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The Dartmouth
April 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Panelists describe advent of coeducation

Former and present administrators spoke about the College's decision to coeducate and the early years of coeducation during a panel discussion yesterday afternoon titled "Women and Men of Dartmouth: How and Why the College Went Coed."

The panel, which is one of several events scheduled this term to mark the 25th anniversary of coeducation, included Nels Armstrong '71, the director of Alumni Relations; Marilyn Austin, a former vice-provost and associate dean of the College; Fred Berthold, professor of religion emeritus; Michael McGean '45, secretary of the College emeritus and Holly Sateia, dean of student life.

The discussion was moderated by Director of the Women's Resource Center Giavanna Munafo.

Campus atmosphere

Armstrong, a student at the time the decision to coeducate was made, drew a picture of what campus life was like at that time the coeducation decision.

Armstrong said the fact that the College was all-male played a small part in his decision to attend Dartmouth.

Once he arrived in 1967, Armstrong said the single-sex campus had a profound effect on how he viewed social life.

Armstrong said some students realized hurdles were going to be there for women, while others may not have.

"Some of us had our own hurdles to go through," he said. "This was happening on a campus with a tremendous football team and still seeing the effects of the Vietnam war."

"It was not unusual for me to hear or see that women to us meant 'weekend,'" he said. "It didn't mean 'what are our relationships going to be in future.'"

Armstrong said prior to coeducation, male students did see women around campus and in the classrooms

Austin was one of the first women to teach in the English department.

Austin said during one of her first years at Dartmouth, when she was one only 12 female professors on campus, she carried a black briefcase each day to hold her papers. The briefcase once led someone to mistake her for an Avon salesman canvassing the campus.

"Women at Dartmouth were Avon salesmen to many of the students," she said.

In response to a student question asking about how female members of the faculty felt about being so few in number, Austin said, "We did feel very isolated, but it was such a heady time, and we were so caught up in trying to make a difference."

"We didn't have time to sit around and feel sorry for ourselves," Austin continued. "We were too busy working."

The decision

Berthold, who began teaching at Dartmouth in 1949, said the idea of coordinate education was put forth in 1960. The idea, which was later abandoned, was for Dartmouth to build an affiliated women's college.

In 1970, the Board of Trustees "voted that in principle, coeducation was a feasible idea," Berthold said. "They put restrictions on the process such as the number of males was not to be reduced and no new dorms were to be built."

When the committee on educational planning met to discuss how coeducation could be made to work, "One student member came up with a bright idea," Berthold said. "In essence, the plan he came up with was similar to the D-plan. When we shared the idea with Kemeny, he backed it."

Berthold said the idea was that if the College could keep enough men on off-campus programs, it could admit women without decreasing the number of male students or creating any new beds. Berthold said the Trustees and alumni seemed to think that it still could not be done.

McGean said the College decided to conduct a thorough survey of alumni opinion, financed by wary alumni.

"We were startled by the results because when we took a look at all the alumni population, they were strongly in favor of it."

Admitting women

The decision to go coed "was partially practical," Sateia said. "So many other colleges had gone coed and quite frankly, we were losing applications."

Sateia, who worked in the admissions office beginning in 1974, said the Trustees' postponement of the coeducation decision from the spring of 1971 until November that year caused problems for the Director of Admissions Edward Chamberlain in terms of recruiting.

"He got the go ahead to write to women before the decision," she said. "The letters said the College was contemplating the decision to coeducate, and told the women if that decision was confirmed, their application would be considered."

Sateia said 956 women applied, 266 were accepted and 177 came.

"In the beginning, it was a bit of nightmare for admissions officers," she said. "We went through the process of admitting men and then women in two separate processes."

She said the admissions office created separate brochures targeted to women, established a committee to work on ending the quota of women, and attempted to encourage female students and graduates to talk to high schools.

Sateia said single pool admissions were begun in 1981.

Sateia said one of the biggest disappointments for her during the first years of coeducation was when she talked to young women who felt they wanted to go to another school where the issues of coeducation had already been addressed.

Sateia said alumni were often not receptive to admissions office initiatives to encourage women.

She said she was once invited to a Dartmouth club in Florida to deliver a speech to its members but was stopped outside the door and told that only men were allowed in the club on Thursdays.

When she explained she was the day's speaker, the doorman invited her to use the kitchen entrance.

Only when Sateia offered to call the local newspaper with the "human interest story" was she allowed to use the front entrance.

But Sateia said her experiences in the admissions office during the early years of coeducation were often very satisfying.

"One thing as look back at is how few times in our professional live are we given the chance to make an impact on the lives of different people," Sateia said. " At that time, I felt I was.

Approximately 85 people attended the discussion, which was held in 105 Dartmouth Hall.