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The Dartmouth
May 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Gender balance comes years after coeducation

Dartmouth officially became coeducational in 1972. But it wasn't until the Class of 1999 that there was actual gender parity in the student body.

Part of the delay in admitting an equal number of men and women was intentional. But even after the College abandoned its gradual approach to coeducation, the admissions office still experienced decades of frustration in attracting female students.

Initially, Dartmouth intended to admit a relatively small number of women. To satisfy the concerns of male alumni, and because of such physical constraints as a lack of bathrooms and dorm space, the College planned for 25 percent of each class to be female.

This quota was to change over time. The College decided that beginning with the Class of 1982, each incoming class would have 15 more women and 15 less men than the previous one. Under this plan, it would have taken until 1992 -- a full 20 years after coeducation -- to achieve an equal sex ratio.

But students angrily protested such a prospect, leading the Trustees to abandon the gradual approach.

For a variety of reasons, though, it ended up taking even longer -- until the Class of 1999 -- before the student body would have an equal proportion of men and women.

Even among those charged with implementing the College's original quota, there was hesitation to the gradual approach to coeducation.

"The quota was an intimidating and off-putting factor," said former Dean of Admissions Alan Quirk. "I think the notion of doing it gradually was a serious mistake. It was truly inexplicable, frankly."

Quirk also noted that Dartmouth was not alone in this policy: Princeton had first used this model for achieving eventual gender parity, and Dartmouth followed suit.

Critics of admissions policy around the time of coeducation also pointed to another bias in the admissions process -- the requirement that applicants submit a photograph of themselves.

The requirement, according to Quirk, "went back at least 50 years. I submitted one with my application in 1949."

But when some raised questions about whether attractive female applicants were given an advantage over unattractive ones, the photo requirement was dropped in the late '70s. As Quirk put it, it was "an anachronism."

Even as the photo requirement and gradual approach to admitting women were dropped, Dartmouth did not achieve actual gender balance for some time.

Dartmouth not only had to gain the appreciation of female applicants, but of parents, teachers, guidance counselors and high schools as well, according to current Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Karl Furstenberg. Dartmouth had to persuade an entire population that it was genuinely coeducational.

Furstenberg also said there were those who viewed "Dartmouth as a place of vigorous outdoorsy athletic-type men, and some women were not going to flock to a place like that."

Richard Jaeger, former of director of admissions, said that it took word of mouth to really encourage female applicants to consider Dartmouth. "During the transitional period, some guys did not treat the women as nicely as they should have," Jaeger said. "One bad story could set us back five years."

Reaching gender parity took so long because "the best advertising we had were happy women at Dartmouth," Jaeger said.

One approach was hiring women in staff and faculty positions, and therefore providing role models.

One of those women was Mary Turco, who, as an admissions officer, was sent out to seek the most talented women applicants. Turco said she had to "make sure that students at the top of their class in high schools across the nation were aware of Dartmouth as a coed institution with excellent opportunities for men and women."

Numerous tools were used to actively recruit women for the Class of 1972 and onward. Applicants and admitted students were invited to candidate gatherings and Dartmouth literature was distributing during speeches by both a male and a female representative.

On away terms, undergraduates participated in the "Take Dartmouth Home program," visiting their old high schools and speaking with students, teachers, and guidance counselors. At the same time the hosting program invited prospective students to spend a few days with an undergraduate on campus. These two programs continue to be successful today.

As qualified female students began to consider Dartmouth as a legitimate coed choice, the numbers of women students on campus rose considerably.

Today, the Class of 2006 is not only the most diverse class in Dartmouth history, but also the first to have a majority of women.

Furstenberg said the yields for admitted men and women have been very similar for the last several years: about 52 percent for men and 50 percent for women. That's the closest it's ever been.

"I can definitely say that in admissions we don't hear as many concerns from prospective women students as we did a decade ago," Furstenberg said.

Reflecting current events, Turco said "Dartmouth is a great place for women today."