The Process of Co-Education at Amherst College and Trinity College

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Throughout the history of our time women have been educated. Some women have been educated by governesses, others at primary or catholic schools, some at all women’s colleges, and others at co-educational colleges. However, it was not until the late 1900’s that women had the option to study at co-educational colleges. Trinity College and Amherst College were two New England colleges that decided to allow women the opportunity to attend. The decision by both these colleges to make this huge change intrigues many individuals. Thus, one finds themselves wondering, what factors led to the decision to co-educate at Trinity (in fall 1969) and Amherst (in fall 1975), and how were the first generation of women students treated at these two colleges? The answers to these questions are, Trinity College decided to co-educate due to financial reasons; it needed the support financially that admitting men as well as women could offer. Amherst College’s decision to co-educate came at a later period of time, and came from a desire to keep up competitively with all the other colleges in the area that were taking steps to co-educate. Thus, neither college strove to admit women on the basis of equal opportunity for all, but for personal advancement and competitive reasons. At both colleges the first generation of women to attend met a large amount of resistance and harassment, both in the academic and social sector, as fellow students and faculty grappled with the changes of co-education in a traditionally male dominant school.

Trinity College’s decision to co-educate came from the need to enhance the institutions financial resources. Co-education had been discussed among the faculty, students, and trustees for a few years prior to the decision to co-educate. Faculty member Professor Donald D. Hook who worked in the modern language department expressed the sentiment that supported co-education. Hook stated “If the college were to become co-educational it would be the first private men’s college (of quality) in New England to do this and would thereby create a unique institution for an area extending from north jersey to Boston and west” (Knapp 365). Thus, Hook expresses the sentiment that most proponents of coeducation at the college advocated. Many employees of the college wanted to co-educate because it would give them an advantage over the other New England schools and increase the amount of applicants that they received. That was part of Dr. Robert W. Fuller, Dean of Faculty’s case in support of co-education. Fuller noted that many colleges with which Trinity competed academically were beginning to admit female students.  These colleges were Williams, Colgate, Hamilton, Union, Yale, Princeton, Dartmouth, and Wesleyan, and in order to keep up competitively with them and attain the applicant pool that the college desired it would be wise to co-educate. In the past few years before co-education Trinity’s applicant pool had been declining and did not contain the most competitive students. Thus, Fuller stated that by co-educating the school would have ten times the applicants, comprising of more talented students. Fuller thought it best to act immediately, presenting the opportunity for women to attend Trinity before other colleges of similar standing did so; thus, Trinity could latch onto the type of students that it so desired before anyone else had the chance to. As displayed above the first motives for Trinity College to co-educate came from a desire to advance the status of the college financially and academically. However, the impetus to co-educate also came from the similar actions of colleges in the surrounding area. Trinity College wanted to keep up with the modern social trends. In order to maintain status as an elite college, no one wanted it to fall behind.

The decision to co-educate was also very financially based, and that is summed up in the Trinity Tripod’s statement saying, “Co-education had become a matter of Trinity’s survival”. However as the push for co-education grew stronger the new argument to further the quick enactment of the process, was that Trinity had to be responsible to a society in which more women were attending graduate school and entering the professional world. Also promoting the advancement of a co-educational college, President Lockwood selected a committee specifically dealing with the issue. In January 1969 the committee produced a report stating the reasons why it would benefit Trinity to become co-educational. The committee suggested that it would be better to have women in the classroom in order to have both female and male perspectives on classroom topics. The committee also stated that it would improve the quality and diversity of those applying to Trinity as well as improve campus life. Furthermore, other departments, such as the science department, would more likely become stronger because the college would draw more students who were interested in majoring in a wide variety of subjects. The board believed that the inclusion of women into the college would increase its reputation nationally. Since the college had the space to accommodate female students, the board suggested that the ratio of males to females be 3:2, with the number of male students not falling below 1000. The plan was gradually to expand the college, starting with admitting women in the fall of 1969. The hope was that the undergraduate student body would consist of 1,600 students by 1973. Therefore, on January 11th, 1969 based on positive consensus from the student body and from the committee’s recommendations, the board of Trustees voted to make Trinity co-educational starting in the fall of 1969.

