Summer of Woman Suffrage! A special day – Women’s Equality Day

Posted by on Aug 26, 2020 in Exhibits, Featured slider, Online Exhibits | Comments Off on Summer of Woman Suffrage! A special day – Women’s Equality Day

Summer of Woman Suffrage! A special day – Women’s Equality Day

Happy Women’s Equality Day!

Women’s Equality Day is celebrated in the United States today, August 26th, to commemorate the 1920 adoption of the Nineteenth Amendment  to the United States Constitution, which prohibits the states and the federal government from denying the right to vote to citizens of the United States on the basis of sex.

Suffrage100MA commemorates the 100th anniversary of the adoption of the 19th Amendment.  Learn more by clicking here:  Suffrage100MA.

If you have not seen the PBS series “The Vote” about woman suffrage, you can find it here:  The Vote.

The National Archives Museum is featuring an online exhibit about Woman Suffrage. Click here to learn more: Rightfully Hers: American Women and the Vote  

Women and Williams College
Fifty years ago this month Williams College opened as a coeducational institution. Women had studied at the college before, but none had been granted degrees. The women who entered in 1970 were full fledged undergraduate students at the college.

Quote and photo from the 1970 Gulielmensian

This had a BIG impact on the town because the College elected to increase its enrollment to accommodate female students, rather than slowly replace half of its current enrollment with women. So this week we will be looking at the impact of women at Williams on the town.

Click on this link to go to Sylvia Kennick Brown’s timeline of Williams’ road to co-education:

The decision to go co-ed came close on the heels of the dissolution of the fraternities. Up until 1962 the college did not house or feed the majority of its students, the fraternities did. And those fifteen Greek organizations combined formed the town’s third largest employer at that time – the first being the College itself and the second being Mount Hope Farm, which also closed in 1962, just as The Clark and the Williamstown Theatre Festival, both founded in 1955, were expanding, shifting the town’s economy from agriculture and education to education, tourism, and the arts.

So the 1960s were a decade of upheaval for the town as power, jobs, and land changed hands. The college needed to expand its facilities quickly to accommodate its women. Most of the fraternity and Mt. Hope properties came into the college’s hands, and the Williams Inn and its satellite properties, which had always been college-owned, were put to new uses. The Greylock Quad was built.
Photo by William Tague of Jennifer Dorr White, Williams 1981, at a 1979 celebration of coeducation at the College

t-shirt made for 1981 celebration

No matter how separate you see the town and the college, the rapid growth and physical expansion of the latter, and the cultural shift of moving from a single sex to a coeducational institution, had a big impact on the town.

More female faculty and staff were hired and became part of the Williamstown community.

Margaret Johnson Ware
Margaret Johnson Ware came to Williams as an exchange student from Mt. Holyoke in the fall of 1969 and the spring of 1970. Here are excerpts from an interview with her about that experience:

“There were very few co-ed college choices for women in the late 1960’s A ten college exchange program had been started with five women’s colleges and five men’s. Williams had had 20-30 female exchange students from Vassar in the spring semester of 1969, and I was one of about 60 women on campus that fall. (Click this link to read the 1969 article by Thomas W. Bleezarde on the reception of those first female exchange students from Vassar.)

There were women from Wheaton, Vassar, and Mt. Holyoke in my dorm. We were an oddity. They really knew nothing about having women on campus. There was lots of sexism. They treated us all like we were at a girls prep school in 1947. We had different rules from the male students, for instance we had a curfew and they didn’t.

They put us all in Lambert House at the foot of Hoxsey Street and we were all squished in. There was no space for us to have desks in our rooms so we were asked to study in the hallways. I went to the administration and said, ‘No man at this college has been asked to study in a hallway and no woman should be either.’ After that they moved some people out to Lambert Annex and we had more breathing room.

Margaret Johnson, second from left, with other female exchange students and Williams student Robert Ware visit in the kitchen of Lambert House in 1970.
Photo by William Tague.

Lambert House today.

I wrote in my application that I was a political science major and wanted to study with James MacGregor Burns, which I did. I took European history with Bob Waite, Shakespeare with Arthur Carr, and two semesters of music with Irwin Shainman.

Most women were there looking for guys, I already had a boyfriend at Williams. I stayed for both the fall 1969 and spring 1970 semesters, and I lived in Williamstown the summer before and the summer after. It was an exciting time to be here because that was the year of the student strikes and when the African American students took over Hopkins Hall to protest the treatment of people of color at Williams.”

William Jefferson ’70, Preston Washington ’70, and Michael Douglass ’71 look out of the registrar’s office window during the Occupation of Hopkins Hall

Students at Chapin Hall in 1970 listen to a student speaker during the protests that disrupted commencement 50 years ago.
From the Williams College Archives and Special Collections.

Nancy McIntire
Nancy McIntire had never worked at a single sex institution until she came to Radcliffe in 1965 to serve as Director of Financial Aid. It was from that post that Williams College snagged her to be their first female dean as they went coeducational. Nancy talked to us about those early years.

Nancy McIntire. Portrait by Kevin Kennefick

“Things were chaotic on college campuses in the late 1960s and I was ready to make a move and get out of Cambridge. And I wanted to do less financial aid and more involved with admissions and student life. Williams offered me a job as dean with some admissions work as well. It was the right move.

Williams had been looking at the question of coeducation for several years before they hired me. They wanted to increase the size of the college and the question was to add more men or to go co-ed. They didn’t want to decrease the number of men to add women. None of the men’s colleges going co-ed at that time wanted to do that.

