The Female Student Body at Syracuse University in the Early 1900’s

Women Who Attended College Nationally

During the early part of the 20th century, women’s education and their place in society in America was constantly being debated. Historically, it was believed that women could not be educated or learn at the same level as men, which prevented the growth of women’s education and equality nationally. Barbara M. Solomon wrote in her book titled, In the Company of Educated Women: A History of Women and Higher Education in America, “Darwinian evolution relegated women to a permanently inferior condition, physically and mentally. Women were [considered] far behind men in human evolution ever to catch up; moreover, some doctors declared it harmful for them to try” 1. Syracuse University from the start was to be an institution where both men and women could obtain an education. Jesse Truesdell Peck was the university’s first chairman for the Board of Trustees 2, and in 1870 he declared that, “The conditions of admission shall be equal to all persons…there shall be no invidious discrimination here against women…brains and heart shall have a fair chance…”3. This statement was a constant reminder that Syracuse University would forever be a coed campus, thought that did not always mean that both sexes that attended were treated with equality. Women were sent to college in the early 1900’s because it was felt that education would bring out the most perfect form of a woman. “The college is not intended to fit woman for any particular sphere or profession but to develop by the most carefully devised means all her intellectual capacities, so that she may be a more perfect woman in any position”4. Women’s role in society was still that of a motherly, home-based figure, but many women wanted that to change.

The American Association of University Women

The Central New York Branch of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) met frequently in Syracuse, New York, beginning in 1889 when it was founded at SU5. The intent for this organization was to help young women across America to become more involved in the pursuits of philanthropic work, furthering their education, finding jobs, become more politically involved, and uniting as women6. There are quite a few publications that were written by those involved in this organization, and regularly sent out a newsletter for all active members. The pamphlets consisted of the listing of the members’ names in alphabetical order, as well as any positions that they held. Very little actual information can be gleaned from rifling through the many pamphlets in the Syracuse University Archives, though along with the listing of the members, a brief overview of the goals of the organization and what they stand for as a national group is also printed inside the first page. For more information on this organization, their website offers information on how to get involved and some general history on the AAUW. Follow the link below to learn more:

Pamphlets from the Central New York Branch of the American Association of University Women in Syracuse, NY, dated 1923-24 (left) & 1939 (right), Courtesy of the SU Archives

Pamphlets from the Central New York Branch of the American Association of University Women in Syracuse, NY, dated 1923-24 (left) & 1939 (right), Courtesy of the SU Archives

Undergraduate Women and World War I

With the start of World War I and the eventual involvement of the United States, young men across the country began signing up to join the fighting. The women and children were left at home, and that meant that the majority of the young people attending college at this time were women. According to the 1920 Onondagan yearbook, many young women went off to help as nurses, drove ambulances, and took over the economic and industrial jobs that the men abandoned. Those women left the University and head back home or wherever they were needed to fill in on family farms or in factories to keep production going. As stated in the 1920 yearbook, “They [the women] kept the boys in good cheer and encouraged them on to victory” 7.

The College of Home Economics

The College of Home Economics was founded in 1921, with Florence E. Knapp as the first dean of the college. After her resignation in 1928, Annie L. MacLeod took her place and with her dedication to the college, enrollment increased drastically between 1928 and 1948. When Dean MacLeod retired 20 years later, the college’s faculty had grown from six to 30 8.

Dean Annie L. MacLeod of the College of Home Economics, Courtesy of SU Archives

Slocum Hall

Presently the home to the College of Agriculture, Slocum Hall dates back to October of 1918 when it’s construction was finally finished. Originally intended for the College of Agriculture and Forestry, with courses for said college announced in April of 1910, Slocum Hall was made possible by the generous donations of Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage, a popular benefactor for Syracuse University for several years previously. Her late father, Joseph Slocum, had been deeply interested in the study of agriculture, so in 1912, Mrs. Sage went ahead and donated $300,000 towards a building to house the new college in honor of her late father. Articles found published in the Syracusan from 1916-1918 describe the construction of the college and the materials used. Both a light pink granite and sandstone imported from Ohio will be used to construct the majority of the building, while steel reinforcements will be used for the structure and brick for the outside of the building. “The main entrance to the building from College Place and the two side entrances will have granite pillars in relief, while the pillars of the two rear entrances will be of a pilaster type” 9.

Courses Available for Women

As a coed campus, the university allowed for both men and women to major in whatever they might choose. But during the early 1900’s, women’s roles in society were very different from the roles of men in society. Thus, the College of Home Economics offered courses that fell under the five different categories of nutrition, foods, applied arts, household technology, and institution management 10. Originally a part of the College of Agriculture which was housed in Slocum Hall, a September 1917 issue of The Daily Orange published an article announcing the offering of new courses in the school of Agriculture. Courses including but not limited to drawing, cookery, and hat-making were now being offered by the college and were specifically geared towards the female student population 11. Along with specific courses geared just for women, there was also the Dean for Women, which acted as a sort of support group for women when they first started at Syracuse University, or during any other period of their time at school when they would need support. “There is someone to help her with her social life, her academics difficulties, vocational adjustment, or any other problem”12. There was also a Dean for Men, but the fact that there was not a shared dean for students shows the divide that still existed for women during the early 1900’s.

Article from the a 1917 Daily Orange Describing the New Home Economic Courses Offered in the College of Agriculture, Courtesy of the SU Archives

  1. Solomon, Barbara M. “In the Company of Educated Women: A History of Women and Higher Education in America.” Google Books. Yale University Press, 1985. P. 56. Web. 24 Mar. 2013
  2. “Jesse Truesdell Peck.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 04 Feb. 2013. Web. 03 Apr. 2013. <>.
  3. O’Brien, Mary M. T. “Co-ed From the Start: Women Students at Syracuse University in the 19th Century.” Syracuse University Archives Online. Syracuse University Archives, May 2005. Web. 03 Apr. 2013. <>.
  4. Solomon, Barbara M. “In the Company of Educated Women: A History of Women and Higher Education in America.” Google Books. Yale University Press, 1985. P. 49. Web. 24 Mar. 2013.
  5. American Association of University Women, Syracuse Branch, Records, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Library
  6. American Association of University Women. AAUW: Empowering Women Since 1881. AAUW, n.d. Web. 31 Mar. 2013.
  7. “Syracuse University and The World War.” The 1920 Onandagan. Syracuse University. Ed. John I. Terrell. Syracuse: The Junior Class of Syracuse University, 1920: 116. Syracuse University Archives. Print.
  8. “History of the College of Home Economics/College for Human Development.” Syracuse University Archives Online. Ed. Syracuse University Archives. Syracuse University Archives, 2001. Web. 3 Apr. 2013. <>
  9. “Slocum College of Agriculture to Start Soon.” The Syracusan: Syracuse. 1 Apr. 1916: Syracuse University Archives. Print.
  10. Syracuse University Course Catalogue. 1935-1937. p. 147. Syracuse University Archives. Print
  11. Article taken from a September 1917 issue of the DO titled, “New Courses are offered by Agriculture College”
  12. “Dean of Women.” The 1945 Onandagan. Syracuse University. Ed. Agnes Shoffner. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1945: 27. Syracuse University Archives. Print.

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