Publication Date

April 2019


Abigail Boggs


Sociology, American Studies (AMST)


English (United States)


In this critical university studies thesis, I explore the short-lived coeducation project at Wesleyan University from 1872-1912. In my first chapter, I assess Jacksonian norms of masculinity that shaped the antebellum campus and created ties of brotherhood between male students. Then, I analyze their responses to coeducation, noting that they queered women seeking an education. My second chapter discusses the post-1890s generation of college women, which scholars call "new women." Despite their strides at other universities, women faced growing male hostility at Wesleyan in these years. My last chapter unravels the assumption that students alone made women feel unwelcome by pointing out curricular changes and faculty biases that entrenched racist, sexist ideologies within the classroom. Ultimately, I argue that coeducation has historically come at a price. At Wesleyan and elsewhere, white middle-class women achieved conditional acceptance in the university only by weaponizing normative racial and class identities in a time of growing white, middle-class anxieties. Meanwhile, male students and administrators alike resisted coeducation through every avenue available to them, from fraternities and student publications to the curriculum itself. This thesis exists to read into, between, and past institutional narratives about coeducation. Seeking to undo the clear binary between the university and the commons, I argue that knowledge production, even when positioned as objective, has social, political, and economic consequences in the world beyond.



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