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The Impact of Coeducation at Rutgers College on Douglass College, Jacqueline Green, Douglass College '03

On September 10, 1970, the Board of Governors voted to admit women into Rutgers College, a traditionally male institution since its founding in 1766.1 Rutgers had resisted this change for quite some time and consequently, was one of the last institutions to adopt a co-educational policy. The issue of co-education had arisen earlier in the history of the college but had led to the foundation of a coordinate college for women, Douglass College, instead of integration of the sexes. However, decades later, co-education was favored and in fact, was the trend of the time. This posed a problem for Douglass. With the admission doors open to women at their brother school, Douglass faculty and administrators were forced to re-examine the purpose and identity of their women's college in deciding whether or not to follow suit concerning education, but now they had opportunities to receive equal instruction with men. Furthermore, whatever decision they made presented new challenges for the institution in light of transformation occurring at Rutgers College a few miles away.

Though co-education at Rutgers College was finally decided upon in 1970, research into the option had begun years earlier. The Dean of Rutgers College requested a survey of administrative opinions, information from other institutions, a poll of opinion of the Rutgers College student body and a study by the planning committee of the college in order to explore the option of coeducation.2 And ad hoc committee, created to investigate the impact of co-education, proposed four options concerning the issue, tow of which had direct consequences for Douglass. Model B, as it was called, stated that Rutgers would become coed and would have a male to female ratio of 2:1 while Douglass would stay a women's college. This plan would insure that there would still be equal numbers of men and women at the University. Model C proposed that both schools become coed, but while there would be a 2:1 ratio of men to women at Rutgers, at Douglass it wold be 1:1.3 Each option of course, had its supporters and opponents, in addition to those who rejected coeducation at Rutgers in the first place. Indeed, many of the alumni of the older generations snubbed the idea of having women at their alma mater. Others simply felt that the current set-up was adequate and saw no reason for change. They viewed the existence of one men's college, one women's college and one coeducational college (Livingston) as an attractive feature of the university.4 In their eyes, it was the best of all worlds. After much deliberation, Rutgers did ultimately choose to take the co-educational route, with the support of the majority of the student body and faculty. At Douglass, on the other hand, there was much more controversy and disagreement on the issue.

The majority of Douglass students and some alumnae supported the idea of co-education coming to Douglass, if it were to come to Rutgers; however, their reasons for this opinion were diverse. Some cited the legal manifestations of the situation, stating that "no men's schools operate under state support any longer, but a contradiction exists in our own state university: we still restrict admission to men despite the Supreme Courts ruling against sex discrimination in admissions policies."5 Others felt that if women now had the opportunity to go to Rutgers, there was no need to have a separate college in order to ensure that they could achieve their academic and professional goals. In addition, the supporters of coeducation urged the decision-makers at Douglass to follow the lead of other universities, who had already gone coed or were considering it. For example, around the same time that Rutgers was investigating the issue, Princeton was also considering coeducation and Yale was exploring a plan to merge Vassar College with their own.6 Students such as Joanne Yansen '71 and Karen Masak '74 evaluated the changes in terms of social interactions. Their respective comments as quoted in a 1970 Alumni Bulletin were:

"Both Rutgers and Douglass would have to be coed. The social situation is poor. Under cross registration it is still "us"and "them."
"I think both schools should be coed. All through high school I had boys as friends; now I don't." 7

On the other hand, most of the faculty, a considerable portion of the student body and alumnae, and most importantly, Dean Margery Somers Foster disapproved of Douglass becoming a co-educational institution. This opposing stance was embraced for a variety of reasons. Student Heather Pearson '71, felt that Douglass was important to the women's liberation movement and a place where "we women work together."8 The faculty probably opposed coeducation because they favored the upholding of the traditions of Douglass College and wanted to maintain their autonomy. However, their objections to coeducation were often not voiced directly but rather through their representative to the university at large, Dean Foster, who had a extensive list of reasons why Douglass should remain an all women's college. Among the advantages of a women's college which she cited were:

  • Women's colleges are the best place for women to make progress toward defining and understanding their identity
  • Women can get acquainted with women, not be in competition with me
  • At the college age, the intellect and maturity of a woman is often much higher, so women often act dumb in the presence of men to receive their approval
  • The process of marriage and the incidence of promiscuity are slowed by having separate colleges
  • Having a women's college helps to eliminate identity crises, when women turn 35 and realize that they are sick and tired of just being housewives and mothers
  • Education for women can be purer than that of men who usually have a strong economic motive (Marge's notes)9

Margery Foster with students, 1968

Although Dean Foster acknowledged the fact that the historical reason for a women's college was no longer valid, she still thought this type of school necessary because "We [women] still do live in a men's world", and "the fact is that women are second class citizens."10 She argues that since women are at a disadvantage in society, "it is better for the development of the young woman that she be a first-class citizen at least temporarily."11 Many women, including alumna Eileen Chorborda '65, agreed with this position, "Ours being a predominantly male-run society, we need to maintain facilities specifically for the benefit of producing educated women who can then take responsible positions in society both alongside and in competition with men."12

After much hubbub, the Douglass faculty voted on April 14, 1970 as follows:
"That Douglass College reaffirm its commitment to coordinate education, with open-corssregistration, for a five-year period, and that it undertake to educate women for full partnership and active participation in society; that during the next five years the College implement this undertaking by adopting programs designed to achieve these ends." (Passed by approximately 3 to 1)

