Higher Ed, High Ideals: Women’s Colleges

Women had the opportunity to receive higher education from a number of institutions.

A Douglass freshman wearing a traditional dink hat, circa 1965.
A Douglass freshman wearing a traditional dink hat, circa 1965.
Photo courtesy of Special Collections and University Archives Rutgers University Libraries.

In September 1918, Rutgers University admitted 54 female students to the New Jersey College for Women, later renamed Douglass College. The institution planned to train future female teachers so locals could compete with the increasing supply of qualified women from out of state. But it wasn’t the first opportunity for women to achieve higher education in New Jersey. In 1887, Princeton University (then named the College of New Jersey) opened a sister college, Evelyn College for Women. When Evelyn College closed a mere decade later, Princeton shut its doors to women until 1969.

Luckily, other opportunities were on the horizon. In 1899, the women-only College of Saint Elizabeth in Morristown opened, followed in 1908 by Mount Saint Mary College (now Georgian Court University in Lakewood). In 1918—the same year Rutgers first admitted women—a female student named Ruth Havighurst enrolled in Drew University in Madison, but stayed for only a year.

Today, Rutgers is the only public research university in the country that provides the option of a women’s residential college. With 2,400 students, Douglass College is one of the largest women’s colleges in the nation.

However, Douglass lost its degree-granting status after a 2006 restructuring at Rutgers-New Brunswick. Douglass Residential College students now earn Rutgers degrees.

In another sign that the heyday of women’s education in New Jersey is coming to an end, the College of Saint Elizabeth, New Jersey’s last remaining women’s school to grant degrees, will begin admitting male students to daytime classes in fall 2016.

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