Berkshire Eagle article about Nancy’s hiring.

One of the reasons Williams chose coeducation was the theory that women would fill in ‘under-subscribed curriculum areas’ such as art and music. They quickly found that there was no big difference between the majors men and women chose.

The Committee chaired by Joseph Kershaw recommended that the College move quickly towards a 50/50 ratio. The first co-ed undergraduate class was about 30-35% female.

Microaggressions were commonplace in the early days of coeducation at Williams, but overall the College made a really smooth transition. The Board of Trustees was very supportive. The alumni are very loyal to college and they had just lived through the decision to disband the fraternities. Basically, all the pro-fraternity alumni had already departed so they weren’t around to bother me. And the remaining alumni were very quick to realize that now their daughters cold follow in their footsteps at Williams as well as their sons.

Click here to read the 2006 interview with McIntire in the Williams Alumni Magazine.

There were aspects to having women on campus that the college hadn’t thought through, like bathrooms in Bronfman Science Center. I remember a female faculty member ‘liberated’ a bathroom there!

At the start men had control over all the social money and there were many activities the women just weren’t enjoying like the activities in the houses. Mark Taylor got the women some social money at Spencer House, but that was another reason to hurry towards equal numbers of male and female students. Social life would be better if the ratio was closer to 50/50.

Throughout the 1970s there were incidences of bad behavior. Occasional outbursts from men in student housing, signs that said ‘Coeds Go Home’ Once some students took an inflatable doll to Sawyer Library, put pants on her, doused her in red juice, and tossed her into a reading room.

The college had not made aggressive moves towards hiring female faculty. None of the female faculty they hired at the time they went co-ed made it through. It took more than a couple of hiring seasons to get women into the tenure pipeline. It really took longer than it should have.

Bob Peck wanted to wait for female students to ask for athletics rather than setting up programs for them. So women’s sports could have been developed more quickly.”

Nancy arrived at Williams in 1970 and worked as assistant and then associate dean. Then in 1983 she became the assistant to the president which shifted her from working with students to working with the faculty. She retired from that position in 2006, after 36 years at Williams, but she remains an active and beloved member of our Williamstown community.

Nancy assembled the Coeducation Collection in the Williams College Archives & Special Collections. Once COVID restrictions are lifted the collection will once again be available for research purposes.
Kate Gridley
Kate Gridley, Williams 1978, was not only one of the early female students/graduates of Williams College, but also of Phillips Exeter Academy, where she was a member of the class of 1974. She took a few minutes to discuss her experiences being in the female minority at formerly all-male educational institutions.
Gridley in front of two of her works from her show “Passing Through: Portraits of Emerging Adults.”
Photo Geoff Foster, Concord Monitor.
“There were many more men that women at Williams then, but I already was comfortable with that situation from Exeter. We were pioneers in coeducation and we felt it strongly. All the Williams women seemed incredibly bright and I was quite terrified of my female classmates!
At Exeter the faculty let us female students know that we didn’t belong. I NEVER felt that at Williams, from the administration or the faculty. I always felt heard and valued at Williams. My professors were as invested in teaching women as men. But I was not a particularly political person back then, if there were coeducation issues I wouldn’t have noticed. My method was just to suck it up and keep on moving forward.
I did find the male and female jock culture uncomfortable because that wasn’t my thing. I was not into the party scene. I found the parties and drinking scary, overwhelming, and loud. My girl friends were way more social than I was.”
Kate arrived at Williams as a pre-med student but graduated as an English major and was awarded the Hutchinson Memorial Fellowship for painting. She has gone on to become a nationally acclaimed conceptual realist painter.
“A couple of years ago I painted a portrait of Marilla Marks Young Ricker (1840-1920). She was the first female lawyer from New Hampshire and she paved the way for women to be accepted into the state Bar Association. She applied to serve as the US ambassador to Colombia in 1897 and tried to run for governor in 1910, neither of which she was allowed to do because of her gender. She fought all her life for suffrage and women’s rights.  Click this link to learn more about Marilla Ricker:
In 2016 New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan (left), Gridley, and Rep. Renny Cushing unveil of her portrait of Marilla Ricker at the NH State House.
So when teachers started complaining that there were no portraits of women hanging on the walls of the New Hampshire state capitol – they would bring school groups through and all they would see were dead white men! – I was commissioned to paint Marilla Ricker’s portrait. The year we hung it the entire delegation from New Hampshire was female. It was 2016 and we were hoping we were about to elect our first female president…
About 15 years ago the women in my class at Williams started getting together once a year to share our joys and concerns. This is something women do that men don’t. We share the expenses, plan activities, and it has turned into the most beautiful lifeline for a lot of people. Over the years people have died, divorced, remarried, had trouble with kids and finances, but we all share our stories. It is an extraordinary group! This is the greatest gift that Williams gave me.”
Kate is currently at work on a portrait of her dear friend, opera singer François Clemmons, well known for playing Officer Clemmons on “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” Learn more about Kate at her Website:
Click this link to read the 2015 article in the Williams Alumni Magazine celebrating 40 years of coeducation at the College. There you can read about the experiences of several other alumnae and their experiences:
Cover of Williams Alumni Magazine, Summer 2015.
Illustration by Peter Strain.

Do you have women in your family whose stories should be told and preserved at the Williamstown Historical Museum.  We would like to collect and share the stories of all of Williamstown’s residents.  Email Sarah at [email protected] to tell us your story.  To learn more about our Summer of Suffrage, click here:  Summer of Woman Suffrage Online Exhibit.