Beneath Thy Guiding Hand: A History of Women at the University of Delaware – Chapter 6
Chapter 6: Revival
Between 1967 and 1974, universities and colleges were at the center of a great wave of social unrest that swept through the United States. A veritable army of restless young people revolted against the restraints, values, and political beliefs of the past. Demographic and economic factors combined with major political events to produce this period of change. The Baby Boom generation matured at a time of unprecedented national affluence that permitted a large percentage of its number to attend college. Simultaneously, the shock of political assassinations, the moral force of the civil-rights movement, and reactions to the war in Vietnam, and especially to the draft, led young people to engage in mass protest against the world that their elders had made.
Social scientists use the term "paradigm shift" to describe the profound change in point of view that took place during that time. The shift had special meaning for those who had been consigned to marginal positions in American society: women and minorities. The era of the 1960s witnessed a revival of a quest for fairness in American life. Blacks, Native Americans, and women rethought and rejected past views of themselves, searched for new ways of thinking and behaving, and demanded that society treat them as equals to white males. As with so much else of that era, the effects of the women’s liberation movement were nowhere more powerfully felt than on college campuses.
A decade later, in 1979, McCalls’ Magazine took a backward look at the rapid changes that had taken place in campus life. "It seems to have happened so suddenly," the magazine author remarked. "Ten years ago, there were women’s dorms and men’s dorms, and rarely did a member of one sex enter the domain of the other. And now, there are co-ed dorms on almost every campus in the country, so many that they have become the rule rather than the exception."1 The most remarkable thing about this change, the author said, was not that it had occurred, but that the shift from single-sex to co-ed living had been so readily accepted by virtually everyone, from students to university administrators to parents. No one a decade earlier would have believed such a change possible, nor would prudent adults have countenanced it. It was as if the attitudes and assumptions that had guided the past had suddenly been swept away, and everyone awoke to discover that life would continue without rules. In short, a paradigm shift had occurred, in which former concepts of female respectability and security had been replaced by notions that elevated women’s equality, opportunity, and personal freedom.
The housing change described in the McCall’s article was exemplified at the University of Delaware. We have already seen how, in the early 1960s, rapid growth in the student population forced the University to experiment with new residence-hall designs and to locate its new men’s and women’s halls adjacent to one another. In the mid-1960s, the University took another step toward co-educational residences by permitting contiguous men’s and women’s halls in one East Campus complex to share a lounge. To amplify the co-educational atmosphere, the University hired a young married graduate student and his wife to be the residence hall directors of the experimental co-ed halls. Student response was enthusiastic. "Dorm life here is family life," the hall president reported. "The parents are young, liberal, yet firm; they do not interfere when unnecessary, yet they are there when needed. They are respected out of love, not fear."2 Despite the obvious advantages of the brother-and-sister residence-hall model, President John A. Perkins was concerned about where it might lead. Some students were demanding an end to the rules that governed residence life, but the president cautioned against further liberalization. "If institutions of higher learning are to be merely hotel and dining room managers with no influence over the quality of the living experience," Perkins warned in his final Annual Report in 1967, "prudence would suggest they cease providing housing facilities and leave it to private enterprise…."3
President Perkins’ departure from the University later that year spared him the necessity of working out a solution to the multifaceted problem of housing students, a problem that he had rightly identified as the University’s dominant issue at the time. In spite of continuing new construction, the University could not keep up with the need for more rooms. Meanwhile, administrators worried that if the students got their wish to be freed from residential restrictions, there would be no mechanism in place to control potentially disruptive behavior.4 Some administrators noted that the rapid growth of the student body and of the faculty created a potential vacuum in which no one, not residence hall directors, not faculty, and not judicial courts, could or would give students the direction, support, and attention that they had received in the past.
