Coeducation at Haverford: A Forced Revolution

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Coeducation at Haverford: A Forced Revolution

Sara Ansell

Haverford College did not begin as the institution that it is today. A group of concerned Quakers constructed the secondary school on the premise that it would provide a fine education for Quaker young men. On its founding day in 1833, the Haverford School's notion of a "liberal and guarded education for Quaker boys" became a reality. Jumping forward in time to 1870, a decisive change was on the horizon: the faculty and students had voted to go coed. However, the Board of Managers did not concede and Haverford remained single sex for over a century after the students and faculty had spoken. It wasn't until 1980 that a freshmen class comprised of both men and women entered Haverford. Yet it is the decade prior to 1980 that is the topic of this paper. The series of about 10 years before a Haverford female student would unpack her belongings in her room to settle down for four years of an intense and demanding education, both in and out of the classroom, was a time of much reevaluation and consideration on the part of the students, administration, and faculty.

The 70's were vibrant and passionate years in the context of the debate over coeducation as students, faculty, and administrators voiced their opinions often in
Haverford and Bryn Mawr's weekly newspaper, The News, forums, interviews, formal discussions, reports, and Collections (school wide meetings) on both Bryn Mawr's and Haverford's campus. The essence of the coeducational debate fell between two camps. One side argued that continued cooperation with Bryn Mawr was the best choice for both schools. The other said that it was time for Haverford to prevent its identity from merging with Bryn Mawr's and to step out on its own as a coed institution. The battle lines were drawn and the debate continued with zeal for most of the decade.

Economics played an important role in the debate. Haverford's President John Coleman saw that Haverford's financial state was in jeopardy if it did not expand in size. He also saw that by prohibiting 50% of the population in an expansion would decrease the caliber of students at Haverford. Bryn Mawr's president Wofford felt passionately that the fate of Bryn Mawr rested on the decision of Haverford. His concerns were exacerbated by the seemingly coercive patterns Haverford's Board of Managers set by claiming to let the issue of coeducation rest but then by addressing the possibility again each year. Yet, something deeper was going on than a financial struggle in these years of debate.

Students questioned the merits of a single sex institution meaning both Bryn Mawr and Haverford, while others expressed opinions of the necessity for single sex institutions based on gender differences and essential separate spheres for men and women. The 70's were a time when the Haverford community grappled with the questions of institutional discrimination and gender differences. When the Board finally came to an agreement on May 11th 1979 to accept women into the incoming freshmen class, did a revolution truly occur or did Haverford's decision take place because of forces other than a reconceptualization of the institution? And finally, how did coeducation effect Bryn Mawr, Haverford's sister school for so many years? Did Haverford force a revolution upon Bryn Mawr through its own self serving actions? This analysis will attempt to answer these questions as well as provide insight into the gender politics of Haverford 30 years ago.

At the beginning of the school year in 1972 Haverford President John Coleman addressed a crowd of mostly freshmen saying that "he had severely misjudged the reaction received when he made his 1971 opening Collection speech supporting coeducation." Haverford students and Bryn Mawr students alike had met Coleman's opening speech in '71 with extreme wariness stemming from concerns about the future of their respective institutions and the Administration's plans for them. The general reaction had been one of non-support for the coeducational movement. Coeducation had been a topic of interest on Haverford's campus during the 1960's but larger concerns over international political affairs as well as domestic political movements had overshadowed the more localized topic. Coleman addressed this surprise reaction in his address of '72 on September 18th according to The News article which ran the following week.

"[Coleman stated that] he had specifically misjudged student and Bryn Mawr attitudes on the subject. He reflected that had the coeducation proposal been made a year earlier, student response would probably have been overwhelmingly in support. He attributed the change in student attitudes to the importance of the women's liberation movement and questions that it had raised. He added that many people on both campuses felt that the coeducation would come to Haverford at the expense of the cooperation with Bryn Mawr. The President repeated his earlier comment that he will not raise the issue again, but added that should the College ever decide to increase the size of the student body, it would be impossible 'without opening the doors to the other 50% of the population.' Director of Admissions William Ambler agreed."

