How a Powerful Woman Limited the Number of Stanford Women
By David Henderson
After nearly a decade of dedication to coeducation at the university, Mrs. Stanford had become alarmed. Women were a minority at Stanford, but their numbers were surging. If the trend continued, she feared, the university would soon be overwhelmingly female — the “Vassar of the Pacific Coast,” as one early observer put it. “This was not my husband’s wish, nor is it mine, nor would it have been my son’s,” she told the trustees.
She would avert the danger. From now on, she told the board, invoking her powers to amend the university’s founding grant, female enrollment would “at no time ever exceed five hundred.”
This is from Sam Scott, “Why Jane Stanford Limited Women’s Enrollment to 500,” Stanford Magazine, September 2018.
Despite the women’s excellence, some men, their chutzpah apparently fed by their ever-growing proportion of the student body, questioned female students’ very presence. “Five hundred women have no place in the midst of 2000 men,” a sophomore named Leon David wrote in a student publication in 1922, his ire fueled by a blame-the-victim logic that damned the women for acting like a chosen few. Successful female entrants, he complained, felt themselves part of an “elect” club, their rarity on campus feeding an atmosphere of “false pride, independence, snobbery and exclusiveness.”
The chosen few. Well, duh.
The whole article, which mainly highlights Jane Stanford’s actions and how the trustees undid them well after her death without violating her expressed wishes, is well worth reading. It also highlights the increasing role of women at Stanford, on the faculty, among the student body, and in sports teams. Also note the 1955 photo of one of the female undergrads.
HT2 Charley Hooper.
Historian Phil Magness sent me this comment, which I think is worth noting.
Jane Stanford also fired Edward A. Ross in 1900 after he gave a speech espousing Aryan nationalism and racial harassment against Asians. She was pilloried for intruding upon his academic freedom and formally censured by a eugenicist-packed committee of Ross’s friends in the AEA [American Economic Association]. They aggressively pushed the line that, as an heiress of a railroad fortune, she was penalizing Ross for his “progressive” critique of the railroad industry’s wealth since it employed many Asian workers.
But Stanford’s private letters reveal a very different story: she accurately noted that Ross gave his inflammatory speech to an audience of union activists at a time when those same union activists frequently engaged in racial violence against the Asian community of San Francisco. And she didn’t want the university associated with a xenophobic lynch mob.