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

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.

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.

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.”

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.

Social Life

Screen-Shot-2014-05-06-at-1.57.19-PM-1024x730Social life for women following their initial presence at Washington and Lee University went from little to fully active in a matter of years. Sororities were introduced in January 1989, bringing women into an integral social aspect of Washington and Lee: Greek life. Sororities and Fraternities began to have themed gatherings called “mixers” where members of each organization meet for a night of fun. W&L women began having a similar social life to that of men.