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The Dartmouth
June 13, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Women gained acceptance, faced challenges in late '70s to early '80s

It began with a small advertisement in the Jan. 15, 1979 edition of The Dartmouth. But the ad placed by Playboy Magazine -- asking Dartmouth females to pose for their "Women of the Ivy League" edition -- captured the attention of the entire campus.

For the women of Dartmouth -- still a relatively new phenomenon in the late '70s -- Playboy's offer presented an opportunity to protest against an action they viewed as sexist and offensive.

Not only did this incident ignite some of the most intense debates witnessed in College history, it showed that the women of Dartmouth would not sit idly as some still hoped they might.

The Playboy protests came to symbolize the beginning of a new era at Dartmouth -- an era when women realized that if the College would not hand them equality, they would have to reach out and grab it for themselves.

And by the mid-1980s, activism by women on campus had made a real impression on the school. It could be said that Dartmouth saw things a lot better from the perspective of women -- and had at last been convinced that they deserved not only equal access to the College, but equal treatment at the College.

The Playboy protests

Stationed at the Hanover Inn, Playboy photographer David Chan had come to campus to interview potential models from among Dartmouth's ranks. But in his effort of recruitment, he was met with strong opposition.

The Women at Dartmouth -- or WAD -- presented a loud and unified voice against Playboy's presence.

In an editorial appearing in The Dartmouth on Jan. 17, Hillary Smith '78 and Sarah Franklin '82 urged their peers to "consider the implications of representing themselves and other women at Dartmouth spread-eagled across the Playboy pages."

But action by these women did not stop at letter writing. A protest was organized on Jan. 17 in the Hopkins Center, where members of WAD continued their attacks against Chan and his magazine.

In an effort to sabotage Playboy's efforts, WAD members implored students to sign up for meeting times with Chan, thereby occupying all of his interview slots with people who had no sincere interest in posing for the publication.

WAD had a lot of support from the Dartmouth student body. Several male students publicly joined WAD in their protests, including College President John G. Kemeny, a featured columnist in The Dartmouth. He agreed that Dartmouth's representation in Playboy reflected poorly on the academic community -- an institution in which both men and women take pride in being a part of.

But although had a lot of support, there was still a large section of the student body who came down in favor of Playboy. Chan himself said he had been a specially invited guest at several dinners and fraternity parties.

And though the WAD was effective in limiting Chan's efforts, over two dozen girls eventually modeled for him at the Hanover Inn, of which two girls were selected for the July edition.

A cartoon drawn by Steve Kelly '81 in The Dartmouth sparked a second round of protests over the Playboy issue.

The cartoon, illustrating a Playboy photographer ridiculing two unglamorous depictions of Dartmouth women, triggered a firestorm on the editorial pages of The Dartmouth.

Two members of the Class of 1982 lambasted Kelley and his drawing, saying it would be hard for even Playboy to depict women in a more offensive light.

But another Dartmouth woman, Nell Goddin '81, supported Kelley's humor, surmising that "possibly the organizations of hyperactive, hypersensitive women are throwing fits of mere jealously" for not having the bodies of Playboy models.

Goddin represented a sizable faction of women on campus who did not see inherent sexism at the root of Playboy's offer. This group also included Suzanne Baldwin '81, whose partially nude photo was featured in the July edition of the magazine.

Baldwin, who believed her picture was "tastefully done," was, however, disappointed with the profiles of her and other Ivy League women. She had hoped it would be a "more sensitive, in-depth story."

But for many other women at Dartmouth, it wasn't the poorly written article that had elicited their activism -- it was the mere fact that Playboy had come to Dartmouth and expected to be welcome.

While maintaining that it was the individual right of any women to do as she wishes with her body, WAD member Hillary Smith '78 stated, "we want him [Chan] to leave feeling very uncomfortable here."

But Chan did succeed in getting what he wanted from the school, despite WAD protests. The magazine would even come back two more times in the 1980s -- and most recently recruited for models at the Hanover Inn in the spring of 1995.

However, what WAD did achieve was to demonstrate that sexism would not go unnoticed on campus. What they saw in Playboy's presence was morally unacceptable, and they were able to organize themselves to show the rest of campus exactly how they felt.

Although not entirely effective in the Playboy incident, women's continued protests would begin to institute fundamental changes as Dartmouth headed into the 1980s.

Tackling the Admissions Office

Ten years after coeducation was made official at Dartmouth, many policies of the administration belied the fact that men and women existed as complete equals.

One of these policies -- the unequal treatment of women in the admissions process -- was looked upon as a challenge to the women of Dartmouth.

In 1979, the administration's policy of admissions was determined by a three to one ratio between men and women. The school was not interested in enlarging the size of the student body -- therefore to add more women meant subtracting men from the total population.

But beginning with the Class of 1982, the College decided to begin implementing a policy of incremental steps towards an equalized sex ratio. Each incoming class would have 15 more women and 15 fewer men than the previous one.

Critics of this policy quickly emerged, saying that under this plan, it would take until 1992 -- a full 20 years after coeducation began -- to achieve a one-to-one ratio of men to women.

