While the idea of coeducation had been broached in the late-19th century, the idea was given its first serious look in the mid-1940s.
During the war, women had enrolled in evening and summer courses, but could not earn a degree. Prompted by falling enrollments and fears of an uncertain post-war economy, President Theodore Distler recommended examining the idea of either limited coeducation, wherein women could attend as “day time” nonresidential students and earn a degree, or full coeducation. After considerable debate, the idea was shelved, having been decided that limited coeducation was not ideal, and that full coeducation (requiring additional facilities) was too expensive to implement.
Despite the rejection of coeducation, female College employees and wives of faculty were allowed to take day classes and starting in the fall of 1967, wives of current students could enroll in courses as non-degree students.
During the 1960s, social change had begun diminishing the desirability of single-gender schools, resulting in declining applications at many colleges including Franklin & Marshall.
Recognizing the social and educational advantages of coeducation, President Keith Spalding appointed a task force to study the issue.
After extensive study, along with a petition from more than 800 students and the recommendation of the Board of Overseers, the Board of Trustees voted for coeducation in January 1969.
In the fall, approximately 125 women, including 82 matriculating "freshwomen," joined the 1,850 enrolled male students.
Founded in 1989, the program was designed to offer students an interdisciplinary selection of courses relating to women and gender studies. Professor Nancy McDowell served as the program’s first chair from 1989 to 1991.