Those circumstances presented a challenge to the new president E. Arthur Trabant, when he arrived at the University of Delaware in 1968. A native of southern California, President Trabant had graduated from Occidental College and earned a Ph.D. in mathematics at the California Institute of Technology, before beginning a rapid rise in academic administration that had taken him from Purdue University to the University of Buffalo to the Georgia Institute of Technology and then, finally, to Delaware. Like John Perkins, Art Trabant was an extremely self-confident man, but whereas Perkins exhibited his confidence by dominating others, Trabant demonstrated his confidence through openness to new ideas and a willingness to experiment with change. Under the leadership of Trabant and John E. Worthen, who succeeded John Hocutt as vice president for student affairs, the University moved rapidly to dismantle the ethos of rule enforcement that had formerly guided residence-hall life. One manifestation of the new approach was the dissolution of the position dean of women and the unification of the residence life staff into a single, co-educational body under a male dean of students and a male vice president for student affairs.
The old system had been founded on the notion that women must be regulated and protected. It had been created in the early twentieth century when collegiate education for women was a new concept, and colleges and universities sought to prove to parents and to society-at-large that they could protect women students in a college environment. The system had gone unchallenged for a long time. As late as the early 1960s, young women accepted the controlled, secure system of housing regulations. They were used to obeying such rules at home. But in a time when eighteen-year-old men were being drafted to be sent to fight in Vietnam and flower children were proclaiming "make love, not war," those rules suddenly appeared as a demeaning denial of the women students’ status as responsible, mature adults capable of making their own decisions. The demand for greater freedom was especially strong in the personal area of sexuality, where modern methods of birth control weakened sexual taboos and altered the behavior of the young.
The national trend for women students to demand greater freedom reached Newark, Delaware, in January 1967, when a student speaking on behalf of herself and others in her residence hall told a meeting of the Association of Women Students that "women are being discriminated against because of their sex" at the University of Delaware. The student complained that women were far more regulated in the residence halls than were men. Her argument touched a chord in the minds of many students.5 Later that spring, usually conservative University of Delaware students amazed themselves and the administration when they elected Ramon Ceci, a Navy veteran and local leader of the radical national organization, Students for a Democratic Society, to be president of the University’s Student Government Association. Ceci won his majority vote by addressing two issues that had aroused strong feelings among Delaware’s students: the abolition of compulsory ROTC for males and the abolition of restricted visitation hours and closing hours in the women’s residence halls. The editors of The Blue Hen captured the moment with the comment that "a new spirit crackled across the campus-one of defiance, one of power. Delaware had suddenly splashed into the stream of nationwide college movements."6
University policy prohibited women from visiting in men’s rooms and vice versa. But whereas men students could choose to live off campus where the rule did not appertain, women students who did not commute from home were required to live in the residence halls. "Can a woman who presumably is not capable of deciding when to come in at night make independent decisions about her life in general?" asked a sister group to S.D.S. called The Women’s Liberation Front (W.L.F.).7 The W.L.F. may not have attracted many members and it certainly did not survive for more than a short time, but its flyers communicated messages that made women students think about their place in society. "We have to analyze the female’s role in terms of a society which perpetrates male supremacy and profits from it… .We need to build up our own confidence to the point where we can contribute our share of thought and ability to what is now a male-oriented society," the Women’s Liberation Front proclaimed. And students listened.8
In the stimulating spring of 1967, a spirit of irreverence pervaded the campus as Delaware women pushed against traditional restraints through a variety of means. The annual Playbill, long an occasion for satire, offered one such opportunity. In defiance of the Playbill coordinators from the Association of Women Students, the students of Harrington B presented so bawdy a performance that the curtain was dropped in its midst. Later in the term, women from Russell D organized a panty raid on Russell C, a neighboring men’s residence, then dyed the mens briefs pink before they returned them. This incident was but the forerunner of a campus-wide panty raid that lasted for two nights and was quelled only through the intervention of state police. In retrospect, the students were more proud than ashamed of their actions. The editors of The Blue Hen wrote: "In one short semester, Delaware had changed from an academic prison haunted by fear and suspicion to a University of active, excited students."9
In that radicalized environment, University administrators chose to bend rather than break. As a first compromise, opposite-sex visitation was permitted for a few hours each week on condition that students left the door to the room open; then, the hours were lengthened and the door rule was relaxed to the partly ajar position; finally, in the fall of 1969, the University took the final step of permitting on a trial basis an unrestricted visitation policy. The doors could now be closed. The new policy could be instituted in any residence hall in which eighty percent of the residents voted for it. With that change, the whole concept of what constituted a protective environment for women was revised. Women students no longer had to return to their residence halls by a specific time. Instead, the halls were kept locked at all hours and every resident was given a key, just as in the private housing market. To ease parental worries and to gauge public reaction to this experiment, President Trabant held an informational open hearing in February 1970. Those who attended learned that, contrary to lurid popular assumptions, most students used the free visitations to study together, play cards, or talk, just as students had always done in single-sex dormitories.
