ABSTRACT

Olympia Brown came to Ohio's Antioch College in 1856 in search of a liberal education. At Mount Holyoke Female Seminary she had found too many rules and restrictions: "young ladies are not allowed to stand in the doorway"; "young ladies are not allowed to linger in the halls"; and "we never examine young ladies in Algebra." Reared in Michigan under the influence of a mother determined to see her daughters fully educated, Brown was attracted to Antioch "by evidence of a broader spirit." She graduated four years later and went on to become the country's first ordained female Universalist minister, a women's rights activist, and a vice president of the National Women's Suffrage Association. In the 1850s, however, she was particularly interested in what Antioch's first president, Horace Mann, described as its "Great Experiment": coeducation. 1

In its very first catalogue Antioch announced itself dedicated to the principle of offering "equal educational opportunities ... for both sexes."2 Founded in 1853, it was among a handful of colleges at that time, most of them in the Midwest, that had opened their doors to women. Established by the liberal Christian denomination, with substantial support from Unitarians, Antioch also claimed to be nonsectarian and did not require students to belong to a particular denomination. What made the college most distinctive, however, was Horace Mann's decision to leave

John L. Rury is assistant professor of education at the Ohio State University. Glenn Harper is a graduate student in the Program in Historical Preservation at Ball State University. The authors would like to thank Jurgen Herbst, Carl Kaestle, and David Tyack for reading and commenting on an earlier draft of this essay, and Nina Myatt, curator of the Antiochiana Collection at Antioch College, for her extraordinary assistance in tracking down sources. The authors assume responsibility, however, for all inaccuracies and other flaws which remain.