Papers Written To/Received From Anonymous Alumnus A

W&L Anonymous Alum A Letter 1_Redacted

Among their many charges of preservation, Special Collections at Washington and Lee University holds letters written to and received by alumni of the University. Special Collections also holds any important notes that are submitted by a single alumnus that are of significance to the University.

These papers are samples collected to and received from an anonymous alumnus, known as Anonymous Alumnus A. You may access the whole collection by clicking on the thumbnail or choose an individual letter that has been curated from the list below.

Letter 1
Letter 2 and Board of Trustees Brochure
Letter 3
Letters 4 and 5
Letter 6
Letter 7
Letter 8
Letter 9
Letter 10
Letter 11
Letter 12
Letter 13
Letter 14
Letter 15
Letter 16
Letter 17
Letters 18 and 19
Letter 20
Letters 21 and 22
Letter 24
Letter 23 and Board of Trustees Statement on Coeducation

Papers in Collection of Trustee Peter A. Agelasto

Agelasto Trustee Select Papers_RedactedAmong their many charges of preservation, Special Collections at Washington and Lee University holds letters written to and received by members of the Board of Trustees. Special Collections also holds any important notes that are submitted by a single Trustee.

This collection is from former trustee Peter A. Agelasto, III. You may access the whole collection by clicking on the thumbnail or choose an individual article that has been curated from the list below.

Letter 1
Letter 2
Letter 3
Letters 4 and 5
Letter 6
Letter 7
Select Exhibits


From the MALLET homepage : MALLET is a Java-based package for statistical natural language processing, document classification, clustering, topic modeling, information extraction, and other machine learning applications to text.

We chose to represent two distinct topics within the letters we obtained in Special Collections at Washington and Lee University using topic modeling. Used for this purpose, MALLET searches for topics in data set.


lee university future women study hope raised position member successful idea respond expect fewer individuals top obtaining greatly conviction


This model focuses on the study concerning Washington and Lee’s  future contending with other top universities in the United States. With the falling rate of college-going males and academic quality at W&L, John D. Wilson and the Board of Trustees aimed to respond in a timely manner to address these concerns to secure a successful future for the university. Their solution to this concern was coeducation.


alumni board president quality male experience student change people education support opinion found encourage size important age place present


This model concerns how the educational environment and experience would change if women were to come to Washington and Lee University.  Continuing academic excellence of W&L’s past involved questions of the school’s surely changing academic and atmospheric qualities in 1985 with the switch to coeducation.

Source: McCallum, Andrew Kachites. “MALLET: A Machine Learning for Language Toolkit.” 2002.

Map of Alumni Responses

John D. Wilson took office as President of Washington and Lee University on January 17, 1983 after serving as President of Wells College and Executive Vice President of Virginia Tech. In the Spring of 1983, President Wilson issued a “Report to Alumni”, which included the topic of coeducation at Washington and Lee. In October of 1983, President Wilson addressed alumni at an Alumni Leadership Conference on the subject. Wilson reintroduced the hot topic for many reasons, but mainly because of, “the decline in ‘yield,’ that is, the decline we have experienced in the number of accepted applicants who finally matriculate.” In a letter, the President explained his concern over “some incipient erosion which W&L has suffered in its academic standing these past few years and its difficulty to enroll the very top students.” A binder in the Special Collections department in Leyburn Library at Washington and Lee holds 99 letters between President Wilson and alumni after his initial request for feedback on the subject of coeducation from 1983.

The Mapplication tool provides a visual representation of the location from which forty-two alumni wrote letters to President Wilson about their view on coeducation at Washington and Lee. Each point on the map represents the location of one alumnus and his view, marked as either a red “con” or a purple “pro.” To preserve anonymity, we refrained from uploading the letters onto the map, but they can be accessed in a single binder in Special Collections. Before producing the map, we hypothesized that Southern states would demonstrate a stronger distaste for coeducation. The binder provides the 99 letters received in response to President Wilson’s request for alumni feedback. Of those, 41 letters (~41%) wished for coeducation, while 50 letters (~50%) hoped it would remain an all-male institution and 8 were not explicit in their vision for the decision. We mapped 42 letters: 17 (40%) of which are “Pro” and 25 (60%) are “Con.” Characteristic of a Digital Humanities project, the Mapplication immediately and succinctly visualizes the trend of pro and con letters and proved our hypothesis correct. The Southern states demonstrate a trend of “con” attitudes toward coeducation.

