Baxter Hall, located at the corner of Main Street and Chellis Road, is distinguishable from other campus buildings by it’s impressive, white tower and bell that for countless years, called students and faculty from their slumber to their classes to times of celebration. Built in 1891-92, Baxter is the fourth academic building on this Hilltop site; three others were destroyed by fire. With the renovations to Miller Bicentennial Hall, Baxter’s classrooms have become home to the Administrative offices and College Advising and also, tucked away on the ground floor, KUA’s Archives Room where over 200 years of memorabilia, publications, paintings and countless photographs from the Academy’s long history are maintained.
For several years, as archivist, I have shared the Academy’s history with the Kimball Union community through emails and a blog called, From the Archives …, on KUA’s website. Over the years, we have celebrated many milestones, most recently the Academy’s Bicentennial in 2012-2013. This year, we recognize the 40th anniversary of our return to coeducation in the fall of 1974 after 39 years as a boys’ school. In honor of this, From the Archives … this year will focus on the lives of women at Kimball Union and their place in a coeducational school.
When a council of men from the leading churches of New England met on October 21, 1812, in Windsor, Vermont, to found a seminary “to assist in the education of poor and pious young men for the gospel ministry …” and when Daniel Kimball stood up at that meeting and pledged $6,000 and the bulk of his estate at his “decease” if the seminary would be located in his town of Meriden, did any of these men have in mind the education of young women? Nothing of this nature was written directly into the Academy Charter, but there are a few clues that they did, one of them being the four young women who studied here in 1815-1816 and those few young women who were welcomed at the new Academy in subsequent years.
A second one comes from a leading delegate at the meeting, President Dwight of Yale College, who “presented an elaborate argument, urging the great importance of a liberally educated ministry, for the present and future welfare of the churches and the country, and deprecating the establishment of schools with a partial and limited course of studies even for the purpose of multiplying ministers. These views were almost unanimously adopted … making the new Seminary an Academy, whose object should be, as set forth in the Charter, ‘To assist in the education of poor and pious young men for the gospel ministry; and also to make provision for the education of such others, as may be admitted by the trustees, upon terms subject to pay a reasonable sum for their tuition.” When they wrote “such others,” it is possible they were thinking of women as well as those men who were not entering the ministry.
Another clue comes from Daniel (b. 1753-d. 1817) and Hannah Kimball (b. 1758-d. 1847). Hannah, a teacher before and after marriage, was a member of the prominent and educated Chase Family of Cornish, NH; two of her brothers and five of her cousin’s sons and his grandson, the eminent Salmon Portland chase, Senator, Secretary and Chief Justice of the United States, were graduates of Dartmouth College. Daniel, whose pledge had been accepted by the council, was elected a trustee of the new Academy and it is not hard to imagine that, whether originally in favor of coeducation or not, he may have been influenced by Hannah to accept young women at the Academy.
Many men who had studied alongside women at Kimball Union, including the fourth Principal (1835-1871), Cyrus S. Richards, class of 1831, and his son, the Reverend Charles H. Richards, class of 1854, believed in coeducation. Charles Richards gave The Centennial Address at Kimball Union’s 1913 celebrations, part of which was a lengthy observation on co-education; it included the following: “Another marked feature of the Academy deserving special notice has been its co-education. It is difficult for us to realize in our day the skepticism that formerly prevailed concerning higher education for women. In these times when the great women’s colleges are turning out mathematicians and philosophers and philologists by hundreds, and Cornell and Oberlin and the great state universities are offering their courses on equal terms to girls as well as boys, it seems a matter of course for a girl to seek as broad and complete an education as her brother.
“Our forefathers would have stood aghast at the sight. Men must be highly educated, they thought, for they must meet on equal terms the trained scholars and statesmen of the world. But woman is mistress of the home, and needs to know only enough to order her household well. Let her stick to her distaff, and let grammar and science alone. Learning will spoil her loveliness, they said. Too much education will rob her of her skill as cook and housemother. …
“Such was the doubt which was quite prevalent a century ago as to the wisdom and value of an education for women co-equal with that for men. Slowly that doubt was dissipated and it came to be regarded as desirable for a girl to go hand in hand with her brother through an academic training as far as the door of the college – then she was to stop short.”
Dissipating that doubt was the first Principal Otis Hutchins and his trustees who enrolled four young women in the class of 1816, the first male class to graduate after the Academy opened its doors on January 9, 1815. One of the four women was Harriet Wines whose father, the Reverend Abijah Wines of Newport, New Hampshire, was one of the original eleven Kimball Union trustees; he obviously realized that he had a daughter who could and should benefit from a liberal education. Accepting these four young women into Kimball Union changed their paths and those of the Academy and, subsequently, the country and the world.
Next time: Hannah Kimball challenges the Meriden community.