Wheaton Welcomes Male Students

The July 1872 issue of Rushlight reported that Caroline Cutler Metcalf had tutored Harry Cobb, son of the steward and horsemanship teacher, and another boy from Norton, every morning in her office. The editor opined that “with the approval of the trustees the halls of Wheaton will probably soon be opened wide to both sexes.” Instead, Cobb was formally enrolled in regular French and drawing courses in 1873-74.

During the 1870s and early 1880s, approximately ten young Norton men were enrolled in the regular Seminary program. None of them received degrees from Wheaton, although several remained long enough to advance from the preparatory course through the junior and junior middle classes. By completing the second year of Wheaton’s curriculum, they were ready for admission to any American college or university.

Although the first names of these young men did not appear in the student lists in the catalogs, an occasional listing of students taking special courses such as French, Latin or drawing inadvertently used their first names. At no time were there more than six male students.

Laban E. Wild, the son of George Wild, Sr., was one of the young men who attended Wheaton for four years. Not only did he share the first name of Eliza Baylies Wheaton’s late husband and adopted son, but his father was also a cousin of Laban Morey Wheaton, his business agent and secretary, and Laban Wild’s brother, Alfred, continued to perform these functions for Mrs. Wheaton.

Young Laban Wild needed to prepare for admission to Brown University, and because Norton lacked a high school, attending Wheaton Seminary was the easiest way to obtain the educational background he needed. His family’s connection to Mrs. Wheaton guaranteed that he would be granted special consideration, but he would not have been allowed to be the lone boy attending the Seminary. Other young men of his age were no doubt invited to join him at Wheaton.

The trustees may have considered filling this gap for young men as a means to increase Wheaton’s enrollment and income as well as the Seminary’s reach and influence, though their minutes never actually mention coeducation.