If President Coleman had been taken back, as implied in the article, by student reaction to his proposal, what were the reactions that required such a statement and reassurance from the College's president? One student made clear his reaction as well as others on campus after a discussion on College policy and Bi-College relations later that semester. The News reported, "Students attending the meeting were for the most part hostile towards both expansion and coeducation. Matt Smith '74 in the opening question slammed the administration for wanting to increase the student body and said 'no institution has the right to threaten the academic excellence of any institution.'" It is clear that some students felt that increasing the number of students stood no purpose except to allow a greater flow of revenue for the institution meanwhile the admissions standards would decrease and Haverford's academic caliber would be jeopardized. The question of coeducation was something so out of the question for most students at the time, that such a fundamental change for Haverford would mean a loss of Haverford identity which included Haverford's academic excellence.

Other students expressed their opinions in the fall of '72 after John Coleman's speech to the student body upon their arrival to campus. One student against coeducation stated, "Although some expansion may be necessary to the College's survival, admitting women to Haverford is not only unnecessary but harmful. End of dorm exchange and death to the cross majoring proposal, a 3-1 student female-male ratio and a Bryn Mawr administration that felt (and quite rightly) that it had been betrayed by Haverford. It is time that both Haverford and Bryn Mawr realize that the fates of the two institutions are dependent upon one another." Despite these strong words at Haverford and Bryn Mawr campuses, the students against coeducation were not the only ones expressing opinions. Another students writes in The News that, "Cooperation doesn't seem to be working as well as we'd like. There is no reason why cooperation need end with coeducation. We can move forward together."

Another impassioned voice during the birth of the coeducational debate in the early 70's was that of Bryn Mawr's Administration. President Wofford's position on the question of women at Haverford was clear. He was strongly opposed to the possibility of a coed Haverford. His reasons were numerous but all were based in one deeply rooted concern: that of Bryn Mawr's survival. His first qualm with a coed Haverford had to do with the present state of cooperation between both campuses. During the academic year of 1972, 230 or 25% of Bryn Mawr undergraduates lived in coeducational halls while a growing number of departments were joining academic collaborations. If Haverford became a coed institution, dorm exchange could cease as well as the academic relations. Wofford also worried over the inevitability of Haverford and Bryn Mawr competing for the same candidates if Haverford opened its doors to women. Suddenly, a brother and sister relationship would evolve into a competitive peer school relationship. Lastly, Wofford expressed concern over the loss of the newly conceptualized cross-majoring at either school, something that had just reacently gotten off the ground.

Wofford concluded his detailed explanation for Bryn Mawr's position by stating to The News, "We much prefer the vision of the two-college community in which men at Haverford enjoy the rare experience of living and studying in a predominately women's institution and Bryn Mawr women have the experience of similar participation in a men's college. We believe that continuing the course we have followed so far would be a much greater contribution to American education. Though we would disagree with Haverford's decision to follow the customary path now being taken by most men's colleges, we would respect its right to do so."

Haverford's Board of Managers concern seemingly lied with economic factors and academic prowess, not the moral question of gender equality or even the question of Haverford's identity as a coed institution. In a report released during the first semester of '72, the Board, Admissions, and John Coleman presented the facts of Haverford's "crisis." The News reported on this analysis. "Citing 'undeniable' budget deficits and a shrinking application pool, the Haverford Administration presented its case for expansion and coeducation. Running over 20 pages, the report is a compilation of facts and judgments, examining option available for the College to solve a fiscal problem, which President John Coleman said could result in a "real crisis" within the next five years. A May deadline for a decision by the Board of Managers was proposed. If the recommendation is accepted, women could enter Haverford in September 1974. [William Ambler, Dean of Admissions added] Perhaps the most starting disclosure maintained in the document is that "...few among the rejected 1972-73 applicants were admissible!"

