Although universal education was valued in American society for both civic and religious reasons from the very beginning of the Republic, the notion that men and women operated in separate spheres with different areas of knowledge appropriate to each predominated, resulting in different education expectations and opportunities.

Higher education for women existed throughout the 19th century, both in academies in the early 1800s and in colleges and universities in the second half of the century. Many of the institutions that allowed for coeducation did so for financial reasons and shunted female students into a specially designed women's curriculum. Often women's best opportunity for something approaching educational parity came through forward-looking female seminaries and academies and the women's colleges that followed them, which often adapted demanding curricula from their all-male counterparts.

It was following on this history that Connecticut College was founded by a group of Wesleyan alumnae upset by the fact that their alma mater's decision to stop admitting women meant that there were no collegiate educational opportunities in the region.The founding of the College occurred at a turning point in attitudes towards higher education for women, from the often separate and rarely equal situation of the 19th century towards a rapid progress towards equality in the 20th.