Mansfield, a self-described "militant feminist," wore her curly hair long and wild and dressed in jeans bedecked with a peace symbol on the back pocket. She loved nothing more than a good argument. She and the assistant debated, but he refused to hand over the gym clothes. So Mansfield took her case to administrators, who apparently instructed the assistant that he must accommodate the university's female students. On Mansfield's next trip to the gym, the assistant begrudgingly handed her a pair of shorts and a T-shirt and snidely asked if she would like a jockstrap, too. From then on, he called her "Jockstrap Mansfield."
Now a labor lawyer at the National Mediation Board, Mansfield chuckles when she recalls this memory. The passage of time has taken the edge off of it. But back then, she says, "either you were with me or you were against me."
It is now 25 years since Mansfield and 101 other women and 589 men earned their undergraduate degrees from Johns Hopkins, marking the culmination of the first four years of coeducation at Homewood. In April, alumnae from those early coed years and other alumnae and female faculty will meet on cam-pus to celebrate past accomplishments and plan for the future of women at Hopkins.
During the quarter century since Mansfield took her stand outside the gym, things changed a lot for women and men at Johns Hopkins. Last May, women comprised half the graduating undergraduate Class of 1999--a big increase since Mansfield graduated, when graduating women made up just 15 percent of the class. In the Krieger School of Arts & Sciences, there are now 50 women in tenured or tenure-track faculty positions (about 19 percent of the tenure-track faculty). In 1972 there were just nine.
In looking back on those early coed years at Hopkins, alumnae recall a time that was both awkward and exhilarating, a heady era that would forever transform Johns Hopkins, as well as the women who were part of the transition.
Women had been knocking on Homewood's doors almost since the
university's founding. The
Medicine had always admitted women (in accordance with a
stipulation of two major benefactors, both women), as had the
School of Public Health. But
Homewood was different.
The board of trustees repeatedly sent polite but terse responses to women who sought to matriculate at Hopkins: admission denied. Occasionally, however, the board would allow a woman to audit a class.
In 1907, the board of trustees agreed to admit women to graduate courses "provided there is no objection on the part of the instructors concerned." Many women who would become well-known and respected leaders in their fields earned graduate degrees from Hopkins in the following decades. Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring, received a master's degree in biology from Hopkins in 1932. Caroline Bedell Thomas, who discovered the prophylactic use of sulfanilimide for rheumatic fever, studied biology and earned her medical degree from Hopkins in 1930. But women seeking undergraduate degrees would have to wait several decades.
In the late 1960s, several bastions of all-male higher education, including Yale and Princeton, announced they were going coed. It was a time of turbulence on campuses across the nation, as students were protesting the Vietnam War, burning draft cards and bras, demanding civil rights and student rights. Rules that barred half of society's members from some institutions of higher education were also subject to change.
A few Hopkins faculty and administrators were adamantly opposed to the admission of women, and remained so even after coeducation. G. Wilson Shaffer, then director of the Psychological Clinic and a former longtime dean at Homewood, believed coeducation would jeopardize the university's academic excellence. In 1971, he told a writer for the student News-Letter, "I know Women's Lib is going to get me, but Hopkins should be for men only. Up to now, I know of no male student who has had to interrupt his studies because of pregnancy, menstruation or menopause."
But many administrators and a vast majority of the faculty favored admitting women. "The best argument against it was that Hopkins would have to change the bathrooms, take out the urinals," recalls history professor Jack Greene. Greene believed that women would boost the caliber of class discussions.
Administrators had begun to fear that Hopkins, which in 1969 was $530,000 in debt and suffering a decline in applications, would continue losing applicants to other previously all-male schools that had gone coed. They argued that admitting women would improve Hopkins's recruitment efforts and social life, and bolster the humanities (more on that later). In 1969, a facultystudent-administrator committee that had been asked to look into the issue recommended coeducation. That year, the academic council, and finally the trustees, voted to admit women as undergraduates.
