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Sage Hall: Experiments in Coeducation and Preservation at Cornell University

by Jennifer Cleland and Robert P. Stundtner

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Chapter 5
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On the sixteenth of May in 1873, Cornell University held a ceremony to commemorate the laying of the cornerstone of Sage Residential College for Women.According to the student newspaper, the Cornell Era, the event had not been widely publicized, but had nonetheless drawn educators interested in coeducation.The paper wrote of the attendees who supported the cause, “that this, which may be called formal sanction by the trustees of a most important policy, one that seems hazardous and rash except to the boldest and clearest sighted, deserved, yes, their aid and cheering counsel – their reassurance and blessing.”As previously noted, the faculty and male students were largely unconvinced of the wisdom of having women in the classroom.

Local citizens also turned out for the event, and the Era records the town’s collective luck with the famously unpredictable Ithaca weather: “The fates had never decreed a finer day for any public occasion than this.Not a cloud could be seen, and the sun shone genially, not too warm through an atmosphere so clear that the great range of prospect from the Sage building lay in its greatest possible grandeur and variety before the observer.The ceremony was appointed to take place at 2 o’clock, but long before that time the line of pedestrians and carriages began their ascent of the hill.”

Margaret Mooney Milmoe was an Ithaca resident, and when asked to give her favorite remembrances of Sage College, she recalled her illicit presence at the laying of the cornerstone at Sage when she was nine years old.The story illustrates both her pluck and the founders’ genuine support of equal education for women.Margaret describes the events of that spring day in her lively memoir:

I had eagerly watched the unearthing and building of the foundation of Sage, and had looked forward to the day when, as had been announced, there was to be a formal ceremony of laying the cornerstone. My aunt was to attend the exercises in company with a lot of young people and I had expected to go with her. But she persuaded my mother that I was too young to understand it, and would only be in the way. So I was sent to school. Sent to school! On the beautiful day when all the then "fall creekers" dressed in their best were mending their way hill-ward, I could not sit still. I was inattentive, uneasy. I must see the stone laying. I asked to be excused from the room. The school gate was locked, but on one side of the yard a low icehouse which sloped to the ground was close to the fence. I climbed to the top of the fence at this place, scaled the icehouse and slid down the other side. I was free and the way was clear…

I was early, a platform had been laid over the foundation and up upon this I climbed...my hands and face were...streaked with dirt and perspiration but I was supremely happy and sublimely unconscious of everything except that I was there and was going to see the ceremony. The crowd kept gathering and finally a band began to play and a procession came towards me on the platform. I was a bit frightened at first until I saw my friend Mr. Cornell advancing and soon I felt quite at ease…

 Just then I caught the eye of my aunt who was horrified...she began gesticulating violently, motioning me to come to her. I decided that she deserved only stony stares from me. When the procession reached me, Mr. Cornell started to lift me down to the ground, but President White with his ever-ready kindness of heart said, "Just let the little girl remain. She is not in the way and it’s quite appropriate to have a little girl here." So I felt that I was a part of the show and swelled with pride as I looked at my aunt who I knew was fearfully humiliated…

 

From what I had been able to understand from the speeches, girls were going to do things that they had never done before and I was one of those girls, and as soon as I was old enough I must go to this college and learn to achieve big things.

 

Clearly she was the type of female that appealed to the founders.