The decision for Amherst to co-educate came from a similar sentiment as Trinity’s. As previously stated Trinity made the move to co-educate for financial reasons, as well as to maintain a competitive edge over other similar schools.  Amherst College was similar in that the administration decided to make the college co-educational to ensure its standing as a successful and competitive liberal arts college. The college began this process by admitting women for the academic year of 1976-1977. The plan was to gradually expand the college from 1,300 students to 1,500 students as the college slowly accepted female transfer students and began the complete process to co-educate. This would not only put Amherst on the same level as other small liberal arts colleges that were making the same transition, but it would also boost the college financially as they would be receiving and accepting more applicants. A New York Times article captured the essence behind the decision to transition into a co-ed college by the statement, “ The overwhelming desire-really the compelling desire was to have Amherst maintain its preeminent spot as an institution of higher education in this country” (New York Times). This statement once again furthers the point that the decision to co-educate was purely for advancement of the college, and not in the interest of offering more educational opportunities to women. In this case, it appears that Amherst did not want to fall behind the rest of the small liberal arts colleges, and wished to maintain its reputation nationally.

The women of Trinity College and Amherst College had to face an extreme amount of adversity upon their integration into the previously all male schools. In a 1990 survey of female alumnae conducted by Noreen Channels, a Professor in the Sociology Department at Trinity College, she found that when deciding where to attend college 93 percent of women said that attending a co-educational institute was important to them. Thus, these women wanted to integrate and participate in the educational opportunities that were previously left to men. However, once they embarked on their endeavor the first women to enter the school were faced with adversity that may not have been initially expected. Yet, these women felt that most of the difficulty that they faced came from the social aspect of the college and not the academic aspect. When addressing the social harassment the women felt that they endured, many women spoke specifically about the fraternity scene on campus. Several women said that they felt like a piece of meat when they attended fraternity parties, while other women remember being harassed and scorned when they rejected male advances.  One alumna stated, “In classrooms and academics I felt equally treated by faculty and the administration. In socializing with other students, I sometimes did not feel equally treated, ie. fraternity/sorority situations” (Channels 23). Another alumna from 1980-1984 said, “I recall being highly disturbed at the sexism of the social scene at Trinity. Fraternity parties were prime areas for the devaluation of women” (Channels 27).  Many women felt like objects in the fraternities and did not feel safe attending such parties where older guys constantly attempted bring them home. Several women also felt that the fraternities fostered exclusivity and were the only social outlet on campus. An alumna from 1980-1984 stated, “Fraternities were the most sacred of all. Questioning the fraternities meant that you were “militant” or weird. Certainly you would be isolated and, of course, you were socially ugly” (Channels 28). Thus, women felt that fraternities perpetuated the social scene, yet they were denied membership to them and were not treated like actual people at them.

As previously stated the social scene was a big proponent of why women felt hardship when they entered the college. However, the further problem was that many women felt that the administration furthered the dominant fraternity mentality. An alumna who attended Trinity from 1980-1984, remembered a horrible incident that occurred during her time at the college. She stated, “I remember a crow “gang bang” as the students referred to it. I guess that is rather indicative of the administration and student tolerance of sexual discrimination. I felt ashamed and threatened by the lack of concern and by the angered outcry by the students when Crow was threatened with being shut down” (Channels 24). Many women in the Channels survey mentioned the Crow incident and were outraged at the administration, because the boy’s family paid enough money to “put it under the table”. Another student from 1980-1984 stated, “The social scene (fraternities etc.) is very destructive of young women. The mentality is encouraged and perpetuated by the administration and the faculty” (Channels 25). This statement aids to the overall consensus by many women at the college that the administration extended the fraternity mentality. Overall, women at the college felt that the most adversity they faced was related to the social scene, specifically surrounding the fraternities, yet it was not as severe in the classroom.

In the academic sector of the college, many female students did feel discriminated against because of their gender. However, that is not to say that all female students felt discriminated against, in fact many women felt that being a female encouraged them to work harder. One female alumna from 1975-1979 stated, “Trinity’s liberal academic policies made it very easy to get to know the professors…My male professors were interested in me as a student, and I never felt discrimination” (Channels 23).  Another student from 1985-1987 stated, “I didn’t feel discriminated against. In a classroom students are judged on merit” (Channels 28). Numerous female alumnae shared the same sentiment as these two women and believed that the faculty attempted to encourage the female students to pursue their interests and talents. Female alumnae also recognized the importance of having female professors. One student from 1985-1987 stated, “I cannot emphasize enough how important it was for me to have women professors. Not only to me, but I also felt that they conveyed abstract concepts to me more clearly than their male colleagues…It was also important to me as a woman student to see how these women faculty members were able to balance having challenging careers and having a family” (Channels 24). Many women at the college viewed the female professors as role models who instilled confidence and aspirations of success in them; and thus they found it ideal to be in classes with these professors.

