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By Jake Weber and Nicole Garrett, Albion College archivist
On the heels of its 175th birthday in 2010, Albion marks the 150th anniversary of providing a college education to female students. On February 25, 1861, Michigan's state legislature authorized the 26-year-old school to grant four-year degrees to women, making Albion one of the Midwest's first co-educational institutions.
Chartered in 1835 as the Spring Arbor Seminary, Albion became the Wesleyan Seminary at Albion in 1839. From the beginning, women were admitted alongside men, and in 1843, enrollment consisted of “81 gentlemen and 36 ladies." In 1849, a resolution was passed for the establishment of the Female Collegiate Institute at the Seminary. The Institute changed names to the Albion Female College in 1857 and the Seminary and Female College merged to form Albion College in 1861.
"In a certain sense, Albion went co-ed backwards; we offered degrees to women first," said women and gender studies professor Trisha Franzen, noting that the Wesleyan Seminary didn't issue college degrees.
Franzen explained that "the business for seminaries was falling off, but the University of Michigan was only offering degrees to men. I think Albion College thought there was some need to offer degrees to women," spurring the College's appeal for a charter.
"The Midwest was definitely in the leadership of co-ed schools," Franzen concluded. "I think they didn't have the same rigid ideas about the roles of women and men as were common back east."
Even within the progressive Midwest, Albion's 1861 charter puts it ahead of the University of Michigan and Michigan State University (both admitted women in 1870) and Northwestern University (admitting women in 1869).