Next year marks a pivotal moment in Kenyon’s history: the 50th anniversary of the first co-ed class at Kenyon. While this landmark event is one to celebrate, what this means for today’s Kenyon students differs from what it meant to those Kenyon students who arrived in 1969.
Kenyon did not become fully co-educational until 1973, but from 1969 to 1972 women were allowed to attend the Coordinate College. The two colleges were separate in some ways and united in others—although they shared one president, William G. Caples, the Coordinate College was headed by Dean Doris B. Crozier.
This was not the only thing that divided the two colleges and, by extension, men and women at Kenyon. Charles P. McIlvaine Professor of English Adele Davidson ’75 was a member of the third class of women to graduate from Kenyon. At the time, female students were not allowed to participate in a number of school traditions, such as First-Year Sing and Matriculation. “We were told [First-Year Sing and Matriculation] were Kenyon traditions, and we were the Coordinate College,” Davidson said. Once the College became fully co-ed in 1973, however, Davidson and her peers, then second semester sophomores, were permitted to sign the Matriculation Book.
Women’s arrival on campus also meant the advent of many new policies. Not only did female students live in separate dorms from their male counterparts, but Dorms 1, 2 and 3 (now McBride, Mather, and Caples, respectively) were built to accommodate the approximately 160 women who came to the Hill in 1969. These residence halls had very strict rules, including “parietal hours” that dictated when men could visit the women’s dorms. Once these hours concluded, women’s dorms would be locked from the inside for the evening. Women students frequently had to tap on other residents’ windows after being locked out for the evening, according to Davidson.
Buildings were divided up between the two colleges, though most were given to Kenyon. According to the 1971-1972 Coordinate College handbook, Gund Commons was part of the Coordinate College, and Peirce Hall belonged to Kenyon. As a result, men generally ate in Peirce Hall and women usually ate in Gund Commons. “Both dining halls were open to everybody, but there was a little bit more of a sense that since the Gund Commons Dining Area was near the women’s dorms, it was more for the women,” Davidson said. She suggested that the traditional claiming of fraternity tables in Peirce also contributed to this divisiveness.
Nevertheless, there were still many resources on campus to support young women through this transition to coeducation. For instance, because the new dorms were unfinished when the women arrived in the fall of 1969, many local women opened their homes to incoming first years. As a result, they established an entire network of women in the Gambier community. According to Davidson, Crozier would sometimes lend her car to female students to drive to New York in order to get abortions prior to Roe v. Wade. For these early Kenyon women, life at a school in the process of becoming co-ed was challenging, but also an honor. “Being among the first women at a newly integrated school … had a bit of a pioneering quality to it that I liked,” Davidson said. “That captured my imagination.”