Wofford's response to such a report was passionate and direct. He writes to John Coleman in a formal memorandum. The following are the most compelling sections of his memorandum: "We too are having problems with our applicant pool. Welcome to the club! I believe that Haverford's admission of its won women students would have tragic consequences for bi-college cooperations. As the current pattern of coeducation is adopted in most predominately male institutions, I predict that the alternative Bryn Mawr represents will become more appealing to many women and men too. 'Having our own women,' as most of these male institutions think of it, will come to be seen for what it usually is, a new form of male chauvinism. And the options Bryn Mawr will offer in cooperation with Haverford ...will be appreciated as rare, rich, and rewarding."

In the winter of '74 the Board made yet another decision on the issue of coeducation. It concluded that expansion was the answer but coeducation was not. In its decision, the Board stated that, "[We] spoke to those who favored coeducation. [We] admitted that the "moral argument" which maintains that Haverford has no right to deny full education to women was left unanswered. [We] argued, however, that other issues were more compelling: A lack of any firm commitment to coeducation on Haverford's part, the potential damage to Bryn Mawr, and the possibility for greater cooperation." Once again, the Board side stepped the issue of gender and relied on the arguments of economical pragmatism and relations with Bryn Mawr.

Students, on the other hand, were not avoiding the controversial topic of gender. In fact the topic was popping up more and more on both campuses. This is most probably due to the fact that Amherst's struggle to come to a decision on going coed had finally ended: in '74, Amherst decided to open its doors to women. "'Webash, Haverford, West Point it's nice to say goodbye,' exclaimed the special Nov. 2nd issues of the Amherst Student. The recent decision of the Board of Trustees to make Amherst College coeducational culminate many years of debate within the school, and leave Haverford as one of the few remaining private, eastern liberal arts colleges to retain an all-male student body. "

Students on both campuses were beginning to become more reflective of their own communities as it became apparent that the Bryn Mawr and Haverford relationship was increasingly rare with each formerly men's college becoming a coed institution. Students continued to express views all over the spectrum ranging from extremely modern and progressive to more traditional and reliant upon the past decades of Haverford and Bryn Mawr's well formed identities. One student writes to The News expressing concern over the aftermath of going coed. He writes, "It appears virtually certain that through one plan or another, Haverford will soon be admitting women. But is the Haverford community really ready to welcome women into it as students? Those concerned with the college's finances are also eager to have women to increase enrollment and college revenues. But it is not so obvious that women admitted to Haverford would feel comfortable and be treated as intellectual equals vis a vis Haverford men."

Another telling article illustrates concern from students but from a different perspective. The article states, "Bryn Mawr students believe by a margin of better than two to one that coeducation at Haverford would have a 'strong detrimental effect on Bryn Mawr admissions,' according to results of a poll released Wednesday by the anthropology department. The survey also indicated that a majority of those living in coed dorms might not have come to Bryn Mawr if Haverford admitted women." It is clear that students from both communities were recognizing the interdependence they have on one another in more than strictly a social sense. In the 70's Haverford and Bryn Mawr were truly united in a very important means: attracting applicants not only because of their respective identity, but also because of each-other. This admissions reliance translated into a financial dependence and academic dependence as well. Any decision Haverford made about the future of its school, it would deeply and irreparably affect Bryn Mawr's personal identity as well as its public identity.

By 1977 the Board could no longer deny the economic sense made by accepting some women into Haverford, yet it was still not ready to move Haverford into the coed realm. The Board agreed that by expanding the college but limiting the candidates to only men, the question of Haverford's academic caliber would come into play. Thus the Board compromised and took the last step it could take before allowing Haverford to become fully coeducational. The Board implemented the decision to admit women as transfers starting in the following fall of '77.

The students had a decision to share as well. In a well attending Plenary in early February of 1978, the students of Haverford voted 387-90 with 59 students abstaining to go fully coed. The resolution asked the Board of Managers to "affirm its commitment to coeducation by stating that Haverford is prepared to offer admission to women not only at the transfer level, but at the freshman level as well." The faculty was behind the students in their request. In their written letter of affirmation for a coed Haverford, a representative of the faculty writes of Haverford's past.

