Final Implementation and Analysis


The coeducation decision at Washington and Lee University is a milestone in the life of the university. The university has a wealth of collection on coeducation, but most is located in a series of climate-controlled stacks of Special Collections at the Leyburn Library of Washington and Lee University. Our project sought to create a model for making data from a historical event open, easily accessible, and that can serve as a model for preserving and curating history. We have included in this model project highlights from the coeducation decision so visitors may better understand the era.


Current Research Questions

1) How did the coeducation decision affect social and academic environments in the years preceding and following implementation on the Washington and Lee University campus?
2) How can our research, collaborative ideas, and use of technology reveal an important aspect of Washington and Lee’s history that can be used to better address difficulties in the future?

Data Collected

  • Video Interview
  • Letters
    • Alumni
    • Students
    • Trustees
  • Newspaper articles
    • Ring-tum Phi
    • Non-institution media
  • Photographs
  • Surveys

Tools Applied

  • Tesseract, an Optical Character Recognition (OCR) engine used to convert scanned documents into text that is readable by digital tools
  • MALLET, which we used to topic model the letters on our site.
  • Cirrus (one of many tools in the suite of Voyant Tools), which we used to analyze the frequency of words/ideas in select letters and Ring-tum Phi articles.
  • W&L Forms Builder used to map the location of the authors of 1983 alumni letters that were written in support of or in opposition to the coeducation decision in order to find geographic trends of support.

Preliminary Results

  • The W&L Forms mapping tool: Alumni from the “South” (i.e. Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia) proportionately opposed coeduation (approximately 2 to 1 against) greater than the country of the country as a whole (approximatley 1.5 to 1)
  • Review of related media reveals that faculty supported the coeducation decision by a ratio of approximately 4 to 1
  • Cirrus: Applied to the Ring-Tum Phi during the years of 1985-1986 and 1985-1986, the tool reveals that the word women ranked second only to honor after a custom stop words was implemented.
  • Data from the 1975 Board of Trustees report (not on website, but in Special Collections) on coeducation reveals that freshmen ranked coeducation last when asked about what they found attractive about W&L and first on list of what they found negative about W&L.
  • According to the same Board of Trustees report, professors cited that visiting women brought different perspectives to the classroom and noted more humanistic discussions as one of the greatest benefits to the university.
  • The Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) [Footnote 1] scores dropped between 1965 and 1975 and increased only nominally between 1975 and 1983. The average verbal/math scores were 608/643 in 1965, 537/587 (-71/-56 difference from 1965) in 1975, and 546/591 (+9/+4 difference from 1975) in 1983.
  • Admitting women to Washington and Lee University correlates to an increase in the academic quality of students as measured by the selectivity of the school following the implementation of coeducation.

Final Analysis

Recalling Research Questions

1) How did the coeducation decision affect social and academic environments in the years preceding and following implementation on the Washington and Lee University campus?

  • Incited discussion among students, faculty, staff, and alumni on the introduction of women to a historically male campus.
  • The discussion of coeducation competed vis-à-vis prominence with discussions of honor as exhibited in our analysis of the Ring-tum Phi during the years surrounding the coeducation decision.
  • (There were 565 mention of women and 501 mentions of honor from select 1984-1985 Ring-Tum Phi articles)
  • Even though discussion of coeducation dates back to as early as 1888, discussion began picking up in the early 1970s.
  • University President John D. Wilson served as the final springboard for implementing coeducation.
  • The most vocal of students were those in opposition. They expressed their dissent through banners, bumper stickers, and shirts that said, “No Marthas [Footnote 2]; Better Dead Than Coed; Women At W&L: The Beginning Of An Error”; and “The Last Class With Balls.”

2) How can our research, collaborative ideas, and use of technology reveal an important aspect of Washington and Lee’s history that can be used to better address difficulties in the future?

  • A digital humanities project provides the scope that is necessary but difficult to obtain when examining many artifacts.
  • Using the digital (“distant reading”) tools that we discuss in our preliminary implementation, we are able to analyze artifacts in numerous ways that would take many times longer to analyze if we had used “close reading” alone.
  • Preliminary analysis of our results reveal that a digital humanities project can fulfill the university’s need to preserve, analyze, interpret large amounts of information.
  • Most importantly, the permanence and accessibility of our project allows any person (e.g. a student, faculty member, or trustee in some current or future situation) to readily flag potentially fatal decision-making (e.g. not being completely transparent throughout the discussion and implementation of coeducation) in future decisions. [Footnote 3]


[H1] Even though alumni reside throughout the country, most the greatest proportional dissent from to coeducation was from alumni residing in the Southern states.
Discussion: The W&L Forms mapping tool revealed that among traditional “Southern” states, there was proportionately greater dissent than among alumni residing in other parts of the country.

[H2] Survey data will reveal that support for coeducation was substantial, despite outspoken dissent in published media.
Discussion: Surveys that we uncovered–particularly the 1975 Board of Trustees report on coeducation–revealed that as early as 1974, support for coeducation was above 40 percent.

[H3] Text analysis of the Ring-tum Phi will show that coeducation was the leading issue during the years 1983-1984, 1984-1985, and 1985-1986.
Discussion: Cirrus revealed that coeducation and women were among the leading words mentioned in the Ring-tum Phi, it is difficult to know without reading each article (and having more first-person accounts from those on campus during the coeducation decision) which topic was truly at the forefront of the W&L conversation.

Next Steps

Moving forward, we are looking for a good home to take our project. We have presented to Beau Dudley of Alumni Affairs and presented to multiple members of the Special Collections department of the Leyburn Library. Additionally, our project could be built upon by future Digital Humanities classes at Washington and Lee University. In the meantime, there are many artifacts from the coeducation decision (some mentioned on this page) that we have found useful, but did not have enough time to publish.



[1] Today, the test is known solely as the SAT. The acronym SAT no longer represents a title of any kind.
[2] “No Marthas” introduces Former First Lady to U.S. President (and University benefactor) George Washington, Martha Washington, into the coeducation. Marthas becomes the term synonymous with women. By declaring No Marthas, students were saying that they did not want women on campus.
[3] For example, if Lee Chapel had a similar digital humanities project that included a readily accessible history of the Confederate flags displayed, then the public appeal by students to remove those flags could have been averted.

Project Presentation

Beyond Bow Ties - Final Presentation_14and15May2014Events Using This Presentation

University’s Digital Humanities Working Group and Digital Humanities Action Team (DHAT), Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Members of the Board of Trustees, University Benefactors, and Guests, Thursday, May 15, 2014

Social Life

Screen-Shot-2014-05-06-at-1.57.19-PM-1024x730Social life for women following their admission to Washington and Lee University went from negligible to fully active in a matter of years with the advent of sororities in 1989.