Letter 23 and Board of Trustees Statement on Coeducation

W&L Anonymous Alum A Letter 23_Redacted

Letter 23

Board of Trustees Statement on Coeducation

Board of Trustees Statement on Coeducation

Farris Hotckiss, secretary to President Wilson, sent letter 23 to the 508 alumni who wrote letters to the University or to the Board of Trustees on the question of coeducation. He said that though the 508 men represent only 3.2% of the entire alumni population, the viewpoints expressed in the letters “gave the Board a comprehensive picture of overall alumni opinion.”

Hotchkiss wrote, “Of the many ways alumni chose to make known their views, there was common agreement that the 508 letters were the most helpful.” Enclosed with the letter was the Board of Trustee’s official statement on the coeducation decision. Hotchkiss sent the 508 alumni advanced copies of the statement because of their interest in W&L and the coeducation study. The statement was published in the Alumni Magazine in the issue following the Board’s July 13-14 meeting.

Anonymous Alumnus A – Letter 20

W&L Anonymous Alum A Letter 20_RedactedThis Trustee thanks Anonymous Alumnus A for his “very thoughtful  letter.” He says that the Board of Trustees anticipates making a decision at their meeting in July. He states,”At this stage, I am trying to maintain an open mind but, as you [know], the overriding consideration in any decision is to do whatever is necessary to maintain the academic excellence of the Washington and Lee experience.”

Anonymous Alumnus A – Letters 18 and 19

W&L Anonymous Alum A Letter 18_Redacted

Letter 18

W&L Anonymous Alum A Letter 19_Redacted

Letter 19

Letter 18 Transcription:

June 1, 1984
Dear [Anonymous Alumnus A],

Thank you for your thoughtful letter about co-education at our alma mater. It is one of the very few in the deluge of mail I have received which is in favor of co-education.

The enclosed copy of my letter [Letter 19] to Mr. Ballengee and other trustees expresses my present position.

I was a member of the Board of Trustees when you were a student, but was retired in 1973.

Sincerely yours,

Letter 19 addresses James Ballengee, the rector of the Board of Trustees. This Trustee Emeritus suggests that the board should consider postponing taking any action on the coeducation decision.

He expresses three choices that he believes the Board has:

1) “To reject coeducation, realizing of course that it could be brought up again in the future,”

2) “To adopt coeducation, an action which, [he is] convinced, would be irrevocable,”

3) “Delay action”

He writes, “I favor the third alternative, partly because, even with all the evidence at hand, I am not sure we yet know enough to resolve the complex problem. However, my primary reason for advocating delay is the difficulty of reaching a responsible decision in a highly-charged emotional atmosphere and under the pressure of a deadline.”

Anonymous Alumnus A – Letter 11

W&L Anonymous Alum A Letter 11_RedactedThis Board member thanks the anonymous alumnus for his opinion on the need for coeducation at Washington and Lee. The alumnus believes that coeducation would help the University achieve academic excellence and attract more student-athletes. The Board member reassures the alumnus that the Trustees will keep the alumni informed throughout the process.

Anonymous Alumnus A – Letter 6

W&L Anonymous Alum A Letter 6_Redacted

Letter 6

A trustee sent Anonymous Alumnus A’s letter back with a handwritten note. The note reads: “7/9 Thank you for your opinion on Coed and your continuing interest in W&L.”

The anonymous alumnus argues that in order to remain competitive for top-tier students in both the academic and athletic sense, the trustee should consider the assistance coeducation would have in accomplishing these goals.

Anonymous Alumnus A – Letters 4 and 5

W&L Anonymous Alum A Letter 4_Redacted

Letter  4

W&L Anonymous Alum A Letter 5_Redacted

Letter 5

Anonymous Alumnus A sent copies of this letter to each trustee and each trustee emeritus. His primary reason for writing to the trustees was to call attention to the trouble he was having recruiting students from his local area to attend W&L. He wrote, “I have found many apply, become accepted, and then make the decision to go to another institution such as Davidson or Vanderbilt, with the explanation to me that the decision was made to avoid spending four years at a school segregated by sex.”

He concludes his letter with a request: “Please get us back in step with the academic institutions with whom we compete.” Anonymous Alumnus A believed coeducation was a necessary step in the recruitment of top students and pursuit of academic excellence.

