Coeducation did not come overnight

by Maura Henninger | 11/12/97 6:00am

One day in 1971, a group of female exchange students forcibly "coeducated" the sauna in the "for males only" part of the gymnasium to protest the College's lack of facilities for women.

Almost instantly, the women had won over some male converts to the cause of coeducation, as the men in the adjacent showers joined them -- either out of sympathy with their cause or so they could sit around with women wearing towels in a steam bath.

When the director of the athletic department asked the group to leave, they refused. The stand-off didn't end until campus police intervened.

This was just one in a series of "baby steps" that ultimately contributed to the permanence of women on campus. It was because of hundreds, maybe thousands, of such incidents that Dartmouth became a coeducational college.

Admitting women as students was a decision the Trustees made during a weekend in 1971, but the process of redefining Dartmouth as a school for both men and women had been unfolding for years before.

This fall, the campus is celebrating the 25th anniversary of coeducation. However, the story of a coeducational Dartmouth begins not 25 years ago, but in the 1960s.

A climate for coeducation

By the late 1960s, every Ivy League school admitted women on equal footing with men -- except for Dartmouth. The men of Dartmouth controlled the College on every level: Women were all but excluded from the student body, the administration, the Trustees and the faculty. The alumni body was, for obvious reasons, entirely male.

But the social upheavals of the 1960s were making single-sex education look like a thing of the past. People at the College and throughout academe expected colleges -- including Dartmouth -- to coeducate quickly.

"When I talked with my colleagues at Harvard around 1965 and 1966 -- including one who was the president of Radcliffe at the time -- they predicted that Dartmouth would be coeducational within eight to 10 years," said History Professor Emeritus Charles Wood, who came to the College in 1964.

Students and faculty had discussed the possibility of admitting women for years, but the Trustees were reluctant at that time to conduct a formal study on coeducation -- despite frequent resolutions from the faculty asking the Board to consider admitting women.

In early 1969, a study of coeducation conducted by Princeton University framed the discussion in dire terms: colleges needed to coeducate, or risk fading as institutions of higher learning. The Princeton Report said the market for single sex education was evaporating, and colleges -- even Ivy League colleges -- needed to admit women to remain competitive.

The federal government also started to put pressure on schools to admit women. Bills were introduced to Congress that would withdraw federal support from single-sex institutions.

But Dartmouth -- far from resisting the notion of coeducation -- had internal priorities that began to make admitting women look like a good idea.

First, coeducation offered itself as an easy solution to financial headaches. Newly appointed College President John G. Kemeny and the Trustees were annoyed that the campus lay empty all summer -- an enormous waste of resources. But for the Trustees to begin year-round operation, the student body would need to grow.

Adding students without adding women could only lower the quality of the student body. Dartmouth was exhausting the pool of intelligent male applicants, while qualified females were swelling the ranks of its peer schools.

In the pages of The Dartmouth, a staff editorial called for "an imaginative, progressive approach to coeducation if the College wants to maintain its stature in the future."

Admitting women presented itself not only as an option, but as an imperative. The Trustees, however, would delay a coeducation decision until 1971. Coeducation was not handed to the women of Dartmouth on a plate -- it was fought for by both men and women tooth and nail.

The late 1960s: the pioneers

Women took classes at Dartmouth even before coeducation began in earnest in 1972. A small, but ever-increasing population of female exchange students who were on campus for several years before, added momentum to the coeducation movement.

The growing female population can be traced to October 1967, when the Undergraduate Council -- the precursor of the modern-day Student Assembly -- announced a bold "experiment" that would bring up to 200 women from Mt. Holyoke College for a term or more. None would ever receive a Dartmouth diploma.

Council members believed the experiment would show whether coeducation could and should occur at Dartmouth. Little did they know that the plan was only the first in a long series of "experiments" conducted by the College during the next four years.

In order to give an indication of what the Holyoke students might bring, the College planned a "Coeducation Week" for January, in which 200 women would attend classes and participate in extracurricular activities.

Members of the Committee on Coeducation -- a committee of the Undergraduate Council -- were positive about the venture, though realized that if would be difficult for the women to gain a true feel for the College in such a short period of time. Dartmouth men were happy enough to have women on campus; one student wrote it was "like a vision blessed."

The women's responses were mixed. Some felt like intruders on campus, while others were just happy to eat and talk with men. Although a good time was had by all, the campus consensus was that one week-long experiment was no realistic simulation of coeducation.

But not everyone was happy about the women at the College. In a opinion piece in The Dartmouth, one student lamented, "The Hanover Plain, that much-touted cliche of North woods masculinity, will never be the same."