From the opposite point of view, countless women felt that the male as well as female faculty treated them very poorly. A few female alumnae stated that they felt like they always had to compete with men in classes. Others mentioned that they were asked for the “female perspective” on certain class issues and topics. Some women noted that there were various male professors that felt that refused to acknowledge women in the classroom, or felt that they did not belong there and should return back home. One student who attended from 1980-1984 sums up the bitterness male faculty had towards the female students in her comment, “I remember, when discussing women’s issues with an older male professor, being informed that a great deal of resentment existed among the male faculty (in his discipline) towards co-education/women at Trinity” (Channels 26). The most adversity that many female students felt they faced was from old-fashioned male faculty members who believed in a traditionally male dominate school and were not ready to acknowledge the modern day phenomena of females attending these colleges. The statement of one female alumna who attended the college from 1970-1974 encapsulated the sentiment of the majority of females who attended the college when she said, “ I felt discrimination against women by the faculty in the classroom—absolutely. Must clarify—that as one of only 40 women on campus and virtually only woman in my classes, it was inevitable—we were the first” (Channels 26). The positive comments about the lack of discrimination in the classroom were mostly from the later years after Trinity had been co-ed for a few years. Likewise, the negative comments about male professors and the discrimination in the classroom were from students who attended the college in the very early days of co-education, such as in the 1970’s. Therefore the extent to which students endured hardship in the classroom correlated with the year they had attended the college. In fact, it was found in a survey done by Channels, that only 34 percent of women who attended the college from 1970-1974 felt that Trinity did a good job in preparing them to obtain a job. However, 52 percent of women who attended the college in the late 1980’s felt that the college did prepare them for a job (Channels 2).

The women of Amherst College had to deal with the college’s decision to co-educate in all aspects of the process. Not only did this decision have a dramatic impact on academics at the college, but it also affected residential life, social life, such as fraternities, athletics, and relationships among the students. By reading compiled interviews by Auban Haydel and Kit Lasher, two female Amherst graduates, one can deduct that the transition from an exclusively male school to a co-educational school was challenging for all involved; especially the females. When asked about the transition from a single sex to a co-educational college, many of the first women to attend the college do not have extremely pleasant comments to say about their experience. That is not to say that they did not like the college or enjoy their experience there, many of them very well did. However, although they may have enjoyed their experience the adversity they faced was not enjoyable. A few women who attended Amherst in the early days of co-education mentioned that a few males came up to them and asked them how it felt having ruined Amherst with their presence. These comments as well as others were the kind that Amherst women faced daily. Another huge issue that women experienced was harassment, by professors and male students alike. One graduate, Alissa Revness class of 1981, stated that her professor made a pass at her. Another graduate, Dorthea Dickerman class of 1980, described how an Amherst male student attempted to trick her in order to get her to come into his room with him. These types of social interactions were the types of interactions that many Amherst women faced upon their entrance. However as Alissa Revness points out, social and cultural interactions were not what the administration had focused on upon their decision to co-educate. The administration viewed co-education from a purely academic standpoint, which may have been part of the reason social and cultural integration was more challenging. Shree White class of 1987 agrees with this view stating, “I think that the root of the trouble was the administration’s failure to consider the differences between the sexes”(Haydel and Lasher 9). It was because the administration was so fixed on quotas of female acceptance that they completely forgot to focus on all the aspects of this transition. In essence, the adversity the first few female students felt can be attributed to the administrations lack of attention to aiding a smooth social and cultural transition between the two genders. It can also be attributed to the resentment that many men faced when being forced with the task of accepting a woman as an equal in the classroom.

