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The Coordinate Tradition

A Hobart College Perspective on the Founding of William Smith College
by Eugen Baer, interim dean; Rocco L. "Chip" Capraro, associate dean; David Mapstone, assistant dean; and Roberta D. Whitwood, assistant to the dean


Hobart College for men exists in a coordinate relationship with William Smith College for women. The term “coordinate” refers to the special way the two colleges form a single coeducational learning community which resonates with our historical identity and our contemporary purpose.

The mission of Hobart College as a men’s college is to liberally educate men. If we think of a liberal arts education as a shaping of the self, and if we think of the self as gendered, then the virtue of coordinate colleges – one devoted to men, and the other, to women – is apparent. Hobart as a men’s college can be understood as a place where men learn about themselves.

The self is only one object of liberal learning. A liberal arts education is also about seeing the world from a perspective other than our own. That means it is also about the other. Because gender is one of the significant ways of being the other, coordinate colleges provide a safeguard that men are not educated about themselves in isolation from women.

On the contrary, at Hobart College, men are educated in dialogue with women about the gendered nature of human identity and experience. The essence of coordinate is to educate men and women in an environment which acknowledges differences and affirms equality between men and women. That is what “coordinate” has come to mean for Hobart College, 100 years after the founding of William Smith College.

Things were different in 1908: At that time, being coordinate colleges was the solution to the conundrum of granting women students access to a previously all-male college while at the same time preserving the existing homosocial learning environment for men.

Bishop Hobart
Bishop John Henry Hobart
founded Hobart College in

Hobart College was founded here, in Geneva, New York, in 1822, by Episcopal Bishop John Henry Hobart. While one expression of its mission, as articulated by President Benjamin Hale in the mid-nineteenth century, was to provide “an elite education for the masses,” Hobart was still a college for men only. The one, famous exception to that rule was Elizabeth Blackwell, who was granted her medical degree from Hobart in 1849.

In the early years of the twentieth century, Hobart College sought to shore up its enrollment and finances. President Langdon Stewardson was determined to improve the college’s “equipment” (by which he meant its physical plant and facilities) and to increase faculty salaries, and thereby put Hobart on a solid footing for the new century.

Stewardson sought the financial assistance of William Smith, a local nurseryman, philanthropist, spiritualist and feminist. For his part, Smith had long been interested in “doing something for women,” by which he meant establishing a women’s college. As wealthy as he was, Smith did not have enough assets of his own to complete the project.

In 1906, Stewardson and Smith agreed on a “coordinate plan” to found William Smith College for women – as a department of Hobart College for men. The essence of the coordinate plan was to have one faculty – the existing Hobart College faculty—teach separate classes for men and women, and to have two separate campuses for men and women. In that way, they surmised, Stewardson would be able to increase the resources of Hobart without admitting women, and Smith would be able to found a women’s college.

In an age when simply admitting women to the men’s college would not have been well received by most Hobart faculty, students and alumni, President Stewardson discussed the meaning of coordinate colleges in his address to Hobart alumni on the occasion of the founding of William Smith:

“…the co-ordinate instruction of men and women is to be clearly distinguished from what is commonly called co-education. Under this plan there is but one faculty and the same educational advantages and degrees are offered to women as to men, but the women are not, except perhaps in certain very small classes doing advanced work, to be brought together in the same lecture-rooms…the two sexes are co-ordinated under one faculty but not associated in the same classrooms or on the same campus.”

In short, “coordinate” meant change for the William Smith women of the future without corresponding change for the Hobart men of the present. Or so they thought.

Over the ensuing century, Hobart and William Smith Colleges came to realize that change for women would mean change for men. We also came to see coordinate colleges as an opportunity for “taking women students seriously” (to borrow a phrase from Adrienne Rich) and for taking men students seriously. What was a “masterly compromise,” in 1906, has become, in the new century and for the new millennium, a powerful educational approach for men and women in a changing world of gender relations.

Co-ed Classes

By 1938, Hobart and William
Smith students began
taking co-ed courses.

As a practical point, how is the coordinate system different, now, from what it was 100 years ago? What has changed? Actually, a great deal. For example, in 1938, the classrooms became co-educational, with women and men sitting side by side in classes for the first time.

But the more important question is, who has changed? Certainly, women have changed. They have achieved academic and extracurricular success, and their enrollment has steadily increased. Men have learned to work cooperatively with women – without silencing women’s voices. The Hobart and the William Smith student governments routinely co-sponsor events and initiatives. Men are supportive of women’s achievements and appear at Moving Up Day and William Smith athletic contests to support their female classmates.

But men themselves have changed, and they’ve changed profoundly. Women’s success at the Colleges was the occasion for men to take a look at themselves – for some, for the very first time, historically speaking. The experience of Hobart men over the past 100 years compares to those who, in the imagery of T.S. Eliot, have come back to the place they had always occupied, but who, in so doing, see it for the first time. Hobart men have become self-reflexive about the gendered nature of their own lives as men

Hobart men as a group have discovered within themselves a wider range of choices in careers and professional life and have been able to explore more fully their own emotional lives. In other words, the change in gender relations wrought by the founding of William Smith has led to the challenging of perceived gender stereotypes for Hobart students as well as for their classmates at William Smith.

At both colleges, there was the concomitant discovery that equality of rights and opportunities need not necessarily do away with all gender differences. Those differences were engaged and transformed from modes of opposition and repression to expressions of wholeness and complementariness.

In fact, the men of Hobart College have much to celebrate on the occasion of the William Smith College Centennial. They have come to realize that they are immersed in a win-win situation with their sister college. There have been benefits for women – and for men (going far beyond the assets of some $475,000, including what is today the Smith Opera House for the Performing Arts, downtown, on Seneca Street which William Smith signed over to Hobart).

What 100 years ago seemed like a generous, but, perhaps, one-sided gift – from men to women, has come full circle to enrich the lives of the men themselves, in innumerable and unforeseeable ways. For this, Hobart College is truly grateful, and looks forward to many years of mutual discovery and growth with William Smith College.

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