The First Attempt

Listing of the Board of Regents from University of Michigan 1858 Catalog

Listing of the Board of Regents from University of Michigan 1858 Catalog

The Regents

At the March 1858 meeting of the Board of Regents, “A communication was received from Miss Sarah E. [sic] Burger stating that a class of 12 young ladies would present themselves for admission as students in the University in June next.” The issue was tabled. Burger would write again in June with a second request for admission to the University, along with Miss H. A. Patton of Ann Arbor and Miss A. J. Chapin of Lansing. At the June 1858 meeting, a committee comprised of Regents Parsons, McIntyre, and Baxter was charged with considering the issue of the admission of women. [1]

First page of the "Report on the Admission of Females" , Appendix B of the Proceedings of the Board of Regents, September 1858, page 782.

Report on the Admission of Females, Appendix B. Proceedings of the Board of Regents, September 1858

Report on the Admission of Females

In September 1858, after spending the summer considering the issue, Regents Parsons, McIntyre, and Baxter presented to the Board of Regents their “Report on the Admission of Females.” The committee spoke to many stakeholders and peers, and determined “According to the various opinions entertained by the friends and opposers of the measure, its decision involves the destruction of the University on the one hand, and the grossest injustice to the young ladies of Michigan on the other.”
The ultimate conclusion was that the risk at the time was too great, that coeducation would be too much of a “dangerous experiment.” On motion of Regent McIntyre it was resolved “That to adapt the University to the education of both sexes would require such a revolution in the management and conduct of the Institution that we think it wiser, under all the circumstances both in respect to the interests of the University and the interests of the young ladies, that their application should not be granted and that at present it is inexpedient to introduce this change into the Institution.” [2]

Cabinet card photograph head and shoulders portrait of Sarah Burger Stearns as a young woman, taken at Jacoby Studios, 252 Nicollet Ave., Minneapolis.

Portrait of Sarah Burger Stearns

Sarah Jane Burger

Sarah Jane Burger was born in 1836 in New York City, and raised in Cleveland and Ann Arbor. She became interested in women’s rights at a young age, which in part led to her petition to the Board of Regents. Burger instead enrolled at the Michigan State Normal School (now Eastern Michigan University) in Ypsilanti. In 1866 she married Ozora Stearns, who supported her interests, and soon after they moved to Minnesota where she grew more active in women’s rights and suffrage causes. She was a longtime member of the National Woman's Suffrage Association, and served as first president of the Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association. She was elected to the Duluth board of education in 1881, the only office for which women in that state could vote at that time, and served for three years. In Duluth, she founded a state shelter for women and children, was a member of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union and began the Duluth Woman Suffrage Circle. She died in California in 1904. [3]

First page of the response form for the 1924 Alumnae Council survey of women filled out by Harriet Ada Patton.

Harriet Ada Patton Alumnae Survey Response Form

Harriet Ada Patton

Harriet Ada Patton, born in 1840, was a lifelong resident of Ann Arbor. Despite her previous denial, when women were finally allowed to enroll in 1870 she entered the Law Department, becoming the second woman to earn an L.L.B in 1872. She was admitted to the bar, but did not practice due to the need to care for her elderly mother. In the survey sent by the Alumnae Council to women alumni in 1924, Patton recalled the support from the male students in her class when she did well—“It was some time in my 2nd year -'72- it was in Prof. Kents' quiz - 17 boys had failed to answer a question which when it came to me I had the good fortune to answer correctly - I was quite overwhelmed with applause.” She rented rooms in her house at 827 East University to students until her death in 1928 at the age of 88. [4]

Photograph portrait of Augusta Jane Chapin set in a photo album page with a handwritten label underneath.

Portrait of Augusta J. Chapin

Augusta Jane Chapin

Augusta Jane Chapin was raised near Lansing, and after seeking to enter the University of Michigan she ultimately attended Olivet College and Michigan Female College. At Olivet, Chapin converted to Universalism and joined the ministry, becoming one of the first women to be ordained as a Universalist minister in 1864. At age 50, Chapin was finally able to enroll at the University of Michigan, and was granted a Master of Arts degree in June 1884. However, according to the proceedings of the Board of Regents, she was unable to attend commencement due to her mother being ill. In 1893, Lombard University, a Universalist institution in Galesburg, Illinois, conferred on her a Doctor of Divinity degree, one of the first woman in the country to hold this honor. [5]

Alumni Catalog information postcard filled out by Augusta Jane Chapin.

Augusta Jane Chapin Alumni Catalog informtion card


[1] “Proceedings of the Board of Regents .” March 1858, p. 732 and June 1858, p. 743. Ann Arbor : The University. 

[2] “Proceedings of the Board of Regents .” September 1858, Appendix B, Report on the Admission of Females, p. 782. Ann Arbor : The University.

[3] Okeson, Taylor. Biographical Sketch of Sarah Burger Stearns. Included in Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920, Online Biographical Dictionary of the Woman Suffrage Movement in the United States. 

[4] Harriet Ada Patton Survey Response form, Folder Park-Ped, Box 110, Responses to Alumnae Council Questionnaires, Alumnae Council Files  Alumni Association (University of Michigan) records, 1924.

[5] Chapin, Augusta Jane (1836-1905). Harvard Square Library: A Digital Library of Unitarian Universalist Biographies, History, Books, and Media. 

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