"...beyond this lies the reason for the desire for coeducational atmosphere. Haverford's mission, as its students see it, is to maintain a community based on the principles of the Society of Friends. Such a community, to remain constant with the Quaker principles of open access, needs an equal admissions policy: women there through matriculation, and there, if they so choose, for four years."

As the Board announced its decision and the students expressed theirs at Plenary, John Coleman announced one as well. He would step down as President of Haverford claiming his ten years had been sufficient. He stated that he did not have the energy to continue the push for coeducation and that he would make room for someone with perseverance to step in his place. After a year of an acting President of Steve Carry, President Robert Stevens became Haverford's new President in 1978. His inauguration was shared with Bryn Mawr's new President Mary Patterson McPherson. Stevens assured a packed house in Marshall Auditorium soon after his inauguration that the question of coeducation will be answered. "My sense of the situation," said Stevens, "is that this time the question will be settled once and for all." He was not misleading in his statement as on May 11the the following year the Board of Managers decided to admit women to the College on the same basis as men. The Board assured Haverford and Bryn Mawr students that this move would no way effect cooperation with Bryn Mawr. In 1980, 400 women applied for the first Haverford coed class, comprising 29% of the total applicants. Dean of Admissions, William Ambler stated, "I can tell you it's going to be a dynamite class of freshmen next year."

Once the Board had finally answered the question of coeducation, what were the effects? What had truly happened during the years of debate and what was in store for Haverford and Bryn Mawr once women entered the Haverford community as full fledged four year students? Despite the Board's final decision to go coed, they had failed to address something crucial. This is the analysis of gender at Haverford. Neither the Board nor John Coleman had ever singled out the question of what it meant to have women at Haverford. In an expert from an interview in 1972 to The News, John Coleman makes clear what his priorities were.

"The major issue to which we are speaking is not coeducation; it is the survival of the College in distinction. The economics are pushing this College to a far greater extent that I had realized even a few months ago."

The Board side stepped the issue as well. They even admitted to their lack of response in the area of gender issues.
The Board also spoke to those who favored coeducation. It admitted that the "moral argument" which maintains that Haverford has no right to deny full education to women was left unanswered. It argued, however, that "other issues were more compelling"

Joan Wallach Scott speaks to this phenomenon in her article entitled, "Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis." She states, "...the concept of gender has long been treated as the by-product of changing economic structures; gender has had no independent analytic status of its own." The reason for this lack of interest of gender politics has to do with the nature of Haverford and Bryn Mawr as educational institutions. Bryn Mawr's relationship with the question of gender was similar to that of Haverford's prior to 1970: both schools filled a need as expressed by society. Haverford began as a school for the education of Quaker young men and Bryn Mawr began as a counterpart to such as school, but for the opposite sex.

Denise Riley speaks to the polarity of sexes as she writes, "The historically constructed nature of the opposition [between male and female] produces as one of its effects just that air of an invariant and monotonous men/women opposition." Haverford and Bryn Mawr lived in a community of polarized sexes. Though coeducation existed, the identities of the colleges never wavered as a men's school and a female school respectively. The separation between the sexes is evident in the student's widely accepted stereotypes of each other. Expressed in an opinion column in The News, a Haverford male listed four common stereotypes of Bryn Mawr women. He writes, "BMC women are too intellectual, Bryn Mawr girls study twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, BMC girls hate guys, Bryn Mawr girls really aren't girls."

It seems that the debate over cooperation or coeducation was a struggle for something deeper than the continued relationship between both schools or the predicted dissolution of such a relationship. The debate rested on the deeply rooted question of either continuing Haverford and Bryn Mawr's separate but equal status as single sex institutions, or, for various economic reasons, allowing the identity of Haverford and inevitably Bryn Mawr's to drastically change. If this change had been presented by Haverford's Administration in gender terms such as "Institutional Discrimination" Haverford would most probably remain all male to this day. It was the commonly accepted terms of academic quality and economic crisis that pushed the Haverford community to become the catalyst for a major gender revolution in the bi-co community.

