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Women thrived as BW took a stand for inclusion at 1845 founding

An early BW physical education class for women - Baldwin Wallace Archive

The history of Baldwin Wallace University can be traced, in part, to a resolute rejection of the sexist bias that excluded most women from obtaining an education in 1800s America.

BW founder John BaldwinAnd it started with an Ivy League snub.

Among the important events that inspired BW's founding values of inclusion was the experience of Rosanna (Meloy) Baldwin, daughter of an Irish immigrant, who applied to and was rejected by Yale College on the basis that women were "not capable of higher learning."

Her son, BW founder John Baldwin, absorbed his mother's indignation at that discrimination and came to internalize the strong belief that attending college should not be reserved for white, wealthy men alone.

Founding values of inclusion

Ladies Hall, an early "boarding hall" for women was later relocated to BW's north quad and turned into an academic building for the sciences.Today it is part of the Malicky Center for social sciences. PhotoIntent on leveling the playing field - for women, as well as those of different races or with little ability to pay - Baldwin established the Baldwin Institute, a college preparatory school that opened to all who "desired to do good and get good" on November 10, 1845, in Berea, Ohio.

As BW history professor Dr. Indira Gesink explains in her book about BW's founding values, "Barefoot Millionaire," there were only three colleges in the country at the time that admitted both women and men and only one that also admitted African Americans (nearby Oberlin).

As an exception to the rule of the day, Gesink writes that Baldwin's new school attracted entire families to Berea as they sought an education for both their sons and daughters.

Eventually, two boarding halls for women were constructed, although the school would also go on to be an early pioneer in supervised coed housing.

First exceptional graduates

Dozens of women were among the initial Baldwin Institute students listed in the first catalogues, including the school's first graduate, Maria Myra PoeThe first published catalog listing the school's enrollment in 1846 included 39 girls out of 100 students. The next year, 87 of 189 students were young "ladies."

In June 1850, the Baldwin Institute took pride in announcing its very first graduate, a woman: Maria Myra Poe.

After the school became Baldwin University, the first graduating class to earn bachelor's degrees in 1859 included a woman, Harriet P. Magee, and four men.

Almost 25 years after John Baldwin founded his school, open to both men and women, and 10 years after Baldwin University awarded one of its first Bachelor of Arts degrees to a woman, the college that rejected the application of Baldwin's mother would begin accepting women (Yale, in 1869).

Putting their degrees to work

Gesink points out that the women who earned those early degrees from BW were not trained to return home "to their mother's kitchens to await for a wedding ring." Instead, many became professors and professionals.

Some of the most notable female graduates from the first 75 years of BW's 175-year history include:

  • Julia E. Wisner, Class of 1884 - Missionary to India working in schools for girls; one of three women chosen to serve on a commission appointed to consider English education in India

  • Philura Gould Baldwin, Class of 1886 - BW's first librarian

  • Harriet Granger Hulet Walker, Class of 1886 - American hospital administrator and leader in the temperance movement

  • Hazel Mountain Walker, Class of 1919 - One of the first black women admitted to the practice of law in Ohio and the first black principal in the Cleveland Public Schools

  • Judge Genevieve R. Cline, Class of 1921 - First woman appointed to a federal judgeship; served for 25 years after President Calvin Coolidge named her to the Customs Court in 1928

  • Jane Edna Hunter, Class of 1925 - Founder of the Phyllis Wheatley Association, a Cleveland settlement house for poor, single women who migrated north for work and a model for organizations nationwide

Women's History still in the Making

Collage of BW women for 100th Anniversary of Women for BWIn the intervening years and the decades since those early pioneering women earned and applied a college education, many, many more have gone on from BW to make a mark in the world.

Today, Women for BW carries on a sisterhood of support for the next generation of women graduates.

Building on the legacy of the BW Women's Club, founded 100 years ago in 1921, the group works to "strengthen the course of women's philanthropy through the power of programming, engagement, and collective giving."

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