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.