The First 'Daughters of Dartmouth'
It’s hard to believe that about 40 years ago, everyone ate at Thayer, not Foco, and that the Orozco Mural Room was the most social part of the library. But the biggest difference between Dartmouth now and then was not solely the dining hall location or the noise level of a particular room. The most startling change to me at the College has been the number of female students.
Today, men and women make up equal parts of the population. The College has come a long way from the 1970s, when it started to admit women in fall of ’72.
Before 1972, the College participated in a few exchange programs, which allowed women to take classes for a year or two. But before the class of ’72 no woman had graduated from the College.
Karen White ’73 spoke positively about her experiences in the classroom and how professors treated her.
“I had no negative experiences in class, and I didn’t witness any inappropriate behavior,” she said.
Margaret Herzog ’75, an exchange student from Trinity College, expressed a similar sentiment.
“In the classroom I felt very respected,” she said. “My point of view was welcomed, appreciated. I never felt demeaned in any kind of way.”
In that respect, the classroom was often a positive place for women. However, there are some differences in the interactions between students and professors then and now.
“I knew male professors who hit on some of the women — people would titter about it, but it wasn’t seen as highly illegal,” Herzog said.
Mary Schellhorn ’71, an exchange student from Wheaton College, said she witnessed some uncomfortable exchanges between students and professors.
“One professor looked at one of my roommates, and said, ‘Aren’t you such a pretty young thing to have in class,’” Schellhorn said.
Regarding sexual assault on campus, Herzog was less positive than she had been about her experience in the classroom. She thought that the College should have addressed teaching men how to treat women appropriately and respectfully.
“What was seen as acceptable or what was unseen and not talked about is now seen as unethical,” Herzog said. “For example, what some saw as ‘sexual activity’ back then would probably be seen as sexual exploitation or rape today.”
Overall, however, she was positive about the strides Dartmouth has made for women.
Her daughter, Abigail Rohman ’16, had a similar opinion. She mentioned her involvement in V-February, Voices and the Vagina Monologues, all of which are events at Dartmouth that seek to promote awareness of and generate discussion about feminism. All of these seem a far cry from her mother’s days at the College.
However, Rohman critiqued the vestiges of male dominance on campus today, specifically in the social sphere.
“I have plenty of experience feeling like I am in a male dominated space in a fraternity,” Rohman said. “It’s a guy handing you a beer; if you want to get let into the house, you have to ask a guy.”
Rohman said that as a senior, she has become more apathetic towards this issue compared to when she was a freshman, and now she tends to stay away from these spaces which make her feel uncomfortable.
The most shocking thing Rohman recalled about her freshman year was being in Alpha Delta and seeing brothers relieve themselves right in the middle of the basement. She believes that this kind of behavior demonstrates these traces of male superiority and the brazen attitude that some male students still seem to have.
Libby Goldman ‘18 echoed Rohman’s feelings about Greek life.
“A lot of old gender stereotypes come through in the frats — the man asks if you want a beer, the man asks you if you want to play pong, the man is the aggressive one, and the lady is the passive one in the situation,” Goldman noted. “While Greek life is not inherently a bad thing, it does promote gender segregation.”
She noted that not all Greek life promotes gender separation, as there are coed fraternities.
Goldman said that there is a pressure to fit the standards of an ideal Dartmouth woman.
“The ‘ideal Dartmouth woman’ is largely defined by race or socioeconomic class,” Goldman said. “She is white, of the upper socioeconomic class, involved in Greek life, has good grades, is open to hooking up.”
Not only are women often subjected to these subtle pressures and expectations, but sometimes the traces of patriarchy are staring us right in the face. Goldman pointed out how one simply needs to walk into Rauner and see all of the portraits of all the past presidents (all men).
However, despite these undeniable traces of Dartmouth’s formerly all-male status, campus has seen vast improvements in treatment of women from the early ’70s to today. The pressures of the past were much more extreme, Linda Calderon ’75 explained.
“Men outnumbered women everywhere, in math and sciences,” Calderon said. “Women hadn’t come into their own yet — most of us grew up in homes where we were never encouraged to get careers in any field.”
Calderon attended Smith College until her junior year, when she participated in an exchange program at Dartmouth, eventually deciding to stay for the increased opportunities offered at the College. However, she said that in her experience at the College, the male students were not very accommodating or willing to adjust their lifestyles.
“Before [the women] got to Dartmouth, it was like a big camp, a boy’s camp,” Calderon said. “It was in the middle of nowhere, and sports and fraternity life pretty much summed it up. Once the women got onto campus, the men didn’t really change their behavior.”
Calderon said women understood the prejudice against them, which stemmed not only from their male peers, but also upper-level administrators.
“We women were conscious that we were in the minority and that there certainly were people on campus from the very top down who didn’t really think we were equal citizens,” Calderon said.
Despite the unwelcoming behavior of some in the Dartmouth community, she brushed it off, deciding to stay and graduate.
Calderon showed me two pictures from The Aegis yearbook. One showed former Dean Carroll W. Brewster, laughing while holding a female cheerleader nearly upside down. This was quite shocking to me, as something like this would never happen today without a massive uproar. The photo reminded me of the comments that Herzog had brought up regarding the changing views of propriety.
The second photo was of the Dartmouth Aires, an all-male a cappella group. The third photo was of the Dartmouth Distractions, a female a cappella group that later became the Dartmouth Decibelles.
“That’s how the girls were viewed,” Calderon said, half-jokingly. “As distractions.”
But overall, Calderon was quite positive, just like Herzog and White. At Smith, she felt like she didn’t have the diverse course offerings available at Dartmouth. Even though she was on a pre-medicine track, she still wanted to have a robust and complete liberal arts education. Dartmouth, despite the issues outside of the classroom, provided that.
White similarly enjoyed Dartmouth because it helped her to decide on a career path. After taking a constitutional law class at Dartmouth, she discovered that law would be a good fit for her.
Since a lot of her male peers were planning on attending law school, she was inspired to take the class. White also felt that the professors at Dartmouth were patient and understanding; when she had trouble on an assignment, professors were flexible and helped her get around the problem.
Schellhorn commented on the diverse activities in Hanover. She particularly loved how she could enjoy the outdoors. This appeal to those who love nature at Dartmouth has certainly not diminished.
All of the female alumna I interviewed seemed to have enjoyed attending Dartmouth, whether it was for the increased opportunities in the classroom or simply the experience of meeting new people, despite their comments about the less-than-welcoming atmosphere for the inaugural classes of women.
Although traces of male dominance exist at the College today, the strides in the past 40 years toward gender equality are irrefutable. The first female students may not have viewed themselves as pioneers, but they certainly carved the path for women today at Dartmouth to enjoy a much greater degree of freedom and equality.