The end of Women’s History Month provides a good opportunity to look back at Kenyon’s own history of coeducation, and recognize that the school wasn’t always so open to a strong female presence.
Kenyon first began admitting women in September of 1969, though it wasn’t completely coeducational at first. Female students attended the Coordinate College for Women, which had its own dorms (Mather, McBride and Caples), and had assigned designated hours on the men’s part of the campus, which included the library and public buildings. Nonetheless, the addition of women sent shockwaves through the century-old, all-male college. There were mixed opinions about women’s presence at Kenyon, and Collegian articles from the fall of 1969 tell that story.
Some students were apprehensive about the integration of women on campus. A Collegian poll in October of 1969 reported that 55% of Kenyon students preferred some form of separation between Kenyon and the Coordinate College for Women, while only 43% of students reported that they were satisfied with the development of the Coordinate College.
Others were afraid that women and men could distract each other from their studies. A Collegian report from 1966 relayed a concern about women in the library: “Two people who are sexually interested in each other cannot study together well.”
Due to these widespread discriminatory beliefs and women’s status as Coordinate College students, women in Gambier were not treated as equals to their male counterparts. Though they had representatives and were allowed to sit in on Student Council meetings, women were non-voting members. One student wrote a Letter to the Editor in October of 1969 which expressed support for two different student councils. The letter expressed that men and women had different interests at Kenyon and the separate student councils would uphold that.
Despite the mixed opinions about the role of women on campus, Kenyon students did tend to agree on one thing: expanding the number of hours men and women were allowed in gender-specific spaces. The strict rules in place, called parietals, significantly limited the number of hours men and women were allowed in each other’s dorms and when women were allowed on the men’s part of campus. As reported by the Collegian, only 1% of Kenyon students in 1969 wanted stricter parietals. 43% wanted more liberal parietals and 40% wanted them abolished entirely. The College, however, upheld the parietals in 1969, arguing that dorms are not “for the private use of their residents.”
In the Oct. 30 edition of that same year, Chris Finch ’71 contributed to the Collegian in a section entitled “Notes from the Underground,” in which he vehemently supported the expansion of women and people of color on Kenyon’s campus, highlighting that parietals were obstructive to the community. “If you’re having trouble getting laid now, you’ll have trouble getting laid when the hours are gone.” Like Finch, John Crowe Ransom, literary critic and first editor of the Kenyon Review, supported the development of the Coordinate College. He is quoted in the Collegian stating that the women would improve the men’s manners and style. “I think Kenyon men need it,” he wrote in an article.
The Coordinate College for Women was abolished three years after its founding, when Kenyon became fully coeducational in 1972. Today, women make up the majority of Kenyon’s campus (about 55%), and the first women in 1969 deserve credit for paving a way in the face of apprehension and resistance.