At a protest, titled "Convocation on the Green" held on February of 1979, Anne Snodgrass '81 addressed almost 300 students by saying that the uneven ratio "negatively affects all aspects of life." She also implored people to think of the convocation as the beginning in a fight to change the policy of Dartmouth.

What women like Snodgrass wanted was not for incremental increases in the number of women admitted -- but for females to immediately be treated exactly the same as males in the admissions pool.

They saw the need for women to be recruited by the College in the same fashion as men, and to equalize the ratio sooner than 1992.

President Kemeny wholeheartedly supported equal admissions consideration as opposed to incremental increases -- and encouraged students to unite in the fight to alter the policy. However, it was the Board of Trustees -- not Kemeny -- that would eventually make the decision.

In April of 1978, the Trustees had voted in favor of the incremental steps. But as the Admissions office began processing applications for the Class of 1983, women on campus were eager to see a change in the policy.

Coordinated by students and faculty, an Equal Access Petition was submitted to the Trustees in February of 1979.

When the Trustees arrived on campus on April 23, 1979, they were greeted by the protests of over 400 students, staged in front of McNutt Hall. The Concerned Students for Equal Access, a group formed during the Winter term and instrumental in many of the activist movements, led the protests with songs and chants.

Josefina Bosch '79 sang one song she had composed, the last verse proclaiming: "It's time for the College to take up a stand, for the rights of all people, for woman and man."

But the campus was not completely in favor of accepting more women. A group of male students -- many of them members of the Dartmouth Conservative Movement -- gathered across from the protest and erected a Confederate flag on the Green.

Though they would not comment on what the significance of the flag was, one of the men pointed at the demonstrators and asked, "Can you say they have culture? They look like baboons."

But the movement towards equal access was supported and even led by many campus men. They worked along with the Dartmouth Women's Alliance -- formerly WAD -- to organize protests and submit petitions.

On the same day as the protest at McNutt, Stewart Henderson '81 stood up in front of four Trustees at a Committee of Student Affairs meeting, telling them that "what is gradualism for you is eternity for us." Wild applause followed from the near 400 people who crowded the Top of the Hop for the meeting between Trustees and students.

The Trustees appeared to be affected by such enormous outpouring of student protest. COSA chairman and trustee Robert D. Kilmarx stated that the obvious change in student outlook on the policy of gradualism was leading him to "reconsider the pace" of women's admissions.

On April 25, Kilmarx and the Board of Trustees did exactly that. Bowing to student pressure, they voted for "single-pool admissions" and the end of formal admissions discrimination against women.

The old admissions policy was completely dismantled. In the next year the number of accepted women would jump from 550 to 700. However, actual matriculation of women remained constant -- and it would take time before prospective women felt like they could fit in at Dartmouth, still a predominantly male school.

It was a loud voice, from women and men alike, that led to a fundamental change in the role females played on campus. It was another step towards true equality at Dartmouth and a realization for women that they were becoming sincere partners in this institution.

Setting a precedent

What the ratio debate proved was that with protest and voiced opinion, the women of Dartmouth could make important changes in campus life.

In 1982 women's groups rose in opposition to the administration again -- this time over the lack of women in top level administrative posts.

The Women's Caucus, representing many women faculty at Dartmouth, met with new College President David T. McLaughlin to ask for a women or minority representative for the Senior Officer's Council, the advisory board to the president.

It was one of the first in a long series of petitions to McLaughlin and the Trustees for an increased role of women in both the administration and faculty.

McLaughlin had inherited the presidency from the very person who embodied the ideals of coeducation. Kemeny had presided over the entire decision of implementation of coeducation, and was not only a friend to campus women but their most important ally on campus.

McLaughlin was none of these things, but he still offered support for women at the College. However, it would take some time for him to prove to the campus that he was just as much a supporter of coeducation as Kemeny.

The request for a woman or minority representative came in response to the recent appointment of several upper-level positions. Since McLaughlin took over from President Emeritus Kemeny, he had acquired a new dean of the College, provost, and director of communications -- and all of them were white men.

As English Professor Brenda Silver said, women and minorities should be on the Senior Officer's Council -- regardless of how supportive the men on the Council were of their cause.

But it was not until two years later that the changes Silver and others were recommending came into existence.

In the meantime, female students joined professors in advocating the hiring of women faculty, and more women with power in the senior administration.

Dartmouth's Affirmative Action Plan, written in 1972, expressed a strong commitment to the hiring of women and minority faculty.

But in 1983, it came under severe attack for not upholding the guidelines it had set for itself.

McLaughlin called the attempts to find qualified women and minorities "incredibly frustrating," adding that he had done all he could in trying to find such candidates.

But for many women faculty, students, and administrators, this was not good enough. They sought to provoke the Affirmative Action Office, which makes faculty recommendations to the president, to search harder for more diverse applicants.

The prodding eventually worked. In 1984, the College at last met its Affimative Action goals in the hiring of professors to the faculty of arts and sciences -- the first time since McLaughlin had taken office in 1981 that this had been achieved.

