Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
Support independent student journalism. Support independent student journalism. Support independent student journalism.
The Dartmouth
June 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Early days of coeducation at the College were bitter ones

On Sept. 20, 1972, Susan Corderman became the first undergraduate woman to matriculate at Dartmouth College. She was one of only 176 freshman females in the Class of 1976.

This group, together with 125 female exchange students and 77 female transfer students, comprised the tiny nucleus of women that allowed Dartmouth to call itself "coeducational." The male to female ratio was eight to one.

Although Dartmouth officially became coeducational at matriculation that day in 1972, real coeducation -- giving women and men equal opportunities and an equal share in Dartmouth's traditions -- would not occur until several years later.

The struggle was seldom so bitter as during the early years when women first arrived as matriculated students.

It was against great odds that the women of Dartmouth fought to make the College a school for both men and women. Throughout the early years of coeducation, the student body remained about 90 percent male, and the Trustees foresaw someday limiting the number of women at Dartmouth to 1,000 -- one-fourth of the undergraduate population.

The "installment plan," as the Trustee's plan was known, made equal opportunity virtually impossible, Anne Bagamery '78 wrote in the Alumni Magazine in 1988. "'Fitting in' became the order of the day, as manifested in rituals from learning to chug beer during Freshman Week to singing 'Men of Dartmouth' at graduation," she wrote.

Dartmouth wouldn't change to accommodate women -- women were expected to change to accommodate Dartmouth.

A contentious beginning

Coeducation started on a somewhat sour note.

At the first Convocation ceremony with female students in 1972, College President John Kemeny announced that the school song "Men of Dartmouth" had been renamed "Dartmouth Undying," and the line "For the daughters of Dartmouth" had been added to include the College's female students.

Most of the audience received the announcement with applause.

But at the end of the ceremony, six male students rose in the balcony and sang the old version of the song amid hisses from part of the audience. However, Kemeny quelled the disturbance with hand gestures, and another round of applause ensued when the six men quieted down.

The student body was divided on the issue of admitting women into Dartmouth's traditions. Even among the female students, there was no consensus on how integration should occur.

In a poll of the student body, 69 percent of women said they thought "Men of Dartmouth" should have remained the school song. Sixteen percent favored the change.

One woman was quoted in an article in The Dartmouth, referring to the alma mater's line, "And the granite of New Hampshire in their muscles and their brains."

The woman said, "If men want to sing about rocks in their heads, it's fine with me."

Convocation is the symbolic beginning of the school year. Convocation in 1972 was a symbolic beginning to the coeducated Dartmouth. In many ways, that ceremony was a metaphor for the next five years: Most students would quietly support the women, but the rowdy, reactionary fringe would often steal the show.

The resistance movement

In a poll in 1971, 71 percent of the male Dartmouth students said they supported admitting women. Thus, when women arrived the following year, it was a noisy minority that made a fuss.

The problems arose immediately in the fall of 1972, as it became apparent that the College did not prepare adequately for the arrival of an extra 200 students. But while the problem was the expansion of the student body and not coeducation, Dartmouth's women came to bear the brunt of the blame.

When the increase in the student body caused overcrowding at Thayer Dining Hall, an article in The Dartmouth about the "Thayer Crisis" quoted one upperclassman as saying "It's all because of those goddamn women." Men seemed reluctant to acknowledge women as equal partners in the Dartmouth experience.

A particularly egregious incident of intolerance occurred the following spring, when on fraternity "sink night," -- the night students formally pledge allegiance to a particular fraternity -- a letter was slipped under the door of each room in Woodward Hall, an all-female dormitory. The letter, filled with obscene language, referred to the residents of Woodward as the "enemy," and threatened that all women must become the sexual property of Dartmouth men. The letter-writers also broke the windows on the first floor of the dormitory.

Many members of the community were outraged at the incident of students mistreating students. But perhaps even more shocking were the cases of administrators discriminating against students, like the episode that year when two freshmen women, Karen Turner '76 and Judo Redoing '76, decided they wanted to manage the all-male freshman basketball team.

