History with a Twist

History with a Twist

Earl Smith brings a new perspective to the life of the College

By Gerry Boyle '78

On the new Views of Sex | 1960s
The sexual revolution was underway and students were well pleased to be a part of it. At Colby the revolt came on the same tide with the residential mixing of the sexes and true coeducation. Students eagerly took up arms against institutional regulations that no longer reflected their social attitudes – or their behavior. The itch should not have surprised anyone. Students were only mimicking their elders who, from the president's office to the shared office of the newest instructor, were doing a good bit of tinkering with the old order of things themselves. Indeed, when the time came to tackle a general revision of the Student Handbook, members of the faculty gleefully joined in. It was never a question of whether new freedoms were needed. There was some agreement on that. The questions were about where to draw the lines.

Many single-sex institutions were talking about coeducation. It took another decade, but when they made the shift they did it in the safety of numbers. Women entered Williams and Wesleyan in 1970; Bowdoin, 1971; Dartmouth, 1972; Amherst, 1974. Men broke into Connecticut College in 1968 and Vassar, a year later. Harvard had been engaged to women since 1943 when Radcliffe women first came to class. They were officially married in 1972. In the meantime, Harvard's president, Nathan Pusey, liked to say the old college was not coeducational at all, "except in fact." By the 1960s, women had been enrolled at Colby for nearly a century, but Colby was a little like Pusey's Harvard. Strider and others aimed to take the next steps, to eschew the strange system of coordination and make Colby coeducational – in law and in fact. At a place everyone already thought was coed, the switch was harder than it looked.

Except for the forces of culture in the self-selection of courses (fewer women in the sciences, fewer men in the humanities) classroom mixing was taken for granted. Outside of class, authorities worked hard to keep the sexes apart. Library stacks were closed at night to prevent necking. Women's dormitories were locked at 10:30 p.m. on weekdays and the residents were carefully counted. Student guards staffed entryways to women's dorms; bells and loudspeakers announced a "man on the floor!" Hoping for safety in numbers, officials designated a "coed room" (201 Runnals) as a place for couples to meet. Students called it a "mass necking room," but it never was. As quickly as a single couple commandeered one of the couches, others respectfully declined to enter. A good deal of the overflow "making out" went on in automobiles. Watching the movies was a secondary matter at the Augusta Road Drive-In Theater, and parkers regularly lined bumper-to-bumper along the road by Johnson Pond.
High schoolers and other local lovers caught on fast, competing for pond-side parking spaces. Boys from town would sometimes stalk the parkers at night, beaming flashlights into the darkened, fogged-up cars for eye-popping glimpses of what was going on inside.
Even as students looked for rules to delete, someone was always adding more. When fraternities began adopting canine mascots, Dean of Men George Nickerson banished dogs. After a rash of accidents, Strider declared the campus off-limits to motorcycles. Student apartment renters in town were given the same rules for visitations as the dormitory dwellers. The faculty limited class cuts to two per semester, and imposed a $25 fine for missing the last class before vacation.

Those who argued the College could not move to true coeducation without plenty of rules, or thought students should not write them, did not lack supporting evidence. When the Class of 1964 arrived, Henry "Hank" Gemery, assistant director of admissions, announced that the women came from the top 10 percent of their high school classes; the men, from the top 20 percent. Despite an edge in the classroom, the "girls" on the south end of campus were still having a fine time hazing new classmates, getting them out of bed at odd hours, making them sing the alma mater. (The men had about given up the hazing of freshmen. Their hands were full with fraternity pledges.) And even as the Echo complained of a "paternalistic" administration and a "Victorian" social code, it advertised a 1961 protest favoring Johnson Day as a "panty raid." The event in fact featured loud chanting: "We want Johnson Day!" and (although it was unclear what they intended to do with him) "We want Strider!"

Despite occasional lapses, men and women students were changing their views of each other. The Kinsey reports on what was going on in human sexuality had been well digested. By the mid-1960s, William Masters and Virginia Johnson were detailing the how, and Betty Friedan gave light to the question of why women were victims of a system of false values subjugating them in their various roles in the workplace and at home. Friedan's book The Feminine Mystique was already a best seller when students (mostly women) jammed Averill Auditorium to hear her warn that the insecurity of young women made them vulnerable to brainwashing. Her message set a buzz. Panty raids were nearly finished.
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  • On November 23, 2007, Kenneth P Lord, III wrote:
    I found this article interesting as it outlined my great grandfather's efforts on behalf of Colby. I have been impressed over my lifetime with stories from my grandfather and father regarding Gen Herbert M. Lord's accomplishments. My only regret is I never was able to meet him personally.