From separate universities to equal opportunities: The shared roots of Baylor, UMHB

The University of Mary Hardin-Baylor grew out of Baylor's female department and experienced five name changes before adopting its current one. Photo courtesy of the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor

By Rory Dulock | Staff Writer

Like many older universities in the nation, Baylor has witnessed significant advances for women in education. From the creation of a separate university for women to the establishment of equal opportunities for them, Baylor has seen a transformation throughout its history.

Baylor was chartered by the Republic of Texas in 1845 through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, including its namesake, Judge R.E.B. Baylor. The university was co-educational until 1851, when a male department and a female department were created. Then, in 1866, the female department got its own charter and separated from Baylor University to become what is now known as the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor.

Dr. Andrea Turpin, associate professor of history and graduate program director, said around 1837, before Baylor was founded, women were starting to be admitted into higher education in the U.S.

“For Baylor, which was not as progressive on average on these sorts of things, to go co-educational in 1845 was pretty progressive,” Turpin said. “Co-education [and] women’s higher education … was very new.”

Elizabeth Norvell, associate director of museum and alumni engagement at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, said the female department went through five name changes over the years. It became Baylor Female College in 1866, Baylor College for Women in 1925, Mary Hardin-Baylor College in 1934 and finally University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in 1978.

Originally, we were the female department that was allowed for in the original charter that was in 1845,” Norvell said. “In 1866, we got our own charter, and then we moved to Belton.”

At the time, Norvell said separating from the male department was done in the best interest of those in the female department.

“There was a lot of conflict on leadership and how leadership within the college should be conducted, whether the president of the university should also be the principal of the female department,” Norvell said. “Because of the separate physical locations, I think it was really hard to manage both under one umbrella of leadership, so separating actually made a lot of sense.”

Around 1887, Baylor began readmitting women and became co-educational again. Turpin said by 1900, almost 50% of undergraduates were women, which was a huge burst from 1870, when only 20% of undergraduates were women.

“It’s a huge floodgate, and a lot of it has to do with opportunities to teach, which is the expansion of common schooling, so public schooling in the new nation,” Turpin said. “Women don’t get paid the same as men until 1963 by law, and so with your tax dollars to fund a school, it’s easier and cheaper to have women teach it. And also, it went with the ideology at the time that mothers were good at teaching kids, so it was a profession for women that was accepted.”

Turpin said the advent of other professions also brought many women to university.

“In addition to teaching, there are new female professions of social work or nursing that women are sort of channeled into during this time, whereas men are channeled more into business, into positions in higher education or into science,” Turpin said.

Later on, during the second-wave feminism of the 1960s, Turpin said students began to demand new areas of study.

“The initial women to attend graduate education in large numbers in the field of history in the 1960s and 70s changed the field of history and started calling for more study of people like them, of women’s history,” Turpin said.

Turpin said this moment in the history of education changed the way subjects were taught, as the diversity of institutions required people to ask questions about equity and inclusion.

“It’s important when colleges integrate racially, it’s important when they admit women as well as men, because different students ask different questions,” Turpin said. “And that causes us to restudy the past, but to restudy any field from the perspective of different people. We learn more when more people are educated and asking different questions.”

Turpin said the advancements that have brought Baylor to where it is today enable those within the university to have meaningful conversations with one another.

“I think that Baylor has an opportunity to say unique things as an institution that has people of diverse backgrounds, … speaking from within the Christian tradition but also representing a lot of different faiths,” Turpin said. “It can have unique conversations that are not possible anywhere else.”

Rory Dulock is a freshman from Lindsay, Texas, who is majoring in journalism with an emphasis in news-editorial. In her first year of the Lariat, she is excited to collaborate with the other staff members and learn how the publication process works. After graduation, she plans to get her masters in journalism and go on to write for a news agency.