While researching early American transportation at the Huntington Library, I read several journals of people who made trips to the Midwest. I was pleasantly surprised to come across one account of someone visiting my alma mater, Lawrence University, in 1858, when the school was just 11 years old.
Edward G. Faile was a businessman who took a trip from Buffalo to Minneapolis in 1858, and on November 4 he stopped in Appleton, Wisconsin. He wrote the following brief note in his journal: "Arrived at Appleton at 9 PM. Left at 6 AM on the 5th. Appleton on a bluff some 60 feet above the River. Has a primary school attached to College of 250 schollars. Both sexes. College class about 70 males and same females both sexes been admitted to the college or females may take a separate course, & graduate." At the time, Lawrence had a preparatory school in addition to the college; the first college class graduated in 1857.
Faile's description is a brief one, but he clearly picked up on Lawrence's early commitment to coeducation. In his history of Lawrence, Charles Breunig writes that "by 1856-57, there was no difference between the preparatory courses for men and women" although women could pursue music and "ornamental branches." The college courses were not fully integrated until 1867, but (as Faile alluded) the college nevertheless allowed women the option to take the same college courses as men "as early as 1854-55," and Breunig notes that "numerous women chose this option, including two out of the three in the first graduating class" (pages 31, 34).
The Lawrence University Archives was kind enough to confirm that Faile's assessment of enrollment matches with their own records for 1858: roughly 70 men and 50 women in the college and 170 students in the preparatory school. Faile's comment is short, but plainly he found Lawrence's coeducational program worthy of note as he journeyed west.
Sources: Edward G. Faile, Diary of a trip from Buffalo, N.Y. to Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 22-December 2, 1858, HM 40040, The Huntington Library, San Marino, California; Charles Breunig, "A Great and Good Work": A History of Lawrence University, 1846-1964 (Appleton, WI: Lawrence University Press, 1993).