California Men's Only College Can Admit Women

By William Vogeler, Esq. on April 18, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Opening the rarest opportunity for college-bound women in America, a state appeals court said a tiny all-men's college in California may now accept women.

Deep Springs College, the smallest college in the United States, had been open to men only since its founding in 1917. The school admits 12 to 15 people a year, and has a student body of 25 to 30 in its two-year program.

The private college was established by a trust that said it was "for the education of promising young men," but the college trustees voted 7-2 to open the school for women in 2011. Lawsuits ensued, and California's Fourth District Court of Appeal affirmed a decision for coeducation in Hitz v. Hoekstra.

Hope Springs

The college first considered accepting women in the 1950s and continued to debate the issue almost every decade since then. David Hitz, chairman of the college board, said the objectors may appeal to the state supreme court.

"That said, the trustees remain hopeful," he said. "This ruling is an important step towards a coeducational Deep Springs."

The college was founded by L.L. Nunn, who established a trust to fund the school. It included real property, where the campus sprawls across an isolated valley between the White Mountains and Inyou Mountains near Owens River Valley. The closest town is Bishop, California, 45 miles away.

The school, which is one of the most rigorous in the country, offers associate degrees. It has six faculty members and accepts about 10 percent of applicants each year.

No Religion, Too

Nunn wanted the school to emphasize academics and religion based on three pillars: academic pursuits, labor, and self-governance. Students participate in virtually all aspects of the operation, including hiring and firing faculty, admissions, and curriculum.

They also work on the school farm, cooking, cultivating a garden, milking cows, cutting and bailing hay, herding and branding cattle, and assisting with slaughtering livestock. The trust also provided that the school was for the "education of promising young men" and emphasized the "need and opportunity for unselfish service in uplifting mankind from materialism to idealism, to a life in harmony with the Creator..."

After initially blocking the board's decision to admit women, a trial judge concluded that the trustees could modify the trust to admit women. In affirming, the appeals court noted that the college had also altered its emphasis on religion 25 years after the trust was written.

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