One hundred and fifty years ago Madelon Stockwell became the first woman to attend the University of Michigan, but she did not arrive at this achievement in isolation. These are the stories of the women who initially asked for a chance, the opinions that had to change, and the pioneering women who proved they belonged here too.

This exhibit focuses on the people, in particular the women, who played a role in opening the university to co-education between 1858 and the early 1870s. This scope is intentionally narrow in order to focus on the personal stories of some of the individuals involved in this achievement. The first part of the story is how three women forced the regents to consider them in 1858. The second looks at the changing opinions among university leaders, who helped open doors. The third introduces a few of the women from the first decade who paved the way for the more than 20,000 that are currently enrolled. 

There are additional stories not explored here that are also important. These include the role that women’s rights advocates and the state legislature played in asserting outside pressure on the university in the 1850s and 1860s, the women who attended the University’s branch preparatory schools before 1870 but could not enroll in Ann Arbor, and the lingering issues that women seeking a higher education at the University of Michigan faced for decades after 1870, like insufficient facilities and resources, and gender-segregated classes in the Medical School. The Bentley Historical Library has resources to support further research into these topics.


Images above: BL003687, BL003632, Harpers Weekly, BL023630, BL000266, BL002002, HS12082, HS8669