The Rensselaer School was founded "…for the purpose of instructing persons who may choose to apply themselves in the application of science to the common purposes of life" (letter from Stephen Van Rensselaer to Rev. Samuel Blatchford, November 5, 1824).  Van Rensselaer further stated that his principle object was "…to qualify teachers for instructing the sons and daughters of farmers and mechanics by lectures or otherwise…"
 
Some have claimed that Stephen Van Rensselaer intended the school to be coeducational.  However, his statements never indicated that the teachers educated at Rensselaer would include women.  In 1824, exclusion of women from educational institutions was the norm, and there is no evidence suggesting that Van Rensselaer expected, or wanted, women to enroll.  Stephen van Rensselaer
 
Emma Willard   In contrast, the school's first professor, Amos Eaton, clearly hoped to educate females at The Rensselaer School.  He believed that women were capable of learning practical science and mathematics; they simply had not been taught the subjects at traditional female academies. Eaton encouraged Emma Willard (founder of the Troy Female Seminary) to include math and science in her curriculum.   Amos Eaton
 
His commitment to the cause led Eaton to enroll a class of eight young women in a special mathematics course to show that they could advance beyond "the speculative geometry and algebra as generally practiced in female seminaries."  When the students completed their course of study in February 1835, Eaton requested a review of their progress by the school's less-than-enthusiastic Board of Examiners. 
In their report to Eaton, the Examiners sidestepped the central issue of the women's mathematical abilities, and simply agreed that Eaton had demonstrated "the superiority of practical mathematics over the more unapplied elements."  Their lack of support, along with the senior professor's heavy workload, effectively killed any momentum Eaton might have gained for female education at Rensselaer in the 19th century. It would take another one hundred years before women were admitted to RPI. 

The eight young ladies who participated in Eaton's experiment continued their education at the Troy Female Seminary (now Emma Willard School).  They did not enroll in any other classes conducted at Rensselaer. 

 
 

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