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Chapter 5 — Section III

Hartford College for Women, the latest college to affiliate with the University, began life in 1933 at the YWCA in Hartford, an interesting counterpart to the early Hillyer College classes in the late 1870s at the Hartford YMCA. During the Depression, according to Jane M. Barstow, who has written the history of Hartford College, "it was particularly difficult for young women to go away to college for four full years -- the only option then available to female high school graduates in Hartford." The Education Committee of the YWCA, led by Bess Graham Frazier, began an investigation of potential alternatives. As Professor Barstow explains, they turned first to the all-male Trinity College, asking it to provide classes for young women. President Remsen Ogilby of Trinity was unenthusiastic about the idea, but he did agree to write to President Mary E. Woolley of Mount Holyoke College to ask if she might consider offering a freshman year program in Hartford. Squeezed by declining enrollments and eager to retain her fine young instructors, President Woolley was receptive, and classes began in September 1933 with twenty-two students and a curriculum covering ancient history, Latin, German, French, mathematics, speech, hygiene, and physical education. This "noble experiment," as it was fondly called, lasted until 1938, when Mount Holyoke chose to discontinue the program because of the problems of long-distance administration and its own rising enrollments.

Eager to continue this educational service for the young women of the Hartford area, the leadership of the college decided to establish it as an independent institution. In January 1939, articles of incorporation were drawn up "to organize, establish, maintain, conduct and manage Hartford Junior College." Chairman of the Board of Trustees was Howell Cheney, a Hartford businessman and advocate of women's education. The new college opened on September 25, 1939, with thirty-five students, in a house at 47 Highland Street in Hartford. The curriculum was enriched by the addition of chemistry, economics, sociology, European history, and history of art.

The young college attracted a distinguished faculty, including such refugee scholars as Marguerite Yourcenar, who later became the first woman to be elected to the Académie Française. Enrollment suffered as women were forced into war work to replace men in the armed services, yet the war showed that women could do many jobs previously reserved for men, thus, paradoxically, helping stress the need for women's education. As the war ended, enrollment picked up, though it had to be limited to approximately sixty-five students, the capacity of the Highland Street house, until the purchase of the Seaverns estate on Asylum Avenue that the college now occupies. In 1958, the move to Asylum Avenue was completed and Dean Laura Johnson was named the college's first president. She, perhaps more than any other, helped shape the mission and direction of the college, and it was her firm but humane administration that assured the quality and the finances of the college, precarious though the latter continued to be. Adult students at the college are named Laura Johnson Scholars in honor of the beloved first president.

It was in part the presence of these adult students on campus that led to the creation in the 1960s of the Hartford College Counseling Center. Funded by Title I of the Higher Education Act of 1965, the Center had as its original mission to provide "educational and vocational information and guidance" to college-educated women entering or re-entering the work force.

Although Laura Johnson had been instrumental in acquiring a significant endowment for the college from devoted alumnae and friends, the financial situation continued to cause concern. Conversations, initially very tentative but later more serious, were opened between the college and several local institutions, leading in due course to negotiations for merger with the University of Hartford. The Asylum Avenue campus was retained, along with its student residences, its library, and the other basic facilities, but the main campus of the University was opened up for Hartford College students, who were now free to use the main library, to attend classes on the main campus, to take part in all athletic activities and student organizations, and to use the health service and other student services. Indeed, they became University of Hartford students, receiving University of Hartford degrees, but they kept their separate identity as members of the tightly knit community known as HCW. A distinguished new dean, Dr. Sue Blanshan of Ohio State University, was selected to lead the college through this transitional period.

more> Chapter 5 — Section IV