Two other aspects of Amherst College that were very large parts of the transition to a co-educational college were the social and academic life. Many female students felt that they experienced more derogatory behavior towards women in terms of the social scene rather than in the classroom. The Amherst social scene was based mostly upon drinking. Several females felt that drinking fostered offensive behavior towards themselves and other women. Catherine Cugell, a 1998 Amherst graduate recalls one party she attended in which she heard her fellow male classmates chanting “Beat Women! Beat Women!” Another woman who attended the college stated, “ I count myself lucky to have never been date raped. Many friends of mine were. I began to really question the way the football culture at Amherst condones getting women, especially freshman women, drunk in order to get sex” (Lasher and Haydel 106). Many women felt that the culture at Amherst was too centered on drinking, and that there was not enough sober situations in which males and females could meet.

Although numerous amounts of Amherst women felt objectified at fraternity parties and out in the social scene, graduates also stated that since colleges such as Smith and Mount Holyoke were so near by, hoards of women came to spend the weekend at Amherst. Various female graduates felt that it was “taboo” for Amherst males and females to inter-mingle. Alice Lawrenz from the class of 1987 stated, “I felt that I had friendships with my male classmates that were different from the experiences that women at Smith or Mount Holyoke had with them. We had daily ongoing friendships, not weekend courtships”. (Haydel and Lasher 102). Various female alumnae felt that they were more respected by Amherst men than Smith and Mount Holyoke women were, due to the fact that those women came to the school just to obtain men. However with the opposite point of view, numerous female alumnae felt that Amherst women were excluded from social events and replaced with women from the all girls’ schools in the surrounding area. Although the social life was not ideal for many Amherst women, they did not feel harassed by men in the fraternities as much as the women at Trinity College did. Nevertheless, the social arena was one place in which Amherst women experienced tension and adversity.

In terms of women in the classroom at Amherst, female students had a pretty balanced view of the discrimination they felt in the classroom. While some women felt very strongly the effects of gender bias and sexism, others felt little to no discrimination at all. Carol Wilson class of 1981, stated, “ Academically I felt that the professors treated me equally” (Haydel and Lasher 34). Another student, Kwai Kendall-Grove, class of 1989, shared the same view as Wilson and felt that academically Amherst was very equal. She said, “I was a psychology major and the guidance and mentorship I received from my professors has had an enormous impact on my career decision and path” (Haydel and Lasher 32). Like the women at Trinity, Amherst women also recognized the importance and advantage of relationships with female professors. Amherst alum shared the same feeling as Trinity women in the fact that they believed that female professors could serve as role models in their personal and professional lives. However, from the opposite point of view, various Amherst women stated that they did feel gender discrimination and sexist attitudes in the classroom. Carrie van Doren class of 1997, said, “There was a prime example of a professor in the biology department who was a negative influence on females and minorities. He taught an introductory class, and he dissuaded so many people from following any science curriculum” (Haydel and Lasher 36). On top of bad professors, some women also felt intimidated in the classroom, as they were one of the few females in a room full of men. Other females mentioned how men in the classroom went silent when it came to discussing gender related issues. Overall, there seemed to be a pretty even split of positive and negative opinions regarding co-education from the female Amherst graduates. However, what cannot be denied is that many women did face difficult experiences during the transition.

In conclusion, co-education at these two colleges was not put into place on the basis of equality and advancement for women. It was also not a decision made voluntarily, but one made out of necessity for financial and reputation reasons. The women at both these colleges faced extreme adversity in the academic and social aspects of the college, yet, that is almost to be expected. The history of our society since colonial times has taught us that women belong at home, unemployed and behind a stove taking care of their husbands and families. However, those that dared to venture out from “behind the stove” and attempt higher education were scorned for their lack of respect for traditional gender roles. That is why the decision for many colleges to co-educate was so shocking and received with a lot of negative opinion. The women that decided to pave the way and attend these colleges in their early days endured adversity and harassment because they were competing with years of sexism, male prejudice, and social norms.

Works Cited

“Amherst College to Admit Women in 75′ .” The New York Times 3 Nov. 1974: n.

pag. ProQuest Historical Newspapers. Web. 27 Apr. 2012. <


Channels, Noreen L. “Comments on Fraternities and Sororities and Comments on Education.” Survey of the Trinity College Alumnae Conducted Spring, 1990 (1990 )n. pag. Print.

Haydel, Auban, and Kit Lasher. The Fairest College? Twenty Years of Women at Amherst. N.p.: n.p., 1997. Print.

Knapp, Peter J., and Anne H. Knapp. Trinity College in the Twentieth Century. Hartford : n.p., 2000. Print.