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The Dartmouth
June 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Early Days for Women Were Challenging

To the Editor:

As a member of the Class of 1977, the second class to matriculate women, I was interested to read the article in the November 14 issue, "Early days of coeducation at the College were bitter ones". The "early days" were many things but "bitter" was only one of them. Other adjectives such as "exciting," "challenging," and "interesting" come to mind for me. I've said before that if I had to choose a time to be at Dartmouth, I would probably still choose those four years. Why? My classmates and I had the unique opportunity to watch and be part of history being made. As a freshman in 1973, there were two classes of all men and two coed classes at Dartmouth. By the time I graduated in 1977, all classes were coed. I was able to experience, in part, some of the Dartmouth my father, Class of 1944, and two brothers, 1974 & 1975, had. I was also able to be part of creating the new Dartmouth experience.

As your article describes, not all of that experience was pleasant. However, there are many of us early alumnae who feel their experiences were very good ones. I found more friendship, camaraderie, compassion and support than rudeness, hatred and discrimination. Yes, the word "cohog" was sexist and annoying and I got tired of being blamed every time the football team lost. But I never felt that "Dartmouth wouldn't change to accommodate women - women were expected to change to accommodate Dartmouth." In fact, a more accurate statement would be that women were expected to change Dartmouth and that frightened many students, administrators and alumni. A small minority vocalized those fears but the vast majority of the Dartmouth community worked very hard to make women feel welcome, comfortable and safe on campus. Unfortunately, negative press sells more papers, even today as is evidenced by your headline, so the positive aspects of those years rarely comes to light.

Any woman who applied to Dartmouth during the early years of coeducation should have done so with her eyes open. Most of us did. I never expected it to be easy to be a member of the second coed class at a previously all-male school. You cannot change 200 years of institutional learning overnight. But that was part of the challenge of coming to Dartmouth then.

Ironically, it was probably just as hard to be a male member of the early coed classes as a female. These men had 200 years of Dartmouth tradition bearing down on them in a time when society was saying most of it was now inappropriate. Certain things had always been expected of a "Dartmouth man." It must have been difficult to resolve the struggle between what they knew was right and wanting to fit in and bond with their male peers. Perhaps that could be the subject of another article.

Change requires energy, enthusiasm, an open mind and the willingness to listen. I honestly believe the majority of the Dartmouth community embraced that philosophy during the early years of coeducation.

I am not condoning nor excusing the boorish, sexist behavior that existed at that time. What I am saying is there was, for myself and many of my fellow alumnae, enough friendship, support and laughter to compensate and we truly feel that our experience was a good one and that we were then and continue to be valued members of the Dartmouth family.