This revolution began when Haverford began to raise the possibility of altering their position in society by becoming a coed institution. This in turn shaped Bryn Mawr's relationship with the question of gender: gender became even more intertwined with Bryn Mawr's idenity. This identity intertwined with gender became obvious during the debates of 1970 when it was only Bryn Mawr that was obligated to maintain gender as its focal point in their position on coeducation. Bryn Mawr's existence as a College would become further based on gender once Haverford went coed. Here Wofford's concern over the question of gender is clear.

"...The problems of cooperation will be exacerbated by the problems would indeed face with the many different problems of integrating its proposed women students into a largely male institution, and with the problems of substantially expanded classes. We much prefer the vision of the two-college community in which men at Haverford enjoy the rare experience of living and studying in a predominately women's institution and Bryn Mawr women have the experience of similar participation in a men's college. We believe that continuing the course we have followed so far would be a much greater contribution to American education."

Haverford's relationship with gender did not extend outside the college gates as an all male institution until schools such as Amherst, Yale, and Princeton began accepting women. Once Haverford took the step of becoming coed, Bryn Mawr's relationship with gender was forced to extend well beyond the college gates as well, as it would take on the identity of an all female college in the world of coed schools. Post 1980, Haverford is considered an "American" college and Bryn Mawr has become a College for women. Prior to Haverford's coeducation decision, Bryn Mawr was able to remain respected as a College without the definition as a "women's school." This is due to a commonly accepted definition of women's schools: women's schools were where women went to think like men. Suddenly, Bryn Mawr in 1980 was forced, despite pleading to avoid it, into a reevaluation of identity because women now had the opportunity to go elsewhere to think like men. Bryn Mawr found itself involuntarily taking on the definition of a school where women could be free to think like women.

This forced revolution is the end result of Haverford's decision to go coed. Yet, Bryn Mawr is not alone in such a drastic identity crisis. The effect on Haverford may have been more economic than political primarily, but it did not escape the necessity to look closely at itself in the context of gender. It is the chronological order of these two separate but intertwined revolutions on Haverford and Bryn Mawr's campuses that is intriguing. Haverford's debate and decision to go coed affected Bryn Mawr's relationship with gender before Haverford's own relationship with the issue. As stated before, it was Bryn Mawr that argued on the grounds of gender during the debates in addition to economics and academics. Bryn Mawr recognized that their purpose in society and in the bi-co community would be drastically altered the moment Haverford announced it would be going coed. Haverford forced a revolution on Bryn Mawr which demanded the school take on the political identity of an all women's college as its primary identity. Even though some women on campus had seen their education as political earlier than 1980 , it was the final decision by Haverford that in turn, forced such an all-encompassing decision on Bryn Mawr.

Haverford and Bryn Mawr's struggle to come to a decision on coeducation illuminates numerous political, personal, gendered, and economic topics present during the '70's. The question of Haverford's stance on gender equality is nearly impossible to answer as Haverford's public concern focused on the economics and academic repercussions of becoming a coed institution. Yet, the non-responsive nature of the Board in numerous occasions such as the call from students after the Plenary decision of '78 and the stepping down of John Coleman that same year, hint to the reluctance of the Board despite clear financial reasons to accept women into the incoming freshmen class. This reluctance could be based on respect for Bryn Mawr's disapproval of Haverford's coeducation plan, or a deeply rooted fear of stepping away from Haverford's traditional past of separate but equal mentality when addressing the topic of single sex education. What is clear though, is the affect Haverford's decision had on Bryn Mawr. Although, Bryn Mawr already was home to many political voices in the late 70's, Haverford's move to go coed, forced a new identity on Bryn Mawr. Bryn Mawr would now have to answer even more quickly to a public questioning the value of an all female education. Haverford's decision to turn coed created a revolution in this bi-co community, a forced revolution first on Bryn Mawr's campus, and finally here on Haverford's campus.


- The News, Haverford College and Bryn Mawr College campus news source. The articles cited in my paper are between the years of 1971-1979

- Haverford College Board of Manager Minutes, 1827-1833

- Butler, Judith. Bodies that Matter, 1993

- Scott, Joan Wallach. Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis

- Rubin, Gayle S. Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality

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