Maria, at the same moment you were writing your post about the value of women’s colleges, I was reading an article in the Yale Alumni Magazine about Yale College going coeducational 40 years ago. (If you want to get a sense of what Yale was like just before coeducation, see the wonderful documentary “Harvard Beats Yale, 29-29.”) Some memories from that time:
I was an exchange student at Dartmouth College in 1972-73, the first year that women were accepted as full-fledged Dartmouth students. As I remember, there were 400 of us women on campus, compared to 3000 men. The alumni seemed united in their vociferous opposition to our presence, and while we understood that the students were in favor of our being there, it would have been hard to know that as an observer of the campus culture. In what passed for wit, the women were known as co-hogs. In the dining hall, men would hold up signs rating the women students who walked by. I can remember a male student complaining vociferously that full-length mirrors had been installed in the women’s dormitory bathrooms, evidence, he felt, that women were a waste of valuable resources. The administration tried to change the alma mater from “Men of Dartmouth.” This resulted, in my memory, in groups of male students defiantly singing “Men of Dartmouth” at top volume, day and night.
That said, I loved it there. There was a vibrant intellectual energy in the classroom, and a wonderful sense of community. It was fun; I did all sorts of things I’d never done before, like build a snow sculpture and go to a lacrosse game. I found it pretty easy, compared to Wellesley, and had my first, and last, all-A term.
Wellesley, on the other hand, was very serious business. Mealtimes were the arena for “misery poker,” with competition for who had the most work. It was quiet day and night, just in case someone wanted to study. It seemed that everyone (but me) had a clear future goal – law school, medical school, PhD. One of my classmates was political commentator Susan Estrich, who after graduation went on to be the first female head of the Harvard Law Review and of a national presidential campaign. So in my mind, it’s no accident that Wellesley “churned out” two of the three women Secretaries of State.
The whole institution was devoted to women and their success. If you weren’t serious when you got there, you sure as hell were by the time you left. Was it fun? Not so much. Was it good for me? You bet.
There’s still a need for women’s colleges, not just because many of them happen to be great schools, but also because we’ve come a long way, but we’re not there yet.