Stories including '69

Radical Change

I arrived at Vassar from Oklahoma in 1965 and found the college’s “in loco parentis” role not only expected but comforting. It included the staffing of each dorm with a “White Angel” – a kindly woman dressed in a white uniform who occupied a desk in the lobby. She monitored our comings and goings, and called up to our rooms to announce the arrival of a male guest. Men were not allowed to visit our rooms except on Sundays for a few hours, with the door open and “all four feet on the floor.”

The White Angel also locked the doors of the dorm at the appointed hour at night and woe be unto the girl who missed the curfew.

Fast forward four years.

As seniors, my class of ’69 had moved into Main. The sexual revolution had begun and Vassar had turned down Yale’s invitation to merge. The first male students would be admitted the following year. There were no more White Angels. The college announced that as of a certain date, men would be allowed in the dorms 24/7. Some of my creative friends sent announcements to men’s colleges promoting a mass slumber party for that first weekend. A few Dartmouth guys actually turned up as I recall.

But on the last weekend before the new rules (or lack thereof) went into effect, on Sunday morning, at an hour when the campus was quietly sleeping, the fire alarms in Main were activated. Girls streamed sleepily out of the building and lined up on the front lawn. The alarm continued to ring, suggesting it wasn’t false. Just as it appeared that everyone was out of the building, a side door opened and two men, carrying their shoes, ran out the door and hightailed it as fast as they could into the woods behind the chapel.

There were loud cheers from the Class of ‘69. It seemed symbolic somehow. We had experienced an amazing amount of cultural change during those four years.

Looking back on it, I am in awe of how Vassar, as an institution, adapted and evolved to meet those forces. It neither rushed headlong into rash responses, nor refused to recognize what was going on. Instead, in a spirit of enlightenment and intentionality, it addressed the needs of the time. What an example for those of us who were there.

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