Stories including White Angels

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.


When I reflect back on my days at Vassar, the snapshots that most immediately come to my mind include the prospectus, “Your Mind Our Matter”, Serenading, Vassar Devils, White Angels (Mrs. M and Mrs. Whalen were the best), the Noyes Bonfire, Primal Scream, the best single rooms in Strong, watching “Dynasty” and ordering Napoli’s Pizza on Friday Night (and it never took “half an hour”), parties in the ICC with the West Pointers, Trouble Funk at Sunset Lake, cookies and cream milkshakes from the Retreat, Daisy Chain, tea in Main, Ntozake Shange, Michael Manley, Jim Lehrer, Garry Trudeau, and Meryl Streep, the bus trip to Broadway to see “Dream Girls,” table cloths and steak in ACDC for Parent’s Weekend, the Mug Dance, Rocky Horror, going to the Harvard-Yale game and the Black Student Union after-party, basketball games at Marist, Biology labs, having to go to the library to use a computer, Students’ Afro-American Society meetings and the uprising caused by The Misc., the beautiful trees in the Quad, raising our voices against Apartheid and to “Free Mandela,” spending Junior Year at Spelman, forming friendships that have lasted a lifetime, and developing a mind strong enough to change the world!

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