In spite of President Trabant’s efforts to deflect criticism, the open-visitation experiment was not without its critics. Some parents, students, and community members viewed the policy as an invitation to promiscuity, as in some cases it surely was. The principal complaints came from young women who encountered men in the communal bathrooms or had to endure seeing and hearing the steamy embraces of roommates with boyfriends who spent the night. But, despite those invasions of some people’s privacy, sense of propriety, and safety, President Trabant and Vice President Worthen told critics that if eighteen-year-olds were mature enough to serve in the Army or to work and live on their own, the University should not treat them like children. University administrators also consoled critics by pointing out that trained residence hall staff members were available to advise students and to help them deal with the problems of college life. After an initial flurry of public criticism, in loco parentis died a quick and remarkably quiet death.
With the implementation of the open-visitation policy in 1970, the way was cleared for creating co-ed residence halls, in which alternate floors or even alternate rooms were occupied by members of the opposite sex. The residence-hall staff proclaimed that those changes were a means to liberate students from artificial and restrictive controls [that] only limit a student and offer him no personal choice."10 Surveys showed that students living in co-ed halls had higher morale, experienced greater personal safety, and had a better outlook on themselves, on the University, and on their relations with the opposite sex than did those living in single-sex halls.11 The collapse of the old rules and the introduction of co-educational residence halls rendered the Association of Women Students obsolete, and it disappeared into the newly created Residence Hall Association. Stuart Sharkey, who served as director of residence life during that period of rapid change and went on to succeed John E. Worthen as vice president for student affairs, viewed the dissolution of the A.W.S. and the transfer of responsibility for women’s residential rules from the dean of women to the director of residence life as the final integration of the Women’s College into a truly co-educational University of Delaware.12
Throughout the 1970s, the continuing growth in enrollments forced the residence-hall staff to convert double rooms to triples and to put temporary cots in lounges and recreation rooms. Yet despite Herculean efforts, the University could no longer house all of its female students and most of its male students. The demand for student housing finally obliged the University to blur the lines that had once separated the residence halls from privately owned rental housing. Old rules were relaxed to encourage upper-classmen to move to apartments. University housing administrators eventually faced a different set of challenges-not to maintain student discipline, but to seek a balance whereby University housing was a sufficiently attractive option to fill the rooms, while at the same time, giving students enough freedom of choice to prevent University residence halls from becoming overcrowded. In the 1970s, a new pattern emerged in which freshmen lived on campus but upper-class students of both sexes, especially juniors and seniors, usually chose to live in apartments, both to save money and to assume more adult responsibilities.
The new residential pattern had implications for women students’ sense of community. The intense, campus-oriented communal life of the past had disappeared, but what was to be put in its place? For some students, jobs, family commitments, boyfriends, or involvement with one’s major or athletics substituted for the former "rah-rah" communal residence-hall life. Many others, however, still desired a college experience that included late-night talks, sharing feelings, and organizing social events. The quest for community posed fewer problems for men than for women because fraternities had a long history at the University of Delaware. Sororities, however, had been forbidden from the establishment of the Women’s College on the grounds that they would divide students and dilute residence-hall life. With the growth of the student body and the restructuring of residential life in the 1960s, those arguments were no longer valid.
