Coeducation at Smith College viewed through statistics
Between 1964 and 1972, Smith College seriously entertained the idea of amending the college charter to allow undergraduate degrees to be awarded to men, thus making the college coeducational. Though the plans for coeducation took various forms and many of the documents express a very clear preference and sway toward coeducation, the Trustees ultimately voted against it in October 1971, with a final decision announced in March 1972. The story behind this decision, though unique to the institution, can be placed in the context of the sweeping wave of Coeducation that affected the entire nation’s view on higher education.
In 1965, in response to a similar trend in other institutions, President Mendenhall created the Faculty Planning Committee, whose purpose was to investigate the possibility of Coeducation at Smith. The members, lead by Chair Ely Chinoy of the sociology department, communicated with similar committees at other colleges such as Princeton, Vassar, and Bennington to inform their views. The committee also lead surveys of student, faculty, alumnae and secondary school senior opinions on the matter to develop a sense of the desirability of Coeducation at Smith from different backgrounds.
“In virtually every area of response save one (and that an important one), so marked is the faculty’s preference for some form of co-education at Smith that the cumulative effect might almost be described as overwhelming.”
Report of the Faculty Planning Committee, May 1968
The statistics show the strongest preference for coeducation among the male faculty and the faculty under the age of 40. The age/gender divide, though slight, shows Coeducation to be a progressive issue–the majority of the long-term professors indicated they had no preference, while the new professors and younger faculty voiced stronger opinions.
What could be a possible explanation for the reluctance of the female faculty to fully endorse coeducation?
How do assumptions about female/male learning habits inform the survey questions?
What are some factors that could influence the endorsement or rejection of coeducation?
Does coeducation reject feminism, or does it embrace it?
The materials excerpted above can be found in their original form in the College Archives at Smith College. Records are taken from the following collections:
32. Office of the President, Thomas Corwin Mendenhall, Series IX, Boxes 1, 2
42. Faculty records. Chinoy, Ely: Coeducation, Box 706
Additionally, Smith College has the following digitized collections related to coeducation:
Ely Chinoy. Faculty Planning Committee Records – Coeducation Materials, 1967-1971
Selected Publications on Coeducation at Smith College, 1967-1994
Miller-Bernal, Leslie and Susan L. Poulson, ed. Challenged by Coeducation: Women’s Colleges Since the 1960s. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2006.
–A series of essays chronicling the history of former women’s colleges and their decisions to go coeducational.
Jill Ker Conway, “Coeducation and Women’s Studies: Two approaches to the Woman’s place in the Contemporary University,” Daedalus, Vol. 103, No. 4, American Higher Education: Toward an Uncertain Future, Volume I (Fall, 1974), pp. 239-249
–Written by Jill Ker Conway before assuming the Presidency at Smith College.
“Is liberation to be achieved by mastering the skills of the dominant culture, or is it to be found through achieving the capacity to confront, analyze, and articulate another kind of experience which commands no place in the institutions which are the guardians of the dominant culture?” p. 240.