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Adeline Collins

“It is far better that the sexes should be educated together” thus did President Jonathan Blanchard write in the bulletins of Wheaton College in the eighteen sixties. One of the young ladies to take advantage of this opportunity at a time when most colleges were not as far-seeing and advanced in permitting women to be educated was slender, gray-eyed Adeline Eliza Collins. Known as “Addie” to her friends and associates she was later to become Principal of the “female department,” as the Ladies’ Collegiate Course was called in the polite parlance of that day. Young ladies ‘ere required to pass exams in Geography, Arithmetic, Elementary Algebra, English Grammar and History of the United States before they were admitted for study. The course that they took is reproduced here. President Blanchard explained that text books in this course were the same “or nearly so, as far as they go” as those used by the young gentlemen in the ordinary college course. While being anti-slave, anti-lodge and anti-vice the college was whole-heartedly pro-woman! Years before women had the vote, they had a voice in the chapel exercises, reading (along with the men) their well- researched essays. And from the very first there were women on the faculty.

The remarkable story of Addie come to light when her granddaughter Alice Stanfield Salter of Downers Grove, Illinois, in the process of moving, discovered the treasure of her grandmother’s Wheaton College diploma, signed by J. Blanchard, President and Warren L. Wheaton, Secretary. From materials in the Archives and alumni records it has been established that Addie Collins was, in 1862, Wheaton’s first woman graduate.

Born September 19, 1841 in a log cabin in Homer Township near the present Lockport, in Will County, Illinois, Adeline Eliza Collins as the only child of Fredrick and Nancy Mason White Collins. The little red calico dress which she wore at age seven is a ‘museum piece’—hooked and lined; with cotton braid on the long fluted sleeves and at the throat. All her life she had a great love of nature and the soil. The land on which she was raised had been “homesteaded” by her great grandfather who bought it from the government. But Addie was more than a farm girl, she was developing into an ardent abolitionist in her teens as the Union was threatened in the strife between the states. She had a fierce hatred of slavery and a life-long interest in the black people who were her friends.

Addie attended Oberlin College in 1858, and transferred to Wheaton because it was nearer home, when she learned that it was open and that women might study there. She remarked often in later years how very fortunate she was to have been able to go to college. One of Addie’s suitors when at Oberlin continued to correspond with her after she went to Wheaton and wrote to her from Gauley’s Bridge during the Civil War.

As a student she had access to a library of 600 volumes. Board could be obtained in good families for about $2.25 a week, that is if one helped with household chores, minded one’s own bedroom stove and hauled in water. Addie stayed at Hadley’s and was assigned to Professor Collier’s room at the college. (George H. Collier, A.M. was professor of mathematics and natural philosophy.) The tuition was $24 a year with $1 extra for vocal music. Addle had a good singing voice and also enjoyed sketching. She did a large picture in pencil of a deer in a woods while at Wheaton and later oil paintings. Her carefully written college papers give one a glimpse into her application as a student. Her poem “Union, God and Liberty” shows the preoccupation which young people had:

“is all this bloody strife to cease
and still be heard the clanking chain
that binds a brother man to earth—
shall freedom’s voice be hushed again?
or shall the light of Liberty
that breaks upon the bondman’s sight
be left to flicker and go out
forever, in Oppressions’ night.”

Other topics explored show serious thought: Matter the Stepping-Stone to Mind; Ancient and Modern Attainment; Mental Development without Moral Culture; The Huguenots; A Sketch of Islamism; Character and Reputation.

