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Student Life


Professor of economics and business Don Cell discusses a concept with students in his office in the 1970s.

Cornell was a pioneer in coeducation when it opened as the Iowa Conference Seminary in 1853. At a time when most colleges and universities were not coeducational, Cornell’s initial enrollment of 161 students included 57 women.

The first students at Cornell lived under the tight restrictions of both the Methodist church and Victorian morality. The catalogue of 1869, for example, noted that the college expected students to rise at 5 a.m. and to be in bed by 10 p.m. Students needed to have the permission of a faculty member before they could leave town, and they were prohibited from playing cards and “the use of any intoxicating beverage.” Finally, the infamous “Rule Twelve,” as it became known, required male and female students to be separated by at least 6 feet.

The literary societies dominated student social and cultural life from 1853 until the 1920s. The first was the Amphictyon Literary Society, founded Nov. 18, 1853, which is the oldest literary society in Iowa. More than 20 societies are known to have been chartered at Cornell, and 11 were still in existence in 1927, when they all voluntarily disbanded. On Friday and Saturday evenings these societies presented various programs to which the college community and the townspeople were often invited. Such presentations were usually lectures, debates, or dramatic readings interspersed with musical selections (the college did not permit theatrical performances until 1899).

Students on Law Hall lawn, circa 1950s.

Students before coin-operated laundry machines came to campus.

“Leaving for Christmas vacation” at the Mount Vernon depot

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