In the fall of 1970, the 93-year-old tradition of an all-male university ended. Ninety female undergraduates enrolled, including 21 freshmen (all commuters). The rest were transfer students--sophomores and juniors from Vassar, Case Western, the University of Maryland, and other schools; they made their home in a hastily readied McCoy Hall. The following year, Hopkins opened the first dorms for freshman women in Adams and Baker halls. That year the undergraduate student body grew to include 245 women and 2,017 men.
Several of the Ivies that had gone coed had received criticism from their alumni. At Princeton, an angry group of alumni who strongly opposed coeducation even formed its own all-male association that supposedly even published its own newsletter. The Hopkins administration braced for resistance from alumni, says Ross Jones '53, longtime vice president and secretary of the board of trustees, who is now retired. "But I never got any complaints from our alums," says Jones.
Many of the first women undergraduates chose Hopkins for the same reasons as their male peers: It was an academically rigorous school with a serious, preprofessional reputation.
In fact, administrators who had expected that admitting women would increase enrollments in the humanities and social sciences were surprised to find that they had been "totally wrong," says Jones. Half the incoming female freshmen in 1971 declared themselves natural science majors.
"On the whole, the character and quality of the women who enrolled was very much like that of the men," adds Steven Muller, who became provost in 1971 and president soon thereafter. "Women were as competitive as the men. You can't survive at Hopkins without being committed to your studies."
Debbie Cebula '76 remembers how exhilarating it was to gain entry to the previously all-male institution. "We came to Hopkins pretty self-confident," says Cebula, who was a transfer student from Chatham College. "We were competitive and ready to take just about anything on. Hopkins was a good environment for that. If you demonstrated a passion for anything, doors opened up for you." Cebula did advanced work in German literature, held a congressional internship, and was informally mentored by a sociology professor. She is now special assistant to the dean of Arts and Sciences, Herbert L. Kessler.
But Cebula and many of her classmates were not prepared for the problems they would encounter while being vastly outnumbered by men. "We were oblivious to what it would be like," she says.
It was, in the word of several alumnae who attended Hopkins in the early '70s, "strange."
"You really felt like an oddball," says Janet Schwartz '74, a natural sciences major who is now an optometrist and mother of three in Pennsylvania. "We were one out of 12, an oddity."
"Surreal," says Brenda Bodian '74, "like being put into the play No Exit."
"Some things were funny," recalls Mindy Farber '74, who became a vocal feminist on campus and now runs a labor law firm in Bethesda. Some of the buildings lacked women's restrooms, she says, and the "women's rooms" in the dorms still contained urinals, which the women began using as flowerpots. The athletic center offered no physical education courses for women. It was as though the university had hastily made the switch to being coed without fully preparing for the change, says Farber.
And indeed, administrators appeared to intentionally adopt a wait-and-see attitude toward the coeds and their needs. Part of the reason was money; "We did a lot of things on a shoestring," said Arts and Sciences dean George Benton, in a 1971 Johns Hopkins Magazine article. Rather than long-range planning, said Benton, the university's attitude was, "Let's get what we need when we need it."
There were problems more serious than unnecessary urinals,
"You'd go into a large lecture hall, of 200 seats, and there would be an island of empty seats around you. I felt like I had leprosy," says Bodian, who is now in the commercial real estate business; she specializes in helping companies acquire and renovate old buildings.
Other alumnae recall certain off-the-cuff remarks by male friends and acquaintances: "What are you doing here? You're just going to get married, and you're taking the place of a man."
But many of these women and male alumni also look back fondly on their academic and social life during that period. "My five roommates and I were always going out with Johns Hopkins men," says Mansfield.
Bringing women into residence life on campus, says Marty Katz '74, "made social life happen. It was like lightning bolts." If men were aloof, he says, it may have been because they were having a hard time making the transition from living in a socially cloistered environment, where they were able to focus exclusively on their studies, to campus life that had new distractions. Women complicated the picture. "Many of the guys were nervous, they were scared out of their pants or repulsed by their own craziness," says Katz, who is a freelance photographer and writer in Baltimore.
In fact, Katz recalls that many of his male classmates were also overly solicitous of women and grateful to have them on campus. He remembers sitting in front of Levering Hall one day while a female undergraduate was walking up the steps to Gilman. "From two directions, two men started to walk briskly to open the door for her," says Katz. As they approached the door, one of the men actually broke into a run to beat his rival to the door.
