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About 150 Years of Women at Northwestern

Northwestern was among the first major wave of colleges to educate women alongside men in the 1860s and 1870s.

Northwestern was among the first wave of colleges to educate women alongside men in the 1860s and 1870s. When Northwestern began admitting women as undergraduate students in 1869, coeducation was deeply controversial. Northwestern was, in many ways, a leader in embracing coeducation. It would be another 100 years before some Ivy League schools allowed women to enroll along with men.

While Northwestern was among the first to allow women to enroll, it was not an easy path. It took extensive effort on the part of students, faculty, alumni and staff to open the doors to women, who continued to demand equal access and opportunity. Today, Northwestern is much more diverse than it was in 1869. Challenges remain to achieve equity across gender identity and expression, racial identity, sexual orientation and economic status. We have more work to do to achieve inclusion.

This academic year, we are celebrating members of our community across all gender and sexual identities. Among them are bold and brave women, womxn* and gender-diverse* individuals who led the struggle to open doors, creating greater access and opportunity for all who follow. We recognize the next generation of catalysts who continue the journey of those who came before, transforming our community and our culture by challenging conventional norms and working to ensure Northwestern – and the world – is a more equitable and inclusive place. 

The forward thinking and fierce determination of our community should inspire us to make the next 150 years better for all.  Throughout the academic year, the Northwestern community will have many opportunities to reflect, be inspired and learn from each other.


*The use of womxn is intended to share Northwestern’s value of inclusivity throughout this year-long celebration. It’s intended to explicitly include women of color, transgender women, femme/feminine-identifying genderqueer and non-binary individuals. We recognize this is evolving, which is why we are also using the phrase gender-diverse individuals. This is meant to be inclusive and honor the broad spectrum of gender identity, role, or expression which may differ from traditional cultural norms.

At Northwestern, we are committed to promoting an inclusive and equitable community at all levels of the University. As we launch this program, it’s more important than ever to recognize the individuals who maintain the commitment of those who came before them to transform our community and our culture.”

President Morton Schapiro and Provost Jonathan Holloway

Commemoration News

Departments, centers and organizations across Northwestern are participating in this initiative. The celebration of Northwestern women, womxn and gender-diverse individuals may run through curricula, community-wide events, public programming and more.

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