Some alumni were irate, and the College attempted to keep "Coeducation Weekend" under wraps. In a letter to the editor of The Dartmouth, a student employee of the College News Service revealed that he had been ordered not to publicize the event to the broader public or, most importantly, the alumni.

"I deplore this censorship ... which not only hinders progressive forces on the campus, but threatens the liberties of us all," the student wrote.

Administrators at Dartmouth and Mt. Holyoke began discussing a one-year exchange. The idea of coeducation was gaining momentum.

In April, the Committee on Coeducation reported that the College was already technically coeducational, because women could attend the sparse summer session and because there were already 20 to 30 female students on campus.

These women, residents of the surrounding area and spouses of students, were not candidates for degrees. The issue, the report stated, was not whether Dartmouth should become coeducational, but how.

The Committee proposed two plans to the administrations of Dartmouth and Mt. Holyoke: The first would bring up to 30 women from various schools for the 1968-69 academic year, and the second would greatly expand the scope of the experiment in 1969 and 1970.

The progressive plan to add women to the student body outraged some students. In a letter to the editor of The Dartmouth signed by 21 students, one male student stated, "As far as I am concerned, the real Dartmouth experience can be had by a female about as easily as the average Dartmouth man can have the 'pregnancy experience.'"

A growing female population

The following summer, women took part in summer classes in record numbers. To handle the influx of women, the College divided Hitchcock residence hall into male and female wings.

When the next academic year kicked off, administrators became increasingly involved in exploring coeducational options.

In November, a plan went into the works for a second, much expanded coed week with 18 different women's colleges. While the planners of the week stressed the academic nature of the event, social events abounded.

One student addressed the visiting women in an editorial in The Dartmouth titled "Small, Male, and Horny," saying, "You are here for a 'week-long mixer,' as others have written and many have said. What function you have is not to educate the mind, your or ours, but to relieve the tensions of the body."

In late February, the College revealed plans for an experimental one-year program which would admit up to 70 women from Mt. Holyoke, Smith and Vassar as transfer students for the 1969-70 academic year.

Baby steps

In January 1969, six professors added support for coeducation in a series of articles in The Dartmouth about the Princeton Report. Most of them agreed that the market for sexually segregated education was rapidly vanishing, and most of them agreed that Dartmouth had not yet experienced what "real" coeducation would be like. The recurrent "coeducation weekends" were a poor simulation.

The same week the stories were printed, two of the seven female drama exchange students joined the brothers of the Foley House, causing the community to reflect on "yet another sacred bastion of the Dartmouth male succumbing to the coeducational movement."

The women went ahead and joined Foley, despite College President John Sloan Dickey's rejection of their pleas to become members.

A different group of students began circulating pamphlets calling for a peaceful pro-coeducation demonstration. The pamphlet included several reasons why "we must act NOW!," and claimed "Dartmouth will enter the 21st century in danger of becoming a second-rate institution" if it continued to exclude women.

In 1969, Dartmouth's bicentennial year, 68 women matriculated -- but none would receive a Dartmouth diploma. The Trustees charged a committee of faculty, alumni, administrators and students with answering the question of whether Dartmouth should admit women as degree candidates.

The bicentennial year also saw the appointment of Dartmouth's first high-ranking female administrators. In response to the enrollment of 68 women, Katharine Stevens was named assistant dean of the College.

In this, the first year a large number of women studied at Dartmouth for two semesters, the feedback was mostly positive. The women reported a good experience, except with a few dilemmas in the first few weeks, such as women-shy men or overly friendly men. Very few regretted coming to Dartmouth, and few expressed a desire to return to their previous schools.

In January of 1970 the Trustees voted to extend the exchange program into the next year. But most of the College community felt that there weren't enough women on campus to give an accurate depiction of coeducation.

So students called once again for a "Coeducation Week" to bring the number of females up to a realistic level, even though the Committee for Coeducation and many of the female exchange students opposed the plans.

One exchange student, who had attended the previous year's coed week, said, "Another five-day orgy should be prevented if possible." More than 3,500 women from across the East expressed their desire to attend.

President Kemeny

At the end of January 1970, the Trustees gave coeducation a major boost by naming John G. Kemeny to succeed John Sloan Dickey as the 13th president of the College. President-elect Kemeny described coeducation as "one of the first major issues to be faced" under his administration.

In his inaugural address on March 1, 1970, Kemeny said, "If we were refounding Dartmouth College today we would of course not discriminate on the base of race or religion, we would also not discriminate on the basis of sex."

In the address, Kemeny stressed the need for an imaginative approach to coeducation. To him, resolving the question of coeducation was one of his most urgent tasks.

