Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Coates College for Women

Coates College (1885-1897)
Coates College for Women

Location: Terre Haute, Indiana, USA

Founded: 1885

Closed: 1897

Coates College for Women was the vision of Jane Patterson (McBeth) Coates, a resident of Greencastle, Indiana. In 1884, with the help of an attorney, the college was organized with Coates' $20,000 endowment. Trustees were selected (all men). By March 1885, property was purchased for the college--a 13 acre "forested terrain" on Strawberry Hill, located on Terre Haute's south side. The land, which was the residential estate of a former judge, was enclosed by what is now known as Fourth and Fifth Streets, and Osborn and Hullman Streets. The cost of the property was $10,000.

The school opened on October 6, 1885, and included three women faculty members. Though the college was formally nondenominational, the by-laws mandated two-thirds of the board be Presbysterian and the Bible to be the "chief textbook." Just three students enrolled the first year. But by 1889-1990, enrollment had grown to more than one hundred students and three bachelors degrees were offered. Coates aimed to be the "Wellesley of the Midwest" and modeled its curriculum after those of Wellesley and Vassar College.

Janet Scudder (1869-1940)
Janet Scudder (1869-1940) was also hired to teach woodworking at the college in the late 1880s. Scudder went on to become one of the better known women sculptors of the early 20th century; she was especially well known for her small fountains and garden sculptures. Scudder was also an outspoken feminist and suffragette, who frequently marched in parades and demonstrations involved with women's issues. Eventually, the "poor, plain girl from Terre Haute became an international celebrity who frequented the salon of Gertrude Stein and shuttled between Paris and New York."  

According to the Terre Haute Tribune Star, "The financial panic of 1893 and a will contest after Mrs. Coates' death on Aug. 22, 1891, are cited as reasons for the college's inability to continue. The sixth annual commencement June 9, 1897, was its last. The alumnae became community leaders; reunions were held regularly into the 1930s."

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