After fighting a long hard battle against the male-dominated Dartmouth College Athletic Council, the two women were given the position, when nobody else applied. But they soon ran into problems -- not from the players, but from the coaches and varsity managers.

Varsity managers refused to teach the women how to write the books and perform other duties, and the two found their names omitted from the DCAC basketball team book -- the first time a manager's name had been left out. Basketball Head Coach Tom O'Connor changed the policy of promoting all freshman managers to varsity, and refused to move either woman up to the varsity level.

A similar incident occurred the following year, prompting women to a quick protest and quick victory. When the College Glee Club sent all entering members of the Class of 1977 publicity notices which mentioned that the club would remain all-male, an irate female student stormed into Dean of Freshmen Ralph Manuel's office and claimed that the College Glee Club was discriminating against women.

Manuel agreed with her contention and wrote a letter to the director of the Glee Club -- and Kemeny quickly followed with his own letter.

"Permitting women only in the Handel Society Chorus and the Dartmouth Collegium Musicum is like saying they can only use the eighth or ninth levels in the stacks," Manuel wrote.

Dartmouth adapts

The College did not welcome women with open arms, but traditions did change -- albeit slowly -- to accommodate women. The tradition of Winter Carnival weekend was transformed in just a few years from a time when men imported women from other colleges to a celebration that the men and women of Dartmouth could enjoy together.

But it was a painful transition. In 1973, men still invited women from other colleges to Winter Carnival, and dating a fellow Dartmouth student was seen as taboo.

"It would be like dating your sister for the biggest college weekend in America," a male undergraduate told The Dartmouth in 1973.

Richard Zimmerman '76 wrote a letter to the editor of The Dartmouth later that week complaining about the gender ratio. In a recent interview, Zimmerman told The Dartmouth that women still came in by the bus-load during the early 1970s. But, he said, that culture was dying.

"It was a very difficult time to be at Dartmouth. Upperclassmen would sit down in lawn chairs and rate the women as they came off the buses with rating cards," Zimmerman said. "The women of Dartmouth were incredibly offended by that."

In 1972, a few months before the first female Dartmouth students matriculated, the last Winter Carnival "Queen of the Snows" was crowned. Many believed it was a good thing the beauty pageant was stopped -- for it had become very raunchy and disagreeable.

A column submitted to The Dartmouth that year described the winner as "eminently brainless and beautiful, carrying her full-bosomed body with grace and perfect ease." The column said judges asked contestants questions such as, "If you were a man, would you grow a beard?" Members of the audience reportedly said "What a lay!" and "Jesus Christ, what boobs!"

"The only unhappy moment of the two-hour sex ritual came when [History Professor] Marysa Navarro, leader of the hissing section, said dejectedly: 'How can the girls do that to themselves? It's deplorable,'" the column stated.

It was the last time the tradition took place. A "Queen of the Snows" had been crowned for 43 years prior to 1972, but the first coed freshman class would never see a beauty pageant on Winter Carnival weekend.

"Prevailing attitudes indicate that contests which stress beauty as the primary or only criterion no longer have the widespread popularity they once enjoyed," said George Ritcheske '73, chairman of the Winter Carnival Council. The nation was becoming more politically correct, and year 1972 also saw the removal of the Indian as the College mascot. Slowly, Dartmouth was adapting to women and to the outside world.

The next year brought a major social change to the College. On Jan. 29, 1973, a headline in The Dartmouth read "Another Tradition Gone: Six Houses To Admit Women."

The six fraternities -- Alpha Theta, Foley House, Gamma Delta Chi, Harold Parmington Foundation, Phi Tau and The Tabard -- decided to include women in their houses after Inter-Fraternity Council President Woody McGinnis '73 asked all the Greek organizations to declare their policy on allowing women to participate in spring rush.

"The option is now open for women to join fraternities," McGinnis said. "If they are interested, a whole new pool of potential fraternity people could be tapped."

"There is no reason we see women shouldn't be in the house; fraternities should not take it upon themselves to be the last bastion of male solidarity at the College," said Gamma Delta Chi President Len Schulte '74.