Students, Alumni 2-1 Against; Faculty 4-1 For

Student:Alumni and FacultyWashington and Lee University’s decision to go coed was spurred largely by concerns over a shortage of qualified students, but remaining all-male colleges including Wabash College and Hampden-Sydney did not feel similar pressure. W&L had resisted the pressure to go coed since 1888, when the idea was presented in the student magazine, Southern Collegian. President Wilson’s suggestion of opening W&L’s undergraduate school to women was met with stark negativity even though the law school had gone coed in 1972 due to pressure by the American Bar Association. When Wilson became president of the University in 1983, his push to halt a tradition that marked Washington and Lee University as a distinctive school caused his low popularity among students. Bob Jenevein, student body president in 1984, believes that changing the single-sex status at W&L will inevitably alter the spirit of the institute. However, Frank Parsons, Executive Assistant to the past three presidents of W&L, thought that W&L’s character would not change drastically with the initiative. Perhaps, like Wabash College’s spokesman Keen, Parsons realized a single-sex institute is hard to sell, and thus seeks the maintenance of W&L as a unique and academically acclaimed school with a pro-coed stance.

[from Special Collections; original source unknown]

W&L Swamped With Inquiries

Students Swamping W&LFollowing Washington and Lee University’s declaration to go coed, high school students from across the country expressed interest in attending. The new status of the University helped attract many prospective students. A Californian was, at first, deterred by the all-male status of W&L, but once he learned of the coeducation decision, he requested an application. Alumni also began recommending W&L to their female relatives. Washington an Lee’s choice to become coed not only encouraged more applicants across the country to apply but also helped raise academic standards.

[Source: Roanoke Times & World-News – August 8, 1984]

Washington and Lee to Admit Female Undergraduates

To Admit Female UndergradsSurveys administered to the alumni, undergraduates, and faculty of Washington and Lee show 58 percent of alumni opposing the coeducation change, 53 percent undergraduate opposition, and 80 percent faculty approval. The preference of coed schools by both males and females as well as the increasing role of women in society led to the trustees’ decision to implement coeducation at Washington and Lee.

[from Special Collections; original source unknown]

W&L Welcomes Women

picture_14Following the trustees’ 17-7 decision that led to Washington and Lee University to become coeducational, 2,369 prospective students applied to the university–a record number. It led to the highest selectivity in the admissions process that the institution had ever seen. The academic standards of W&L were well on the rise. The University also added more activities to Orientation Week that focused on entertainment as opposed to an academic-centered curriculum for the week. The University threw a mock cocktail party, dubbed “mocktail” for the freshman class during their first week.

[from Special Collections; original source unknown]

1980 Student and 1981 Faculty Survey Summary on Coeducation

1980 and 1981 survey summary

A 1980 Student Survey and 1981 Faculty Survey on coeducation at Washington and Lee University revealed a positive attitude toward coeducation. Interest in coeducation reemerged in 1980 after failed attempts in 1896, 1902, and 1975 to make the University coed. David Bowen ’83 conducted a survey as part of his senior honors thesis titled “Coeducation at Washington and Lee University: A Social Systems Approach.” At the end of Winter Term 1980, Bowen and members of the Sociology 375 class called “Research Methods” surveyed 1,050 out of 1,200 students to gauge their attitudes toward coeducation. They considered the following variables: geographic background, class, religious preference, family income, and grade point average. They then asked questions such as “Was W&L’s single sex student body a factor in your decision to enroll?” They sought to understand the impact that coeducation would have on social and academic environments at W&L.  In the student survey “Should W&L Become Coeducational?” 50.2% were in favor of coeducation. The survey conductors found that students from the South opposed coeducation more frequently than students from the North. In the faculty survey, 92 out of 115 faculty members participated. Of that 68%, 77% of faculty members favored coeducation. The surveys found that the need for a “realistic environment” motivated students and faculty to support coeducation at Washington and Lee.

Agelasto Trustee Select Papers – Select Exhibits

Agelasto Trustee Select Papers_Select Exhibits
Exhibits I, II, and III

Exhibit I: “Selectivity of Some Institutions, / Including Washington and Lee, / By Percentages of Applicants Admitted in 1983.” This exhibit notes that W&L accepted 57 percent of applicants in 1983. By comparison, Harvard, Williams, and the University of Virginia accepted 18, 28, and 35 percent of applicants, respectively, in 1983.

Exhibit II: “Academic Statistics / Washington and Lee, College Board Scores.” This exhibit cites that W&L’s scores from the Scholastic Aptitude Test (now the SAT), fell a collective 127 points across verbal and math between 1965 and 1975 and only marginally recovered (a collective 13 points across verbal and math) from 1975 to 1983.