In an informal meeting before he was inaugurated, Kemeny addressed the issue, noting the rich history and traditions of Dartmouth and how the College must be aware of its past. Any alumni pressure against coeducation, he said, came from a vocal minority.

As the school year wound to a close, the war in Vietnam stole the spotlight from coeducation. In May, 2,500 students pledged to strike against the war, as well as for the stoppage of oppression of the African-American community at the College. Kemeny canceled classes for a week-long period of reflection.

Momentum builds

As the 1970-71 academic year began, a survey revealed that almost 60 percent of alumni favored coeducation. But the survey contained an even more important statistic: 70 percent of alumni would not change the amount of their donations if the College were to admit women as full Dartmouth students.

Research into the pros and cons of coeducation continued in 1970, and Kemeny promised a final decision in early 1971.

At the same time that most male students were pushing for coeducation, female professors were trying to increase the number of women on the faculty, and demanding an equal academic status to their male colleagues. The group wanted more women to be tenured.

The entire faculty -- both men and women -- wanted the student body to coeducate. In mid-April, the faculty resoundingly approved a resolution calling for the matriculation of women undergraduates by September 1972. The resolution called for the student body to increase with the addition of about 580 women, 17 new faculty, and the utilization of a Summer term. In this way, costs were projected to be unchanged from the present budget.

Whether they opposed or supported coeducation, students in 1970 were clamoring for a decision from the Trustees. One female student defined the position of women at the College as "a token thing ... we are a side show circus, curiosities, and we just can't put up with it any longer."

A few days before the Trustee meeting, a student wrote in a column in The Dartmouth, "The quality of a Dartmouth education cannot help but be enhanced by the admission of women. The choice for the Trustees is an obvious one, and it is a choice that cannot be postponed any longer."

A sister school?

At their quarterly meeting that weekend, the Trustees postponed the decision.

But it had become clear that Dartmouth had to act and act quick. An amendment to the 1964 Civil Rights Act -- that "no person in the United States shall on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, or denied the benefits of, or subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance" -- was proposed. Such a law would have forced the College to admit women on a non-discriminatory basis with men.

The Trustees instead put forth a plan to consider establishing an "associated school" for women outside of Hanover. Dartmouth could remain all-male, but comply with the law.

The proposal drew a mixed reaction from faculty. Most were affronted that the Trustees never consulted them with the associated school idea.

In addition, female exchange students were angered at the decision. One woman said the proposed associated school would do "nothing toward eliminating the unnatural atmosphere and attitude [toward women] on the Dartmouth campus." Many women thought the Trustees' continued delays were prompted by a reluctance to accept women on an equal basis as men.

The female exchange students and regular male students drafted separate petitions protesting the associated school plan and urging the Trustees to adopt by September a coeducational plan admitting women to the Class of 1976.

The women's petition read, "Is the associated school an attempt at appeasement of various groups or an honest commitment to education? We believe that the interests of the Dartmouth community can be met best through full coeducation."

In early May, women met with Kemeny, who said the remarks of the student body had changed his ideas about the benefits of an associated school.

"My greatest worry is that any enormous uproar about the details of the form coeducation might take would provide the perfect excuse for putting the decision off another year," Kemeny said.

Later in May, the faculty met to petition against the associated school. They voted overwhelmingly to support making Dartmouth a fully integrated coeducational college, an arrangement they believed was preferable to an associated school. Though their vote was much anticipated and bore weight with the Trustees and President, they had no power except that of suggestion.

Kemeny, that same day, voiced his disappointment with the faculty, saying that they had allowed the "secondary issue" of the type of coeducation to overwhelm the "primary issue" of admitting women to the College. He said the faculty's main argument was centered around the fear that "women would suffer some sort of psychological handicap in an associated school."

The Trustees, in response to the outcry, vowed to reconsider the associated school issue at its June meeting.

A decision looms

In September, 1971, 150 female exchange students began their Dartmouth careers, in what many believed would be Dartmouth's last all-male class.

As the Trustees still weighed coeducation, they were presented with another issue to consider: year-round operation, which meant the addition of a full Summer term. Without year-round education, coeducation would not be a viable option.

Dean of Residential Life Mary Turco -- who was a graduate student during the first years of coeducation -- wrote her doctoral thesis on the history of women faculty at Dartmouth from1960 to 1990. When she was writing her thesis, Committee Chair Gregory Prince '63 told Turco of the clever way the committee put together its plan.

"Part of the genius of [the plan] was that it was not separable. You couldn't have year-round operation without coeducation. The faculty wanted coeducation. They didn't want year-round operation, but were willing to change to get it," Turco remembered Prince telling her. "The Trustees didn't want coeducation, but they wanted year-round operation."