Gamma Delt has since gone back to being all-male.

Giant steps backwards

It seemed that women were making great strides toward equality; but there were times when the behavior of a group of rowdy men would make coeducation look like mere varnish concealing the real Dartmouth -- the Dartmouth that would never coeducate.

Such behavior occurred in 1975, at a singing competition on Green Key Weekend. In the annual competition, called "Hums," fraternities competed to write with clever songs. That day, a group of members of Theta Delta Chi fraternity would sing a song that made "Men of Dartmouth" look like a serenade.

The men sang a song called "Our Cohogs" -- a pun on the word "coeds" -- to the tune of "This Old Man." The song included lines like "Our cohogs, they play one, 'cause of them we have no fun," and "Our cohogs, they play four, they are all a bunch of whores."

Many women were outraged by the song. But even more troubling than the lyrics was the fact that the song was judged the winner by a panel that included Dean Carroll Brewster.

Brewster was "a figure held only in the highest esteem on Webster Avenue and environs," according to an article in The Dartmouth. "A paean and a lament for the living symbol of 'Old Dartmouth Image.'"

Current Dean of Student Life Holly Sateia, who described the song's victory as "demoralizing," said it reflected poorly on the students and administrators who voted for it.

Some of the women who had been offended lashed out by producing a video called "You Laugh" for the philosophy seminar titled "Feminism and Revolution." The video, which included clips from the Theta Delt Hum song, "was the first time people openly expressed the love-hate relationship that women had with Dartmouth," Sateia said.

"Many of the women involved in the 'You Laugh' video were legacies," she said. "One of the things I think that they were troubled by the most was that they had come to this place expecting to replicate the experience that their relatives had here ... and they were having far different experiences. They were not feeling embraced into the Dartmouth family."

Support for Brewster and the Theta Delt song showed that even four years after the College decided to admit women, real coeducation was an ongoing process.

Image problems

The Dartmouth coeducational experience was a struggle, and events like Theta Delt's entry to the Hums competition kept anyone from saying otherwise -- including the people trying to "sell" the College to prospective students.

The negative publicity that was specific to women's experiences at the College was difficult for admissions officers to overcome, according to Sateia, who was hired at that time by the admissions office to try to find ways to encourage women to attend Dartmouth.

Sateia said when she tried to convince women to come to Dartmouth, she did not try to paint a picture of a campus where nothing was wrong.

"The way that I presented it to high school students was not that all the battles had been fought and won, but more 'Come and join us in the struggle,' she said. "'Join us in the struggle to create a coeducational institution here at Dartmouth.'"

She said she could not paint a rosy picture of life for women at Dartmouth because the media had already done just the opposite.

It "was a time you just didn't want to open the paper as an admissions officer, because every time we opened the paper you felt there would be something in there about either the way students of color were treated at the College or the way women were treated at the College," Sateia said.

A long way to go

After that first coeducational Convocation ceremony in 1972, "some of the women students left Webster Hall that evening feeling a little uncomfortable -- not unlike guests whose host had embarrassed them with an excess of hospitality," the executive editor of The Dartmouth wrote at the time.

Although much had changed, five years later, there was still a long way to go. College Vice President Ruth Adams said in 1977 that Dartmouth "is still in my concept a college for men that admits women."

Adams said Dartmouth would never become truly coeducational unless it changed its admissions policies, which limited the number of women that could be admitted.

"I will never be satisfied if a woman more qualified is being turned down and a man less qualified is being let in," she said. "I would like to see a freshman class constituted with a sex-blind admission policy."

Men still comprised more than 70 percent of the student body.

After the first year of coeducation, in which 177 women entered the freshman class, the next four years saw the number of women matriculating remain stable at between 268 to 278 women each year, while more than 775 men matriculated each year.

Dartmouth's women had been given an almost impossible task -- to become an equal part of a college where their numbers were far from equal. The 1970s were years of trying to adjust to their new surroundings and to make the most of college years at a college where they were not always welcome.