Exhibit III: “Academic Statistics / Washington and Lee.” This exhibit highlights that the falling quality of applicants who enrolled in the University. For example, the exhibit reports that there was a 70 percent decline in the number of admitted freshmen who had an SAT Verbal score over 650.

Agelasto Trustee Select Papers – Letter 7 (Redacted)

Agelasto Trustee Select Papers_Letter 7_Redacted

Remarks by a member of the Board of Trustees who is justifying why he is voting in favor of the coeducation decision. His 14-page letter presents a balanced narrative of the coeducation decision.

He says, “I believe firmly that it is the correct decision for us to make for W&L in 1984… I strongly believe that the educational experience at W&L will improve if it becomes coeducational at the undergraduate level.”

Agelasto Trustee Select Papers – Letter 6 (Redacted)

Agelasto Trustee Select Papers_Letter 6_Redacted

This letter sent to Trustee Agelasto (incorrectly spelled Agelastro in the letter) discusses strong disdain toward to idea to making W&L coeducational. The author provides three suggestions:

  1. The author proposes “and will be the first to volunteer to contribute, that a one-way ticket back to Lapeer, Michigan, be immediately purchased for Dr. Wilson.”
  2. The author states that the “faculty has put itself on a pedestal and wants to dictate the University’s policies.”
  3. The Board of Trustees should be told that coeducation is very unpopular.

This letter is among the most intense wording among any letter in the archives. It is attached to a Washington Post article citing the decision to allow women into the University Club of Washington, DC.

Agelasto Trustee Select Papers – Letter 4 and 5 (Redacted)

Agelasto Trustee Select Papers_Letter 4_Redacted

Letter 4

Agelasto Trustee Select Papers_Letter 5_Redacted

Letter 5

Letter 4 is a cover letter to Trustee Agelasto. Letter 5 is written from the same individual as the cover letter and discusses his unhappiness with the way that the coeducation decision has been handled thus far. (It had yet to pass at the time of this writing.) He lists why he believes that W&L should not go coeducational (e.g. alumni were largely ignored, alumni survey was biased, and the institution is not in as bad of academic shape as it asserted. The author concludes by saying his loyal donations may not continue in the same way they have before and questions whether W&L “really values its alumni.”

Agelasto Trustee Select Papers – Letter 3 (Redacted)

Agelasto Trustee Select Papers_Letter 3_RedactedTranscription

July 15


Dear Peter,

Horray! I don’t know how you voted but I am delighted with the decision to take W+L coed. It will take a lot of effort to make it work, but I think it was the only way to maintain academic standards.

I’m ready to redouble my efforts as class agent and do whatever I can to help.

[Redacted] sends best to you and Betsy.




An individual writes in support of the decision of the Board of Trustees to begin admitting women to W&L. He/she offers to redouble his/her efforts in serve as a class agent, which is today and was at the time this letter was written a class representative who champions fundraising efforts for one’s own graduating class.

Agelasto Trustee Select Papers – Letter 2

Agelasto Trustee Select Papers_Letter 2_Redacted

In a letter sent directly from the Rector of the Board of Trustees, James M. Ballengee, wrote to “alumni, students, parents, faculty and friends” of the university. He wrote, “the admission of undergraduate women would help ensure that Washington and Lee will maintain its reputation and heritage as one of the finest institutions of higher learning in the United States. He cited that although many alumni were against coeducation, most said they were in favor of coeducation if it saved the university from “academic deterioration.”

Agelasto Trustee Select Papers – Letter 1 (Redacted)

Agelasto Trustee Select Papers_Letter 1_RedactedAn individual commends W&L for going coed. The author affirms Washington and Lee’s tradition, but also cites that the university “will continue to have outstanding leadership and a fertile alumni and constituency from which to draw its student body and future leaders.” The author also recalls the decision of the university to give up “big time football” in 1954 as another time when “students and alumni thought that their Washington and Lee world was coming to an end.”

Fighting Coeducation Opposition

Screen Shot 2014-05-03 at 9.05.15 PM Washington and Lee women of 1986 making a statement against male opposition to their introduction to the university. Even after the implementation of the coeducation initiative, men of Washington and Lee still brought women from other schools to on-campus functions. Many women wore shirts reading, “W&L Women: Quality Doesn’t Have To Travel” in response.

The Beginning Of An Error

The Beginning of an ErrorMany men were against the allowing of women to attend Washington and Lee University because they both cherished the all-male tradition of the school and thought the lifestyle of the university would take a negative turn. Combined with their shirts, these men pose in front of urinals to show complete disagreement with and disrespect for the coeducation initiative at Washington and Lee.