Founders Day: What Life Was Like in 1870

Category: Heritage

Noraleen Duvall Young

Alpha Chi, Purdue

For all Thetas, the year 1870 is a significant one. Bettie Locke, Alice Allen, Bettie Tipton and Hannah Fitch came together on January 27 of that year to found Kappa Alpha Theta Fraternity. However, as a historian, I am also interested in what else was happening around them to understand better who they were and what they experienced. For this Founders Day, let’s look back to 1870 and see what was happening in the world in which Bettie, Alice, Bettie, and Hannah lived.

Greencastle, Ind., home of Indiana Asbury (DePauw University) had a population of 3,227 in 1870. According to a March 1870 Greencastle newspaper, there was daily train service to points east, west, north, and south. Nationally, there were only 37 states, and Ulysses S. Grant was the U.S. president. The Civil War had concluded only five years earlier. The 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution passed, guaranteeing African-Americans the right to vote.

In the U.S. in 1869-1870, only 1.3% of the total 18- to 24-year-old population was enrolled in colleges and universities. At this time, there were 563 total higher education institutions in the U.S. with 62,839 students enrolled. Of those students, 21% were female students but only 4 % of the female students attended co-educational colleges. Students and faculty at Indiana Asbury were still getting used to the idea of female students, admitted for the first time in 1867. By 1870, there were 19 women on campus.

Students at Indiana Asbury could choose between two courses of study: the classical course or the scientific course, with the classical course considered more intensive. We know that Bettie Locke, Alice, and Hannah all followed the classical course, and most likely Bettie Tipton. According to an 1873 catalogue, the school operated on a three-term system. Students were required to attend chapel at 7:45am with classes beginning at 8am except on Fridays. All classes were finished by noon each day.

Tuition was $10 per term ($200 in today’s dollars) for the classical program. There were no college dorms; students could board for about $3.50 a week ($70 in today’s dollars) but many lived with their families. Alice Allen and Hannah boarded in a private home, Bettie Locke lived with her parents, and Bettie Tipton lived with her grandparents.

As one of my history professors always stressed, context helps one better understand the choices made by those who came before us. Understanding a bit of what was like to be a female college student back in 1870 makes me realize the character and personal strength of each of our founders. Thank you again, Bettie, Alice, Bettie and Hannah.