Six female professors were hired in January 1984, putting Dartmouth back on track to establishing 30 percent of the faculty as female -- as was proposed in a 1982 revision of the Affimative Action Plan.

Ngina Lythcott, the Affirmative Action Officer at the time, credited the Women's Caucus with establishing the initiative to hire more women, saying they had become a "very viable group" at Dartmouth. She also credited McLaughlin himself with the changes.

"He's a right-minded human being, and any right-minded human being is for equal opportunity," she said.

Today the College leads the Ivy League with the most tenured female professors, at 27 percent in the arts and sciences. The pressures put on the administration, and McLaughlin in particular, during the 1980s largely account for today's positive statistics.

Changing attitudes

While females at Dartmouth wanted to see the administration change specific policies, at the same time they wanted to change the attitudes of men towards them. The 1970s had seen instances of blatant disrespect by campus men towards their new female classmates.

But heading into the 1980s women sought to change those attitudes by countering every offensive act with a demonstration of condemnation against sexist behavior.

Sexual assault had long been a problem closely related to fraternities at Dartmouth. For many campus women, Webster Avenue was both a dangerous and fearful area.

In 1980, women and men organized a "Take Back the Night" march down fraternity row to show they would not tolerate assault anymore. The march, the second of its kind at Dartmouth, was primarily in response to the abuses of "sink night" -- the night when students pledge membership to a specific fraternity. It is on this night that many claims of assault occur and many women considered it the most unsafe of any night on fraternity row.

Singing "We Shall Overcome" and marching with banners and torches, some 55 students and members of the community marched across campus and down Webster Ave.

While passing the Massachusetts residence cluster, several known fraternity members shouted obscenities at the crowd, and others taunted the protesters with rude gestures.

But for the most part, the march was an effective demonstration of unity against sexual abuse and rape. The fact that many men chose to involve themselves with the march also showed an increased understanding of the problems women were facing at the school. The tradition has lasted, and every spring a solid number of Dartmouth students -- men and women alike -- repeat this same protest.

While the fraternity system still did little to welcome women to the traditions of the College, The Dartmouth Review -- the off-campus conservative weekly born in 1980 -- also attracted intense criticism from women's groups.

In September 1982, The Review published a course guide aimed at helping the freshmen choose their classes for Fall term.

But the guide aggressively denounced the Women's Studies Program in what Mary Jean Green, co-chairman of the WSP, said were "attacks on women faculty members ... just because they're women."

Religion Professor Charles Stinson urged the freshman Class of 1986 to ignore The Review and its guide in two lengthy opinion pieces in The Dartmouth. He cited two examples of highly intellectual feminist literature, then asking his readers, "Are these feminist passages silly or pallid? They are anything but. They are potent and provocative."

The number of students who chose to enroll in WSP classes in the fall of 1982 were no lower than in previous terms. The protests against The Review's recommendations helped to safeguard the WSP and those serious about studying women's issues.

On the fringe

For many Dartmouth women, activism was not their cup of tea. While some females came to the College to aid in the coeducation battle, others simply came to receive a good education and have fun.

But many successful women ended up leading by example, not by protest. They stayed on the sidelines during the publicized and politicized demonstrations, but still succeeding in changing the attitudes of the Dartmouth men as much as any other female.

Commencement in 1979 witnessed the first female valedictorian in the 209 years of graduation ceremonies. Elizabeth Procter '79, a native of Maine, had achieved the prestigious honor as a biology major, a member of Phi Beta Kappa honors society, and the founder of Alpha Omega, a United Church of Christ youth group.

Her friend Bob Keefer '79 described her as modest but headstrong, who has had an enormous effect on all of her peers.

Procter, however, refused to make herself into a political issue. She stated that she had never been discriminated against at Dartmouth, and when asked about being the first woman valedictorian, she simply replied, "it had to happen sometime."

She had also asked that no one make a big event out of the first valedictory address by a women.

The first female Senior Class President, Hallidie Grant '81, exhibited the same sort of low-key profile that Procter had shown as valedictorian.

"My decision to run had nothing to do with me being a woman," Grant said.

But she also admitted that the increased unity between men and women at the College had allowed her to assume the presidency.

It would not have been possible, Grant said, to have become president during the early '70s, when women were still not considered a legitimate part of the Dartmouth community.

Making strides

In a 1980 recap of women's issues from the previous year, featured in The Dartmouth, Dianne Vogel wrote that "as women get into positions where they demand respect, they will get it."

Vogel's statement held more truth than she could have known. Her idea had become the dominant theme of Dartmouth women by 1984. Women's progress had come with a realization that females no longer had to accept the roles that were expected of them.

In the Oct. 24, 1984 edition of The Dartmouth, a particularly harsh opinion column chastised women -- it described one female as being proud of her abortion and happy to be anorexic. The column, however, would not be tolerated.

A week later, four women of the Women's Issues League responded, objecting to "the insulting portrayal of women in this column," and exhibiting their disgust for the columnist's irresponsible and sexist argument.

It seemed that for every attack on women, there would be a ready response from a unified voice in the Dartmouth community, regardless of gender. This may have been the greatest victory of all in the struggle for women's equality and respect during the early 1980s.