On college campuses, back when women were 'coeds,' strict rules kept the 'ladies' in their places

October 23, 2005|By SUSAN REIMER

In You, the Coed, a handbook given to freshmen at Ohio University in the mid 1960s, young women were instructed on the finer points of being a lady and "an ideal coed."

"We want you to consider your reputation," the handbook read. "OU isn't a very big place. Your life partner may be just around the corner. So make sure what is going on in your corner is fun and strictly collegiate."

In the handbook, there are pages of advice on dress (women must wear a hat and gloves to church and to the Sunday noon meal), manners ("The most important thing about being a college woman is being a lady") and curfew (an accumulation of 10 "late minutes" meant a woman was confined to her room for two weekends, receiving no calls and no visitors.)

There was advice on which fork to use. On when to offer a handshake. On when to take a man's arm. On refraining from the unladylike habit of complaining. All under the heading of "Ohio's Ideal Coed."

The handbook given to male freshman, titled You the College Man, included only a fraction of the dress codes, curfews, rules and advice. But it did have one thing in common with You, the Coed:

"The odds are good that you will meet your future wife at Ohio University. Your dating habits can greatly increase or decrease your chances of meeting that ideal coed," the handbook said. (Emphasis mine.)

These two publications -- and me -- were among the historical relics dragged out of the mothballs this fall when Ohio University archivist William Kimok organized a retrospective on a report on the status of women at Ohio University written more than 30 years ago. All these years later, it continues to be among the most popular and most referenced documents in his collection.

It was researched and written in 1972 by an outspoken graduate student, Beverly Price, now Beverly Jones. And I had covered its results and recommendations for the student newspaper, The Post.

I returned to Athens with Bev, a retired corporate lawyer who now works as a career counselor and a corporate strategist in Washington, to speak to groups of incredulous students about what campus life was like when women were "coeds" and men were "college men."

It was a time when women students couldn't hold any leadership positions in campus activities because meetings generally lasted past their curfew.

It was a time when a "coed court" adjudicated a special set of offenses of which only women might be found guilty.

It was a time when women athletes -- such as they were -- had to have permission slips from their coaches in order to leave the dorm before 7 a.m. for a road trip.

It was a time when sororities and fraternities were pressured by alumni to deny membership to African-American pledges.

It was a time when the School of Business had no women graduate students because the faculty didn't believe women could do the math.

When I arrived at Ohio University in the fall of 1969, I brought with me all the dresses, skirts and high heels I needed to obey the dress codes.

But by spring of that year, I was wearing blue jeans and moccasins and a headband, and I was tearing up my bed sheets, soaking them in water and tossing them from the fire escape of my dorm to the guys who were enduring rounds of tear gas from local police.

Just days earlier, four students had been killed by the Ohio National Guard at Kent State University -- just up the road. The next morning, the guard was in Athens and the school closed.

In loco parentis had disappeared in a haze of pepper gas by the time Bev wrote her report two years later, but the inequities between women and men that she reported were much more damning.

Among them, only 10 percent of the university faculty were women, and they were among the lowest paid and had no benefits.

Of the $1.1 million athletic budget, only $973 went to women's sports and that was largely spent on gasoline: Volunteer coaches drove the teams to their events.

Though the athletic budget came out of student activities fees -- paid by both men and women students -- the women athletes bought their own equipment, paid their own travel expenses and for their own physicals.

There were $300,000 in scholarships in the athletic budget, and not one was given to a woman.

It was argued, Bev remembers, that team sports build character, and women don't need that kind of character.

The report also took note of the fact that the university's marching band, The 110 Marching Men, did not allow women to join because they didn't have the physical stamina for marching and they did not understand "esprit d'corps."

It was also argued that women were physically incapable of playing the cymbals because they had breasts.

All these years later, this stuff seems like nonsense to us. How could anyone make these arguments with a straight face?

The young women students -- even the young men -- to whom Bev and I spoke laughed and shook their heads. They think we are making this up.

They also think we took care of this stuff 30 years ago.

But the gray heads in the audience the night Bev spoke remember very well. And they understand.

"Equity is everyone's job," Bev warned. "Stop paying attention for one minute, and you will lose it."

......................

susan.reimer@baltsun.com

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