Erastus O. Haven, Friend to Wolverines, Wildcats, and Orangemen, and a Gamma Phi Beta Dad

Erastus Otis Haven, D.D., LL.D. holds a very unique spot in the history of women’s fraternities. The three campuses at which he served were important ones in the history of the women’s fraternity movement prior to 1902.

Haven served as President of the University of Michigan (1863-69) and Northwestern University (1869-72), and as Chancellor of Syracuse University (1874-1880). All three campuses had chapters of the seven founding National Panhellenic Conference organizations prior to the 1902 meeting at which the National Panhellenic Conference was formed.

Haven was born in Boston on November 1, 1820 and in 1842, he earned a degree from Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. In 1946, Haven married Mary Frances Coles and spent several years teaching. In 1848, he began a career as a Methodist minister. After five years he was hired as a professor at the University of Michigan. The Haven’s eldest daughter, Frances, was born in Ann Arbor in 1854. In 1856, the Havens moved to Boston where he edited a denominational newsletter and was a senator in the Massachusetts legislature.

Haven returned to Michigan in 1863 and became its second president. In 1867, in the aftermath of the Civil War, the Michigan legislature recommended that women be admitted into the university (Peckham, 1994).   Haven, along with the Board of Regents, vetoed the idea of women attending the university. There is evidence, however, that Haven may have been agreeable to the women having their own separate college (Bordin, 1999). In his autobiography, Haven asserted that he made the recommendation to accept women at Michigan in 1853 when he was a professor there, “The subject had not been suggested before. It was considered wild and insane.”

Madelon Stockwell, a student from Kalamazoo, was the first woman admitted to the University of Michigan.  Her admittance to the university took much maneuvering on the part of her mentors, the Stones, a husband and wife who were Stockwell’s teachers at Kalamazoo College.  The Stones researched the laws governing the University of Michigan and appealed to an Episcopal bishop who was also a member of the Board of Regents.  Haven left Michigan in 1869 for a similar position at Northwestern University and Henry Simmons Frieze became the president pro tem of the University of Michigan.  The Board of Regents at a meeting in early 1870 voted that the university would be open to any person possessing the required literary and moral qualifications.  After passing an entrance examination, one reportedly more difficult than the exam given the male applicants, Stockwell began her studies at the University  of Michigan in the spring of 1870 (Bordin, 1999).

It is interesting to note that Haven came to Northwestern University from the University of Michigan. Michigan was not coeducational until after Haven left the institution. Sagendorph (1948) cited Haven’s presence at Michigan as a hindrance to coeducation, yet other evidence is contradictory. According to Wilde (1905) coeducation was reported to have been one of the conditions given by Haven before he took on the Northwestern presidency.

The June 23, 1869, meeting at which the vote was taken to admit women to Northwestern University was the same meeting where Haven was elected president.  According to Stratton (1883) these actions may have been connected, “Haven had been a champion of coeducation at a time when others considered the very idea ‘wild and insane’ and had been instrumental in bringing women to that institution” (pp. 109-10).

Frances Haven entered Northwestern with the first group of women. She completed two years at Northwestern and then spent a year studying music in Brooklyn, NY. Haven remained Northwestern’s president until 1872.

In 1874, Haven became chancellor of Syracuse University. There were 173 men and 54 women enrolled. Frances entered Syracuse and declined an invitation to join Alpha Phi, the women’s fraternity founded there on October 10, 1872. With three friends she founded Gamma Phi Beta on November 11, 1874.  Chancellor Haven suggested six possible names; Frances and her friends chose Gamma Phi Beta. Alpha Phi and Gamma Phi Beta remained sole competitors until 1883 when the Beta Tau Chapter of Kappa Kappa Gamma was organized.

Haven remained Syracuse’s chancellor until 1880 when he became a Methodist Bishop. He traveled to the west coast for those duties and there he died in Salem, Oregon in 1881.

There is a street named for Haven in Evanston, Illinois, where Northwestern is located, and a building named for him at Michigan, Haven Hall. There is also a Haven Hall at Syracuse University. It is a residence hall with a dining hall in front of it. The Gamma Phi Beta chapter house is also in the picture.

The references are from my dissertation. I will hopefully have the bibliography available as a pdf soon. If you would like more information on a citation, send me a comment and I will provide more info.

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