In 1968, sorority colonies were organized on campus with the approval of the Board of Trustees and the support of the Association of Women Students.13 Impetus for that innovation came not only from students but from Dean of Women Bessie B. Collins’ assistant Ross Ann Jenny, a recent University of Delaware graduate, who reasoned that it was unfair for the University to accord men students the right to belong to fraternities while denying that right to women students.14 In February 1969, five sororities were colonized at Delaware. All offered activities that had once been a part of women’s residence life, including group carol singing, intramural sports, and parties. Additionally, the sororities reached beyond the campus to provide service to the community through such activities as tutoring disadvantaged children and visiting hospitalized veterans. The sororities quickly gained popularity and became a regular part of University life.
While those changes were restructuring student life, the womens movement was having an even greater impact on the lives of older women. Women’s liberation had gained national attention with the publication of Betty Friedan’s best-selling book The Feminine Mystique in 1963. Friedan’s main theme, that a generation of college-educated, suburban housewives had surrendered their autonomy and self-respect to become childlike housebodies, struck a deep chord with many American women. One year after the book was released, Congress adopted the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The act’s Title VII prohibited discrimination in employment based on race and gender. When the government failed to take the act’s protection of women seriously, Friedan and other feminists founded the National Organization for Women to fight sex discrimination.
As those reform ideas were taking root throughout the nation, President John A. Perkins’ Advisory Committee on the Education of Women completed a survey in 1965 that revealed that adult women had great unmet educational needs. The majority of the respondents were married women bored with staying at home, but the most pressing needs came from divorced women. The advisory committee’s discovery of this hitherto ignored group coincided with statistical evidence of the rising divorce rate in Delaware during the 1960s.15
Most mature women students entered the University through the Division of University Extension (now the Division of Continuing Education). Adele E Robertson, the division’s supervisor of academic programs, worked closely with Bessie B. Collins to address the educational needs of older women. Their cause received a big boost from the Higher Education Act of 1965, which provided federal funds to support university community service ventures directed toward helping women. Robertson used these government funds to hire part-time counselors to assist women returning as students. One person that she selected to fill this modest, government-funded position was Mae Carter, a mature, married woman with considerable experience as a community volunteer. Mae Carter came highly recommended by Bessie B. Collins, who had known her through their mutual involvement in the Newark branch of the American Association of University Women. Neither Adele Robertson, Bessie Collins, nor even Mae Carter herself could possibly have anticipated the significant role that she was destined to play in the University’s development.
It would be no exaggeration to say that, with the exception of Winifred Robinson, Mae Carter has done more to change the position of women at the University of Delaware than any other individual in the institution’s history. Her accomplishments are particularly remarkable because they were achieved by a person who had a lowly status by usual university measures. Mae Carter was not a faculty member; she had no doctoral degree; and she never held a high-ranking administrative appointment at the University of Delaware. And yet, the evidence of her influence is everywhere apparent and is widely acknowledged by faculty women and administrators throughout the institution. For a person initially hired into a part-time, marginal position to have had such an extraordinary impact is not only a testimony to Carter’s skills but also suggests that she was the right person in the right place at the right time. Mae Carter was effective because she combined the non-threatening manner and tactics of the traditional homemaker/community activist with an extraordinarily well-focused determination to change the University of Delaware.
Mae Carter was reared in the liberal, collegiate town of Berkeley, California, where she attended the University of California and graduated with a degree in home economics in 1943. A year later, she married and, after a brief career as a pre-school teacher, followed the then-common pattern of leaving the workforce when her children were born. She did not, however, abandon volunteer community work, becoming particularly committed to working with the American Association of University Women (A.A.U.W) in support of education and libraries. In 1956, when her husband’s corporation relocated him in Delaware, the Carters moved to Newark. Mae Carter soon became re-established as a volunteer activist for the A.A.U.W, where she met Bessie B. Collins and other community women, many of them faculty wives.
