March 24, 2017

A “bowl fight” at the University of Pennsylvania, circa 1895. Credit: University of Pennsylvania

In the first half of the 20th Century, if you were a bright and privileged young woman, you had options for where to go to college. You could go to an all-women’s college, perhaps one of the Seven Sisters; you could attend a private institution like Oberlin, which had been coeducational since its founding in 1833; or you could even get a degree from Stanford. What you couldn’t do was graduate from Harvard. Or Yale. Or Princeton. Then, in the 1960s and 70s, these institutions finally started admitting women. According to Nancy Weiss Malkiel, author of Keep The Damned Women Out, this was a huge change with ramifications throughout society.

Three Takeaways:

  • Elite colleges didn’t start admitting women because it was the right thing to do. They did it because bright high school boys demonstrated that they wanted to go to college with women.
  • Alums did not react well to the prospect of coeducation. One Dartmouth alum wrote a letter demanding, “for God’s sake, for Dartmouth’s sake, and for everyone’s sake, keep the damned women out.”
  • The first women who attended these elite colleges had a rough time. There was only one or two of them per class, and men would swarm the female dormitories looking for dates.

More Reading:

Education, Culture, Nancy Malkiel, Kara Miller

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