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From Fireworks to Fire

display case from exhibit

Fundraising for the Evanston College for Ladies was well under way in 1871, led by its new president Frances Willard. Her efforts culminated in the “Ladies Fourth of July” celebration, a day of parades, baseball games, and boat races with the intent to raise $30,000 for the ECL’s building. With 10,000 people attending the event, Willard met her aggressive pledge goal.

By September, the ECL was housing its students in the former North-Western Female College building a mile away (the Female College had not awarded college-level degrees). The ECL had enrolled 236 women, 37 of whom were on the “collegiate” track toward a degree. Coeducation, of a sort, had finally begun at Northwestern. 

But October, 1871, brought with it the Great Chicago Fire, which ravaged the homes and businesses of many of the ECL’s donors. Pledged donations went up in smoke, and the school struggled for funding to complete its building. The solution? Only a full administrative merger with Northwestern would keep the original dream of coeducation alive in Evanston. In June, 1873, after months of negotiation, the ECL became the Woman’s College of Northwestern. Frances Willard became the first dean of women, and the trajectory toward true equal education of women was under way at Northwestern.