When year-round operation came to a vote of the faculty on Oct. 26, 1971, it was approved by a wide margin -- though their vote still bore no weight other than that of recommendation. The plan, which would go into effect in the fall of 1972, provided for increasing the total enrollment through reliance on the Summer term.

In November, students were repeatedly polled about their opinions about year round education and coeducation. Fifty-six percent of the undergraduates approved the year-round operation plan and 71 percent of the voters called for admitting women.

On Nov. 17, following a week of intensive, often emotional campaigning, the fate of coeducation and year round operation at the College moved into the Trustees' hands.

The decision

On Nov. 22, 1971, a majority of the College's Board of Trustees voted to admit women. "Dartmouth To Admit Women," read the huge headline in The Dartmouth the next day. Kemeny's announcement on WDCR, the College's AM radio station, foretold the end of 202 years of single-sex education at Dartmouth, as well as the end of all-male education in the Ivy League.

The Trustees also voted unanimously to adopt the plan for year-round operation, which they renamed "The Dartmouth Plan."

"In endorsing both coeducation and the Dartmouth Plan for year-round operation, we are acting to assure that Dartmouth will continue to serve as a leader in innovation in undergraduate education," Kemeny said.

Kemeny also said that 350 women would attend classes at the college as coeducation and year-round operation began.

History Professor Marysa Navarro, who had assured colleagues the Trustees would not approve coeducation, lost the bet -- and ran a lap around the Green in a Dartmouth Indians football uniform. Most of the campus -- including Kemeny -- showed up to watch.

"There were quite a few people and they shouted at me 'faster, faster, faster,'" Navarro told The Dartmouth in 1995. "And of course I was a smoker then, and I couldn't run very fast, though I was much younger than I am now."

The aftermath

Within days, the admissions office was swamped with requests for applications from potential female undergraduates. In 1971, Dartmouth led the Ivies in an increase in applications. Of a total of 6,000 applications, 1,000 came from women.

Director of Admissions Edward Chamberlain emphasized that the office would use the same criteria to admit women as they did men. The admissions department was dealing with the novelty of accepting women as best it could, though Chamberlain was slightly mystified by some of the new applicants and their interests.

When one female prospective expressed interest in playing lacrosse in college, Chamberlain said with amusement, "I didn't even realize girls were interested in playing lacrosse. I'll bet we get some women who go into kayaking."

The prospectives themselves, waiting around McNutt Hall for interviews, were both nervous and excited. Almost all, when asked why they were applying to Dartmouth, cited the academic reputation.

It would take a while for the College to adjust to the introduction of women. But at least they would be admitted in a relatively large number. Because of the D-Plan, 25 percent of each freshman class would be women -- all without reducing the number of male students on campus at any time in the academic year.

In an effort to appease the alumni, the College promised it would not allow the number of men on campus to fall below 3,000.

"I think it had to do with the perception if you fully coeducated too quickly, the alumni would be upset," Turco said in a previous interview in The Dartmouth. "There were internal checks and balances on numbers of women that would be admitted."

"One of the faculty I met told me we had coeducated on the installment plan," Turco said. "Now you would add a few more. You'd say, 'We can live with 300 women, lets go to 350 and see what happens.' We didn't just say, 'Okay -- sex-blind admissions.'"

Preparing for women

In late January, the College named a Vice President for Women's Affairs. They found an ideal candidate in Wellesley's president, Ruth Adams. Her goals were to find the best way of easing women into the community, as well as finding subtle ways to introduce women to the community with a minimum of strain, both academically and socially.

Partly in response to outcry from the Committee on Women Faculty, the College implemented an Affirmative Action Plan, which would attempt to appoint women to at least 25 percent of the faculty positions being recruited over the following decade. The same day as this announcement, three women were named to top faculty posts in the English department. Navarro became the first tenured female member of the arts and sciences faculty.

In April, after a process complicated by 1,500 more applicants than the previous year, the College offered admission to 1,530 applicants. Of the 975 women applying for admission into the Class of '76, 230 were granted admission -- and 175 expected to accept.

In addition, 125 women were expected in Hanover as one-year exchange students. The College also accepted 80 women as upperclass transfer students from a pool of 400. Of the 90 women applicants who were exchange students from the previous year, 32 were admitted.

The last all-male class graduated from the College in early June, 1972. In anticipation of its shift to coeducation, the College had its first-ever woman marshal for its 202nd Commencement -- Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures Colette Faudin.

After a long, complex battle for coeducation, the first class with matriculated women would arrive on campus in just three months. In the meantime, the College had a considerable amount of preparation ahead of it. The transition would, by no means, be an easy one.

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