When she began her part-time position in University Extension, Mae Carter discovered a new world of frustrated, even timid, women, for whom higher education represented a means to secure employment and to build self-respect. Some wished to complete degrees they had abandoned in order to marry. Many had difficulty making academic progress because of the demands of parenthood and repeated corporate transfers required by their husbands’ employers. The most distressing problems, however, beset the widows, the women deserted by their husbands, and the divorcees. Typically, those women were unprepared to support themselves. All they knew was shopping, playing tennis, serving on church committees, and rearing children. Seeing those frightened women stream through her office made Mae Carter "very aware that you have to be financially independent."16 Using the skills and networks that she had developed during years of experience in women’s volunteer organizations, Carter urged the Division of University Extension to offer programs and courses to serve the needs of adult women students. These efforts met with an enthusiastic response. The program, "Great Expectations for Women," presented in Newark in 1967 and aimed at returning students, was so well-received that it was repeated for the benefit of women in Georgetown and Dover.
During that same time, President Trabant was seeking ways to respond constructively to campus unrest and to bring a sense of shared purpose to an institution that was in the midst of great growth and change. Early in his presidency, Trabant created the Community Design Planning Commission to identify new goals for the University to pursue in the 1970s. The commission members, including students, faculty, and administrators chosen from all parts of the University, issued a two-volume report entitled The Decade Ahead in 1971. That document called for the University to respond to the educational needs of hitherto neglected groups, specifically including women. The commissioners posited "85 theses to stimulate academic reforms," one of which read in part: "The transformation in higher education that began in the last third of the 19th century needs to be completed. Not only should women in greater number be accepted in graduate and professional schools, but special provisions should be made for them, including the right to study on a part-time basis, particularly during the years when they are obliged to care for their young children."17
The most important change associated with the Community Design Commission’s proclamation took place in the treatment of the University’s women faculty and staff. In the two and one-half decades from 1945 until 1970, the University had represented itself as a co-educational institution because all of its academic programs were open to men and women equally. University administrators had wondered why women students spurned many curricular opportunities and remained entrenched in a narrow sphere of "women’s" subject areas. During that same era the University had made no effort to hire professionally qualified women to staff its faculty or its administration except in the "women’s" fields of home economics, women’s physical education, and, later, nursing. Through the activities and insights of the women’s movement, the relationship between academic study and professional opportunities was made apparent, not only at Delaware, but throughout the United States. The issue of fair hiring and promotion procedures for women and minorities became the subject of national debate and political action. As the decade of the 1970s began, the University of Delaware, like other American institutions and corporations, undertook to rectify the imbalances and unfair practices that had restricted employment opportunities for women and other minority groups.
In January 1971, Benjamin F.McLuckie, an assistant professor of sociology, taught a Winterim (now called Winter Session) course on changing sex roles in society. As part of the course, Professor McLuckie organized a panel discussion on the status of women at the University of Delaware and asked a student, K.H. Dahl, to prepare an analytical report on the subject to be based on questionnaires and University statistical data. The report revealed a pattern that everyone already knew to be true: The few women faculty at the University were clustered at the lower, non-tenured ranks, and hardly any women occupied positions in higher administration. One can almost hear the shade of Winifred Robinson proclaiming, "I told you so," to that revelation. Of the University’s 128 full professors, only seven were women, mostly older women originally hired into the Women’s College. Women made up twenty percent of the total faculty, but they were clustered in traditional women’s professional fields. Only fourteen percent of the faculty in the College of Arts and Science were women, compared to twenty-three percent in 1939. Of the women employed in arts and science, fewer than half were above the rank of instructor. Instructors generally did not hold doctoral degrees and were not eligible for promotion to the tenured ranks. Of the nineteen departments in the college, eight had no women faculty at all and seven others employed only one woman. The picture in other colleges, except home economics and nursing, was no better. Only one woman was employed among the thirty-six faculty members in the traditionally female-oriented College of Education, while none were to be found in the colleges of Agricultural Sciences, Business and Economics, or Marine Studies. Only one academic department, Secretarial Studies, was chaired by a woman.18
By 1970, social scientists had established the importance of role models of the same race or gender in helping young people to define themselves and to envision themselves in future careers. The Report on Women at the University of Delaware noted the significance of faculty role models for women students and concluded with the observation that "until the University makes an effort to increase the numbers of women on the faculty, the percentage of women will continue to decline."19 Since women made up slightly more than one-half of the University’s undergraduate student body, it was not difficult to make the case for employing more female faculty. In response to those findings, President Trabant appointed an Advisory Committee on Policies, Programs, and Services Affecting Women Students, Faculty, and Staff, which was chaired by Nancy H. Colburn of the Biology Department.
