Wednesday, September 24, 2008


One thing that changed quite radically during the four years we were at Vanderbilt was the status of women on campus.

According to a recent book on the history of Vanderbilt, CHANCELLORS, COMMODORES & COEDs, written by Bill Carey, it was in the spring of 1969 (right before we arrived that fall) that some of the first significant changes began to be made:

"Under pressure from students, female and male, the Heard administration does away with mandatory midnight curfews for sophomore, junior and senior women...At the same time, the administration does away with the rules that prohibit women from wearing pants and shorts on campus."

Yes, you read that correctly. Prior to 1969, Vanderbilt coeds were not allowed to wear pants or shorts on campus, believe it or not.

But even more major changes were on the way with parietal visitations being allowed in all dorms the following year (including, after we fought for it) opposite-sex visitation, even in the freshman dorms (except for Stapleton Hall).

Then came a number of co-ed dorms being opened. So I believe after all this, any remaining curfews in the frosh living quarters also had gone the way of the dodo bird.

In 1972, change continued in a even more substantial and far-reaching ways. Again, quoting from Bill Carey's book:

"Under pressure from students and faculty, the Board of Trust discards a policy that limits female enrollment to one-third of the student body, allowing the number of women in the school to rise to about half by 1980."

It was also during this time that the federal Title IX law was passed and Vanderbilt very slowly began to allow women equal access to the school athletic facilities and programs. Ultimately, it led to a women's athletics program at Vanderbilt (particularly in basketball) that is one of the best in the country.

But just getting equal access to facilities was a big struggle at first. Bill Carey tells one rather humorous story about it. I think this may have occurred while we were still on campus, but it might have been a few years later.

"Female students gain access to indoor sports facilities in McGugin Center after employing some unusual protest methods. At one point, students Widget Judd and Mae Go shock the campus by climbing into the sauna at McGugin nude, to the pleasant surprise of a student named Tom Davis, who was already sitting in it. "After some initial embarrassment and surprise, we all talked very normally about things in general," Davis says. A few days later, the athletic department announces a policy under which women can use the sauna for two hours a day, two night a week."

Then there were "the collective senior women" of the Class of 1973: Not only did they finish second in student balloting for homecoming queen in 1972, in the spring of 1973 they won the prestigious "Lady of Bracelet" Award given each year (in those days)to the most outstanding Vanderbilt senior co-ed. In his book, Carey described the effort as "a form of mass protest against all things sexist and elitist."

Finally, there is the photo above of a class taught by Susan Wiltshire. For the 1972-73 school term (our senior year), the Vanderbilt College of Arts & Science adopted a regular course in women's studies for the first time. It was called Women's Studies 150. This is a picture of that historic class and Professor Wiltshire, who went on to continue a very distinguished career at Vanderbilt.

According our senior yearbook, THE 1973 CENTENNIAL COMMODORE: "The class was an interdisciplinary course supervised by a committee of faculty members from several departments." It's goal was "exploring the role and images of women from ancient to modern times."

Did anyone out there take this course? What was it like? Did you know you were part of history in terms of academic classes at Vanderbilt? Please leave your memories and comments below.


Steve said...

Okay Pat,

Thanks for the setup for one of favorite stories.

When Title IX was passed it became obvious that Vandy would start a Women's Basketball team as a varsity sport as early as the 73-74 school year.

We had a stringer for WRVU named Leigh Gossett who was an ardent supporter for women's rights. She asked me if there were any male athletes who she could talk to about the idea of a women's basketball team. Well Ray Maddux and I had a reasonably good relationship at that time, so I suggested she speak with Ray.
That was on a Friday.

The next Monday, I was making one of my rare public appearances at the Engineering school, trying to remember where my class met when this giant paw caught me by my shoulder.

As I turned around I was gazing up at the 6 foot 8 inch rather muscular frame of Ray Maddux. The next thing I knew Ray had lifted me by my coat up to his eye level and in his rather high pitched voice wanted to know that sending that "crazy lady" over to see him without asking him first had put him in the dog house with his girl friend and he was less than a happy camper.

The good news was that after Ray put me down, we had a good laugh about it, but he let me know never to do anything like that again.

Leigh actually filed a pretty decent story on a typical Vandy athlete's view of women's varsity sports.

Vandy did start a women's basketball team that has gone on to national prominence.

And Ray married his girl friend, and his son Drew is one of Vandy's all time greatest scorers.

Everybody was happy and nobody got hurt, but for awhile the life of your colleague in crime was in danger as was the future of Vanderbilt athletics.

Steve Womack

A good topic for another blog would be the first Environmental and Water Engineering classes that began in 1969.

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