Some of the women students, receiving conflicting signals from their male peers, experienced a push-pull effect. In a 1970 News-Letter article, one female student described it this way: "You feel like a cross between Gypsy Rose Lee and Typhoid Mary."
"It wasn't a particularly welcoming atmosphere," says history
professor Ron Walters, who began teaching at Hopkins in 1970. "I
remember how beleaguered the first undergraduate women were."
Walters recalled one episode, when one of his TAs asked a male
undergraduate to take notes on the blackboard during a lecture.
"What do we have women for anyway?" the student responded.
Many faculty members were happy to have women in their classrooms. But in some classes, particularly in the sciences, says Schwartz, it seemed like certain professors wanted to embarrass women.
In one science class, a professor would slip the occasional slide of a nude woman in between those of carbon molecules. "That was probably the way he had been lecturing for the past 20 years," Schwartz surmises. "It was not done deliberately [to antagonize women]. But it showed insensitivity to the women in the class."
Looking back now, however, Schwartz believes that the problems some students had, particularly premeds like herself, stemmed not so much from gender as from long-entrenched problems within the Hopkins culture--especially the cut-throat nature of the premed program. Some desperate students were said to have destroyed classmates' lab projects so they themselves could get better grades, says Schwartz. Many faculty members clearly made teaching a low priority. "It was not a pleasant, cooperative environment," says Schwartz.
Soon after coeducation began, a small group of women decided it was time to ruffle a few Blue Jay feathers. They called a meeting, where they shared their complaints, and formed a group that was informally called the Hopkins Women's Liberation. The group members were dismayed at the dearth of women on the faculty and in top administrative posts, and by the meager sports opportunities for women. They also were upset that Homewood did not provide on-campus gynecological services, which in the wake of the sexual revolution was seen as a major oversight.
The group eventually became the M. Carey Thomas Women's Center, named after Martha Carey Thomas who had been allowed to enroll as a post-graduate student at Hopkins in 1877 but was barred from attending classes. After a year of study under these restrictions, Thomas withdrew from Hopkins. She eventually became president of Bryn Mawr College. (See sidebar.)
Women's Center members lobbied administrators to improve life for women at Hopkins--by hastening the conversion of men's to women's bathrooms, for instance, and helping persuade President Muller to bring a gynecologist to the Brown Infirmary.
The students also began to call attention to the need to recruit more female faculty and to offer women's studies courses. The university subsequently hired graduate students to teach women's literature and appointed historian Ann Scott as a visiting professor to teach women's history.
"The biggest accomplishment of the Women's Center was bringing women together as a cohesive group," says Farber. "It provided a way to get to know each other and to draw strength and comfort in numbers. It was also a forum for debating very hot issues of the time." Adds Farber, "I'm sitting here running a law firm, driving a nice car," but in the early '70s, women and men were still discussing whether women should even work and how women could be taken seriously in the academic world.
In 1972, art history professor Phoebe Stanton was one of just four fully tenured female professors in Arts and Sciences. When she began teaching at Hopkins in the 1960s, she says, the faculty club lunchroom was segregated by gender. The men filed in through one door, the women through the other. "At noon, the boys ate at one side," says Stanton, now an emeritus professor. She ate on the women's side, accompanied by the other members of her department--all male--who wanted to include her in their lunch gathering. One day, Stanton went to the club and learned that the rules had changed. She was allowed to enter through the "men's door" and sit "at the boys' table." The men did not say a word to her. "To say the men were awful, they weren't," she says. "They were just silently disapproving."
Women began to take their place at the table in other realms as well. In her junior year, Farber ran for Student Council president against Andy Savitz, a popular male student who had already served two terms as president. Another woman, Chris Steiner, ran for secretary. It was a Women's Center ticket, says Farber. "To some extent it was symbolic," she says. "I was trying to get women to be taken seriously."
To Farber, the race became centered on the male/female dynamic. Posters were ripped down, scrawled with "libbies," "chicks," and anti-women obscenities. Much of the student body felt a woman could not represent them, she says.