"That if Rutgers College becomes coeducational, Douglass College should become coeducational also, provided that the autonomy of the College within the structure of the Federated College Plan is maintained." (Opposed by approximately 2 to 1)13

Though the dean and the faculty had succeeded in keeping Douglass an all women's college in spite of Rutgers College's new coeducational structure, there were many changes with which to contend. The ad- hoc committee to consider the impact of coeducation had predicted that Douglass' pool of outstanding students would probably divide between Douglass and Rutgers, and that Douglass might suffer an alienation form the rest of the University due to possible reduced participation in university affairs or an inferior image.14 Those with positions of importance at Douglass had to brainstorm ways to continue to provide "a quality institution committed to women, their education, leadership and growth development, and career direction,"15 in the face of these changes.

While Rutgers College was scrambling to accommodate the new women in housing, health care, psychological services, recruitment for women faculty, and major distribution, Douglass was developing new ways to attract students to the women's college. Douglass also had the advantage of having established services that catered to women's needs. One key component of the recruitment effort at Douglass was to continue to expound on the merits of a women's college, as they had in the battle to keep coeducation out of Douglass. A college pamphlet explained "American women in the 1970's confront new opportunities, a wide variety of lifestyles, and the exciting re-definitions of women's status and potential. Douglass College is involved in creating a unique environment for women's education."16 This "unique environment" included the development of a Women's Studies program whose goal was to "ensure that students are liberated from narrow roles and encouraged to make full use of their potential."17 Another major undertaking was to continue to increase the population of minority students at the college. From 1968 to 1971, the number of black students increased from 53 to 102 and these figures grew in proportion to the total student body in successive years.18 Other recruitment programs that were developed throughout the seventies and eighties to attract applicants included the Bunting program for non-traditional women (those who have been out of school for four or more years), the scholar's program for gifted students, the Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) program for disadvantaged students, programs for women interested in the mathematics and science fields, and language immersion houses.19

The worries of Douglass College in response to coeducation at Rutgers College did not come to fruition. The freshman class size rose steadily throughout the seventies, going from 795 in 1970 to 877 in 1975.20 The year 1978-79 marked the largest enrollment in the history of the college.21 The academic profile of the college did not seem to be tarnished either. The average SAT scores did decrease somewhat (verbal -510, math -520, 1973 versus verbal - 480, math -500, 1977)22 but a considerable amount of this difference can be attributed to the fact that many special programs were introduced to accommodate students who might not necessarily have the academic credentials to attend college.

Throughout the 80's and until the present time, Douglass has managed to hold her own within the larger Rutgers University. Though the historical reason for a women's college has not been valid for quite some time, Douglass succeeded in maintaining its single-sex status, and was able to overcome the challenges that arose due to increased competition with Rutgers College. The many programs available to women here, which constitute "the Douglass difference" keep college alive and well. The students and faculty of the college take pride in the unique opportunities offered at Douglass. As explained in an acceptance letter to the college for 1987,

"We think Douglass is special because it combines the best of both worlds. It's part of a comprehensive, co-ed state university and is also a moderately sized women's college. Our unique position will enable you to profit from the opportunities for leadership and achievement offered only at a women's college and from the varied curricula available only at a large and distinguished university...."23

Jacqueline Green
Douglass College '03


1 "Rutgers College Goes Co-ed" Douglass Alumnae Bulletin Fall 1971.

2 McCormick, Richard. "Report of the ad-hoc Committee to consider the impact of coeducation at Rutgers College." p.1 (April 1970). Papers of Richard P. McCormick; Box 17, Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries.

3 Ibid., p.9.

4 Ibid., p.9.

5 Cooper, Melanie Janis. "Resolved That I Should Be a Man': A Comprehensive Study of Coeducation at Rutgers College," Henry Rutgers Thesis April 1997. p.3.

6 Letter, Margery Somers Foster to President Goheen January 5, 1968

7 "For Men Only," Douglass Alumnae Bulletin (Fall 1970). p 14.

8 Ibid., p.14

9 Student Conference transcript between Dean Foster and student Ileen P. Finkelstein '69. (Nov 8 1967.) Office of the Dean of Douglass College. Box 15. Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries.

10 Foster, Margery Somers. Rough notes on Coeducation. p.3. Office of the Dean of Douglass College. 1967-68. Box 15.

11 Ibid

12 Chorborda, Eileen. Letter to Douglass Alumnae Bulletin. (Summer 1970.)

13 Foster, Margery Somers. Douglass College Annual Report 1973-74. p.3.

14 McCormick, p.37.

15 Ibid.

16 Pamphlet, Women's Program of Douglass College. Papers of Richard P. McCormick. Box 17.

17 Ibid.

18 Douglass College Annual Report 1973-74

19 Douglass College Accountability Report 1986-87. Office of the Dean of Douglass College.

20 Douglass College Annual Report 1973-74, 1977.

21 Douglass Accountability Report 1978-79.

22 Douglass Accountability Report (1973-74, 1977).

23 Letter of Acceptance to Douglass, April 9, 1987. Douglass Accountability Report, 1986-87.


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