For more than a decade, women were not allowed to attend the University of Wisconsin, nor any other university in the country, for that matter. In March 1863, UW established what was called the Normal Department, primarily to educate future teachers. Seventy-six women enrolled and in 1865, a separate graduation ceremony was held for six female students — the university's first alumnae — 11 years after the first graduating class of male students.
In the beginning, these women were restricted to classes within the Normal Department and were not admitted to university's regular classes until 1868, when women were given access to all available courses. The Board of Regents maintained a separate Female College, in which women lived in a separate building, attended classes by themselves, and were in large part segregated from the rest of UW. Even their extra-curricular activities were highly restricted, including a weekly excursion to church under strict supervision, female-only literary society meetings, and limited sporting activities, such as skating, wicket and baseball.
This segregated system could not sustain itself, and eventually, with faculty support for integrated classes, the Female College was closed, new women's housing was built, and female students were allowed to attend the same classes in 1871.
The following is a recollection of those early years by one of the first women to graduate from the University of Wisconsin, Annie Taylor Noyes '1865, first printed in The Wisconsin Alumni Magazine
in November 1928.