HandbillBradford Academy was the 3rd oldest post secondary institution in Massachusetts behind Harvard University and Williams College And the first coeducational institution in Massachusetts. Pamphle Volume 14 of 17: Acts for the State of Massachusetts, January 12th Session, 1804 [ Incorporation of Bradford Academy] Containing the original incorporation of Bradford Academy. Bradford opened as the first coeducational institution in Massachusetts, but due to overwhelming interest from parents of girls with no other option for education, Bradford soon transitioned to become the first all-female academy in Massachusetts, and among the first in the United States in 1836. Only three examples of these early Incorporation Acts could be found among Institutional Collections according to OCLC Worldcat.
Women's colleges proliferated in the mid- to late- 19th century to fill the void created by their exclusion from most institutions of higher education. The prevailing notion that women were too delicate for a rigorous academic education was openly challenged when Elizabeth Cady Stanton spoke at the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848, "Man's intellectual superiority cannot be a question until woman has had a fair trial…When we shall have had our colleges, our professions, our trades, for a century, a comparison then may be justly instituted." Young women were quick to step up to the challenge; as quickly as female colleges opened, they filled up. But this document predates Seneca Falls by 40 years and Bradford was among the very first institutions to educate women in the United States.