The 1869 decision to admit women came amid a reform movement sweeping the country. Methodists, the founders of Northwestern in 1851, were among the forces contributing to this national mood, issuing sweeping calls for a more moral society, including the collegiate education of women.
Methodist minister and former University of Michigan president Erastus O. Haven was unanimously elected president of Northwestern in 1869; on the same day, the Board of Trustees also adopted its historic resolution to admit women.
The decision was not without contention. At least one faculty member expressed concern about the additional supervision women would need to keep them out of mischief. Faculty knew how to educate women, but not how to manage them in close proximity to men. In the end, the Board chose to leave the details of coeducation to Haven, and hoped that these young men and women would not distract each other from proper, solemn study.