sarah entered as a freshman in the fall of 1867.
It was the fashion then to wear large sun hats, with a rather broad ribbon going over the crown and tied under the chin. The young men were not dangerous to me nor I to them, but I was thankful for the protection that hat afforded me from six hundred eyes presumably furtively ‘casting a sly glance at me’.
Sarah completed the four year program in two years, graduating in 1869. Four years after her graduation, Sarah was appointed tutor and in 1874 she became IU’s first female faculty member when she was named adjunct professor of English literature. Despite Sarah’s success as a student, the male students did not readily accept her as their superior. She only stayed at IU for one more year, at which time she left for other pursuits.
Sarah remained an active alumna of the University, however, frequently writing the Board of Trustees inquiring why women have not been placed as members of the various University boards. To voice her protest, she began returning her alumni ballots for the Board of Trustees marked “for some woman.”
Sarah Parke Morrison died in 1919 and is buried in Indianapolis.
The Archives holds a small collection of Sarah’s papers, which includes, among other things, a handwritten account of her entrance to IU as well as the frequent letters written to university administrators admonishing the lack of female representation among its ranks.
Knightstown, Ind. Jan 19, 06
To Isaac Jenkinson, President and the Board of Trustees:
Pardon me, but why have ladies not been placed upon the Board of Visitors? To think that ever since 68 you have declared the half of the kingdom theirs, and yet they have not even a name among you as co-workers. You do not wish to increase the number upon the Boards? Certainly not. What is the use of so many men?
Click here to read her letter in its entirety: Morrison