The advisory committee undertook a thorough study of the problems associated with equitable treatment for women. Its report to the president reiterated Dahl’s earlier findings and noted that the U.S. Department of Labor required affirmative action to eliminate discriminatory policies toward the hiring and retention of women. The committee also pointed to the subtle means by which male faculty were dissuading women students from pursuing graduate study or preparing for professional careers. They criticized faculty search committees for using their "old-boy network" contacts to fill faculty positions, without giving women and minority candidates a fair chance. The committee demonstrated statistically that women faculty at all ranks were paid less, often considerably less, than men with comparable credentials. They also suggested that the University reconsider its nepotism policy and supply child-care facilities for working mothers.
There were so many sex-equity problems that needed attention, the committee could only touch briefly on important issues. Its report noted, for example, the absence of gynecological services for students in the Health Center and the dearth of women in higher paying, more responsible positions among professionals and salaried staff. The advisory committee’s most significant recommendation was that the University should employ a full-time affirmative action officer who would give his or her attention to addressing the goal of achieving equitable treatment with respect to hiring, promoting, and compensating women and minority persons in every branch of the University.20 That recommendation was fulfilled shortly thereafter, with the appointment of Jeannette Sam as the University’s first affirmative action officer.
Along the way toward compiling its report, the advisory committee also took the step of constituting an offshoot subcommittee to coordinate the introduction of women’s studies as a new field of teaching and research. The sub-committee was to determine what faculty resources the University possessed in the emerging area of interdisciplinary study to coordinate the creation of a team-taught women’s studies course, and to determine how women’s studies might become a regular part of the University curriculum.21
Women’s studies emerged on the academic scene in 1970 at a conference on women held at Cornell University. The impetus for this new academic subject grew out of studies by scholars clustered in the social sciences and humanities that were demonstrating bow negative social conditioning and artificial barriers had blinded scholars to women’s past contributions. Those same misogynist attitudes were depriving women of professional opportunities for self-fulfillment and were denying society the benefits of women’s talents. One famous study showed that college women feared academic success because it was not socially acceptable to be seen as smart.22 Other studies showed that both men and women systematically viewed the work of women as less valid than that of men. Those perceptual biases ranged over the entire spectrum of professional and academic life, from medicine and law to English literature and art, where the compositions of women were discounted as being less worthy than those of men. The first practitioners of women’s studies set out to expose those biases. One goal of women’s studies was to give women students a more rationally based, positive view of themselves, and to offer them more fulfilling possibilities for their lives.
Spurred on by the advisory committee, in 1971, a group of faculty from throughout the University-some men, but mostly women-joined by Mae Carter, who chaired the new committee, began meeting together to create a jointly taught women’s studies course. Most of the participants were young, newly hired, untenured women who, up to that time, had been isolated in nearly all-male departments and had hardly known of one another until they joined forces to create the course. One of their number, however, was Jan DeArmond, a veteran professor of English, who had begun her career at Delaware in the Women’s College. Her involvement lent the enterprise a sense of continuity with a near-forgotten era in the University’s history. Although they hoped to see women’s studies become a full-fledged program with regular course offerings and faculty lines, the faculty who attended those meetings were willing to start small and to volunteer their time to get the first course off the ground. During the fall term of 1972, a group of nineteen faculty, organized under the leadership of Florence (Lindy) Geis of the Department of Psychology, presented Delaware’s first women’s studies course to an enthusiastic group of ninty-flve students, including some University employees.
