Bucknell University was founded in 1846 as the University of Lewisburg by a group of Pennsylvania Baptists. Although it was not outlined in the University charter, plans were made for the inclusion of a female academy, a ladies’ seminary that would be attached to the college. This became a reality when the Female Institute, the women’s counterpart to Bucknell, was opened on October 21, 1852. The Institute was housed in the Casey Mansion at the corner of Second and St. Louis Streets in Lewisburg.
By April of 1853, the Female Institute had forty students, and a year later it had acquired a library, started a literary society and published its first catalogue. Almost all interaction between men and women was forbidden, but male students were allowed to make formal calls in Institute parlors on Friday evenings, in the presence of chaperones.
After the Institute moved to campus in 1857 in what is now Larison Hall, a large fence was installed around the building to prevent men and women from seeing each other. By 1859, the Trustees of the University passed a rule that female students who went to town must be accompanied by a teacher who had at least six years of experience in “handling girls.”
By the end of the 1870s, the University of Lewisburg was having financial difficulty. William Bucknell donated $140,000 to keep the University afloat, much of which was used for scholarships and endowed prizes for women at the Female Institute.
In June of 1886 the University’s name was officially changed to Bucknell to honor the man credited with saving the school. Eveline Stanton Gundy wrote in a 1905 edition of the Bucknell Mirror that William Bucknell “warmly favored allowing women to enter the college. Those who [knew] him well assert that he was influenced to this policy by his belief that a woman should have an education if she wanted it as well as a man, and that economic reasons led him to favor coeducational institutions rather than separate colleges for women.”
In 1883-84 academic year, Bucknell officially became co-educational. On September 6 of that year, the first three women to be admitted to Bucknell enrolled. They were Lizzie Lanning, Frances Rush and Annie Hay, but only one of the three, Frances Rush, completed her studies. In 1885 Chella Scott was the first woman to graduate from the University, having transferred from the Female Institute in 1884. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree with honors and was the class valedictorian. Since 1890, there have been women in every class at the University.
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