Steiner won her election, beating out her male opponent. But Farber lost to Savitz.
Meanwhile, other Hopkins women accomplished pioneering firsts without formally participating in Women's Center activities. Schwartz, for example, became the first female member of the Debate Council and eventually president of the previously all-male honorary society Omicron Delta Kappa. Other women stuck to their books or focused on extracurricular interests without making waves. The same year the M. Carey Thomas Women's Center was founded, six women formed a cheerleading squad.
The Women's Center activities culminated in February 1974 with "Next Step: A Festival of Women." The celebration included films with feminist themes, panels on women and engineering, and talks on birth control and self-defense. It featured such speakers as Jane Fonda and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Anne Sexton. Festival organizers selected the "Next Step" name to signify that it takes many steps for women to be fully accepted into previously male venues.
In a letter to the News-Letter her final semester, Farber wrote: "There still has to be a group that investigates the equity of faculty hiring... [and] insures recognition of women in applicable academic curriculum....For the underclasswomen here, I hope the fight's not over yet."
Through the '70s and '80s, women would continue to make strides
toward improving their status at Hopkins. The number of female
tenure-track faculty members in Arts & Sciences grew to 22 in
1982, while the percentage of undergraduate women continued to
But problems lurked beneath the surface.
In the fall of 1984, a Hopkins fraternity distributed a memo that contained a pornographic description of rape and violence against women. The flier sparked angry demonstrations by both women and men who were deeply offended. It also unleashed a slurry of other grievances, recalls professor of political science Matthew Crenson, who was then associate dean of Arts & Sciences. Women were concerned about the continuing underrepresentation of women on the faculty, sexual harassment, and the disproportionate ratio of undergraduate men to women. In response, the deans formed an ad hoc committee headed by Crenson to investigate the status of women at Hopkins.
The committee concluded that 15 years after commencing coeducation, Hopkins continued to be a "male institution with an atmosphere at best indifferent and at worst hostile to the concerns of women." While 52 percent of the nation's college students were women, only 33 percent of Homewood's total student population was female, the committee reported. It also noted that only 7 percent of Homewood's tenured and tenure-track faculty were women, compared to more than 16 percent of the tenured/tenure-track faculty at the nation's top universities.
The committee made several recommendations, including encouraging departments to identify qualified female candidates when recruiting faculty members, creating a women's studies center, establishing a visiting feminist scholar's fund and lecture series, and investigating the option of an on-campus childcare center.
Not all the recommendations have produced visible changes,
acknowledges Crenson. Homewood investigated but still has no
daycare center, for instance. And women still lag behind men in
But there has been considerable progress. Women students have gone from feeling like "lepers" to making up 50 percent of the undergraduate pool in Arts & Sciences. A women's studies center was begun and has flourished. Hopkins also established an office for dealing with complaints of sexual harassment. In the sports arena, women can today choose from among 13 varsity sports programs; last year Hopkins women's teams competed in three NCAA championships. Step by step, many things have changed.
Many members of the Class of '74 now have children who are preparing to enter college themselves. To Benetta Mansfield, the current generation of college and precollege students is "so different." She says, "We were off the heels of the civil rights movement, the women's movement. I'm not saying our view was better. It was [just] a different view. Everything then had to be relevant."
But passions fade. Now that the biggest hurdles have been jumped, many of the causes that were once so weighty and the statements that were so fraught with meaning are today less so. "I wore a black armband at graduation, but I don't remember why," she says.
Mansfield, who once chewed out a gym assistant for refusing to give her gym clothes, now has conversations with her 16-year-old daughter that go something like this:
Mansfield: "How do you feel when a guy says, 'Baby'?"
Mansfield: "It's not fine."
Daughter: "Mom, I have enough confidence to know it's not a sexist remark!"
Mindy Farber's daughter, Emilie, is 15 and determined she'll run for governor of Maryland. Says Farber, "She is born of this generation and very naturally feels she can do anything."
RETURN TO NOVEMBER 1999 TABLE OF CONTENTS.