The women’s studies course filled an important need for many students who, like the faculty, were reassessing themselves and their world in light of the new scholarship. But, the cumbersome format of the first course could not be perpetuated. Women’s studies needed a budget to pay for permanent leadership and to pay its faculty or gain them release time from their departmental teaching obligations. In 1972 and 1973, the Women’s Studies Committee chairperson, Mae Carter, patiently but persistently negotiated to establish women’s studies as a permanent, funded program within the College of Arts and Science. Early in 1974, Provost L. Leon Campbell agreed to hire a program director for women’s studies and a search committee was established from the women’s studies faculty to find an appropriate leader. After interviewing many candidates, mostly women from other universities, the search committee selected an assistant professor of English from the University of Pennsylvania, who began her duties in September 1974.
In spite of the care and concern that had gone into the search and in spite of the first director’s enthusiasm for the program, her tenure at Delaware was brief and unhappy. The major lesson to be learned from the experience was that enthusiasm alone-with neither administrative ability nor an adequate budget-was not enough. The second director, a psychologist, also hired from the outside, headed women’s studies from 1975 until 1980, but was only marginally more effective. However, thanks to the continuing commitment of a core group of women faculty, the program not only survived, but thrived. Mae Carter remained a key figure in maintaining the program’s viability during those difficult years. Because she was not part of the faculty and could not be denied tenure, Mae Carter was free to champion women’s studies in University administration circles without incurring the risks that some young faculty had reason to fear from unsympathetic male academic colleagues. The success of the program also owed a great deal to the administrative savvy and conviction of several faculty members, particularly Margaret Andersen of Sociology, Bonnie Scott, Barbara Gates, and Gloria Null of English and Sandra Harding of Philosophy. Those women created a workable structure for the program that consisted of two committees-a large advisory committee that included all faculty with an interest in women’s studies and a small executive committee that directed the program.
From its beginning in 1971, the Women’s Studies Committee was a lightning rod for a myriad of women’s concerns. Long pent-up frustrations on issues ranging from sexual harassment to pay equity to the need for child care poured into the committee from students, faculty and staff. The members of the Women’s Studies Committee empathized with those serious concerns, but the committee had to concentrate on its educational mission. In 1973, the Women’s Studies Committee called for the creation of another organization that could focus on non-instructional issues affecting women. Impressed by the seriousness of women’s complaints from throughout the University, President Trabant took their advice and created the Commission on the Status of Women as a permanent, University-wide body to support women’s interests, reporting directly to the president.
The commissioners were appointed by the president and included faculty, administrators, staff, and students, the majority of whom were women. Mae Carter left the Women’s Studies Committee to assume leadership of the new organization. President Trabant gave the commission a broad charge to suggest and assist in the implementation of programs…regarding the basic social changes occurring in our society as newly defined roles for women and men emerge. More specifically, the commission was to be a watchdog on behalf of affirmative action and to publish an annual assessment of the condition of women on the campus.
The commission presented its first annual report, a hefty document containing forty-one pages of text together with numerous statistical tables, to President Trabant and to the University community in April 1975. The commissioners reported that, during their first year, they had published a handbook for women, entitled "HERS," and had printed newsletters that disseminated useful information about campus resources for women. They had also co-sponsored speakers and programs by and about women and women’s issues and distributed a questionnaire to women students and employees to gather data on women’s concerns. Those efforts were designed to help women overcome their socialized tendency to accept discrimination passively, as if it were an inevitable and unconquerable fact of life.
The commission urged the University to make improvements in many areas. Its report drew attention to sexist language in University publications to the intimidation of women students by some male faculty, and to the unconscious assumptions of male superiority that were perpetuated and overlooked because, as the commissioners said, ‘the administration of the University is primarily a man’s world."23 As an example of the effects of past policies, the report noted that, while salaried staff employees made up one-half of the total University employment and women constituted sixty-five percent of that group of employees, salaries for the University’s largest employment group were "based on the outmoded assumption that women are supplementing rather than providing the family income."24
The commissioners could cite one important area where some progress was being made: the hiring of women faculty. In the three years since 1972, when the President’s Advisory Committee had compiled its data on faculty by rank and gender, the University had added 255 new faculty, 102 whom were women. The challenge, as the commissioners saw it, was to make certain that those new women faculty were given equal access to research opportunities, equal respect for their professional accomplishments, and ultimately, a fair, unbiased judgment regarding their promotion and tenure.