Addie must have enjoyed the college atmosphere and was pleased to stay on as principal of the “female department” following Mrs. A. Whittier. It was her responsibility to see that the young ladies kept the college rules which were spelled out in the early bulletins: “the deportment of the sexes toward each other will be particularly regarded by the Faculty, and any student whose conduct shall be, in the judgment of the Faculty, either foolish or improper, will be promptly separated from the Institution, if admonition fails to correct it.” In short, proclaimed the Micawber-like statement, “everything is forbidden which will hinder, and everything required which, we think, will help students in the great object for which they assemble here, which is improvement of mind, morals and heart.” Such admonitions against “propagating infidel principles, desecration of the Sabbath and entering the marriage relation while a member of the college” were grouped with “disorder in rooms, especially at night, care less use of fire and throwing water, dirt or other things from the windows.” The grimness of this day is somehow lightened as the granddaughter remembered hearing her grandmother say that one of her duties was to teach the young ladies how to handle their hoop skirts! (She may have recalled with a wry smile the difficulty her hoop skirt had given her when she sneaked out through a window, after hours, to meet a friend while at Oberlin).

By that word a patina of romance brightens up the old college hill on which cattle grazed, where smoke poured daily from choked stoves in classrooms, where water was fetched repeatedly and the hardships of a plumbingless day were endured. If the earthy nature of the school shows through, there are also glimpses of the profound awe with which the students regarded the faculty. The dignity of man runs in a steady stream parallel with the firm stand against enslavement and bondage. 67 of the college men had gone away to war and Blanchard wrote in the bulletin “Hitherto hath God helped us. We live, while other institutions have gone down by the war drainage and the times.” Our founding president’s amazing vision is reflected when he wrote after the debt of $6,000 was cleared in 1863 “the College may now be considered as permanently located…and we desire, if it pleases God, while we make the religion of Jesus Christ our first business here, to see its means and advantages enlarged so that it shall be second in these respects to no institution in this country.”

When Addie left the principalship in 1865 the young women of the college gave her a set of Browning poems still cherished in the home of her great-grandson. A letter of appreciation was tendered her signed by O. F. Lumry, secretary of the faculty and by the president, in which the “fidelity and devotedness with which she had discharged her duties” were praised. Two years later (November 24, 1867), Addie married Henry D. Hatch (born in 1816 in New Hampshire) and lived on a farm near her childhood home. They gave a portion of their land for the building of a Congregational church in which Addie later played the organ and taught a Sunday school class. Henry and Addie had one daughter, Emily Ellen, two grandchildren and two great-grandsons. Emily (born December 27,1869 in Lockport, Illinois) married Charles W. Edwards (born October 23, 1869 in London, Ontario, Canada - died May 3, 1955 in Lockport, Illinois) on May 28, 1895 in Lockport. Together Emily and Charles raised Alice and Ralph.

Still very alert, Addie returned with her young grand daughter for a visit to Wheaton College at the time of the 50 year Golden Jubilee in June 1910. An entire week of activities celebrating the event was begun each morning by an Old Students’ Prayer Meeting. Mrs. Salter remembers the Alumni Banquet held in the lower chapel of the old Central Building (Blanchard Hall). Greetings at Commencement were from Knox, Chicago University, Northwestern University, McCormick Seminary, Chicago Theological Seminary, Moody Bible Institute, Beloit and North Central.

To see, in 1910, the Tower and west wing; to view the Woman’s Building (Williston) and a Gymnasium (Book store), must have seemed like great progress to this graduate of 1862. She would have missed J. Blanchard who had died 18 years before but have been gratified that his son, handsome Charles Albert (whom she remembered as a preparatory student) was carrying on the work which his great father had begun.

How different it all was…many co-eds now in high- necked blouses and long slim skirts with ribbons in their hair. Young Elsie Dow was now in charge of the ladies. Addie could now chuckle in remembrance when she read in the Jubilee program “it has been the policy of the college from the beginning to receive all earnest men and women irrespective of their financial conditions. Those who are strong, cheerful and willing can in some way get on. From every land there rises a cry for really effective men and women who can actually bring good things to pass…”

Years ahead of her time in her thinking, Addie had met that challenge fifty years before! She had helped bring good things to pass. She had been the first of many outstanding women to graduate from Wheaton College.

(adapted from Ruth Cording's Wheaton Alumni article, "A Cameo of Adeline Eliza Collins: Wheaton's first alumna," May 1972)