Among the most significant of the commission’s earliest activities was its sponsorship of open hearings concerning Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Title IX prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex in educational programs. The act was aimed at college and university athletic programs, which typically excluded women’s participation and provided scholarships to male athletes but not to females.
Women’s athletics at the University of Delaware had long been governed by ideas that dated from the era of the Women’s College. Both Beatrice Hartshorn, who controlled women’s physical education from 1926 until 1962, and her successor, Barbara Rothacher, strongly opposed a women’s varsity sports program at Delaware on the grounds that athletic competition was neither practical nor fitting for women students. Hartshorn and Rothacher’s view, one widely shared among women physical instructors trained before the 1960s, was that the goal of women’s physical education was to promote exercise for the many rather than to concentrate on competitive intercollegiate sports for the few. This philosophy held that, while all women students should participate in physical education classes, women should perspire, not sweat. Hartshorn and Rothacher’s policy was partly intended to protect women students from the derision that was then commonly hurled at female athletes for stepping out of the appropriate "feminine" role. In addition, Hartshorn and Rothacher were attempting to make the best use of a small staff. Through the 1960s, the University’s women physical educators were fully engaged teaching the ever-larger classes of required courses for freshmen and sophomores. There was no time to be both teachers and coaches.
In the 1960s, as state universities began developing women’s varsity athletic teams, women’s physical education underwent significant changes throughout America. At Delaware, student-athletes and younger faculty members such as Barbara Kelly, who had been "radicalized" by what she learned as a member of the President’s Advisory Committee on Women, sought to join the movement.25 David Nelson, then head of the University’s athletic programs and later the first dean of the College of Physical Education, Athletics, and Recreation, accepted the necessity for change, and the University of Delaware introduced women’s intercollegiate athletics in 1969.26 Mary Ann Hitchens, now associate director of intercollegiate athletics, was hired in 1969 to teach physical education classes and to coach the new women’s basketball team. University of Delaware women also competed against teams from other schools in hockey and swimming for the first time in 1969-70. Initially, the women’s teams and coaches labored under the burden of inadequate facilities and equipment. Students sometimes had to purchase their own uniforms, but student and faculty enthusiasm was high, and the varsity program expanded to include more sports as conditions permitted. When Title IX was introduced in 1972, the University congratulated itself for being ahead of the game.27
Just as women’s varsity sports were becoming a fixture at Delaware, the old freshman and sophomore physical education requirement was eliminated as part of a general curricular overhaul that saw the end of nearly all University-wide required courses. Gone too was the swimming requirement that had been the bane, and perhaps in some cases the salvation, of generations of Delaware students. The concept of separate physical education courses for men and women was also called into question and ultimately abandoned as the male and female physical education faculty reorganized into a single unit. One result of the reorganization was that women administrators in physical education lost their positions of leadership. Ironically, it was only after the physical educators left the Women’s Gymnasium of which Beatrice Hartshorn had been so proud to occupy new quarters in the much larger and better-equipped, formerly all-male Carpenter Sports Building, that the old building was renamed Hartshorn Gymnasium.
A woman from the University’s graduating class of 1967, returning to her alma mater in 1974, would have seen many familiar buildings, but could hardly have recognized the institution as the one she had attended. A revolution had occurred in the position of women in campus life. The entire apparatus of the dean of women’s office, with its responsibility for single-sex residence halls, curfew rules, and dress code, had been swept away, together with the Association of Women Students and the women’s honor courts. In their place had appeared co-educational housing units supervised by members of both sexes. A new academic program in women’s studies had been created and over 100 newly hired women faculty were teaching in numerous departments. The Commission on the Status of Women had been created with powers to recommend policies aimed at ensuring fairness and consideration for the needs of women students and employees. An affirmative action program had been put in place. Women’s athletic teams were competing with teams from other schools, and gender-specific physical education classes had disappeared. A new paradigm emphasizing equality of opportunity in every realm of University life had replaced the old paradigm that had isolated women into a limited, protected world of their own. No one could say where the revolution in women’s opportunities might lead, but the future looked promising.