Pre-coeducation class ‘adopts’ female students
By Ashley Ulrich, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Tuesday, May 8, 2012
Female students did not matriculate at Dartmouth until Fall term 1972, but the College brought a small number of women to campus for one-year exchanges between 1969 and 1973, according to Patricia Fisher ’81, director of class activities for the Office of Alumni Relations. Despite the close affiliation that many of the women had with the College, they were not allowed to take further classes, which would have made them eligible to receive a diploma, and they have only recently been invited back to attend their respective class reunions and events.
In 2006, Arthur Fergenson ’69 spearheaded an initiative to reconnect with the female exchange students who were on campus his senior year in order to include them in the class’ 40th reunion and adopt them as ceremonial members of the class. He was able to reconnect with all nine of the female students with whom he took drama classes, and a 10th woman whom he had not been aware was on campus contacted him, he said.
The Class of 1969 voted unanimously at their fall executive meeting to adopt the “pioneering nine” and adopted the 10th woman once she reached out to Fergenson. The class covered the women’s costs to attend the class’ 40th reunion, paid for their first year of class dues and ordered Dartmouth jackets for them. Nine of the 10 women were able to attend the reunion, he said.
“I was a drama major and worked with these women in [1968 and 1969],” Fergenson said. “They were brought in with the rationale that it would make our education better, and they were great.”
Nanalee Raphael, one of “pioneering nine,” said that she was extremely grateful to Fergenson for reconnecting the women in her class year, facilitating their return to campus and adopting them into the Class of 1969.
“You think after 40 years you won’t know these people and nothing will be the same, but I discovered the women and men were just as wonderful as I remembered when we were students together,” Raphael said.
Virginia Feingold Clark, another woman adopted by the Class of 1969, said she appreciated the adoption as a recognition of the impact the transfer women had on campus.
“A lot of us wanted to stay on for our senior year and petitioned to do so, but we were told we couldn’t stay,” Clark said. “Even though we weren’t officially graduates from Dartmouth, they recognized we contributed a great deal and paved the way.”
The efforts of Fergenson members of the Class of 1969 to reconnect with their female classmates brought to light how little information the Office of Alumni Relations had on these early exchange students, which then started a broader effort to re-engage the women with their respective classes, Fisher said.
Because the women never matriculated at the College, their contact information was not stored in the computerized alumni database, and they were not included in alumni mailings and events, she said.
“When these women went back to their alma maters, there was no way to keep in touch with them, unless they stayed friends with Dartmouth people or married Dartmouth people,” Fisher said.
The Office of Alumni Relations began what became a two-year project to sort through the original registration records that were kept “deep in the bowels of Rauner [Special Collections],” Fisher said. They were able to identify the women’s names, colleges and graduation years and reach out to them via their home institutions, she said. The Office of Alumni Relations added interested women to the alumni mailing list, invited them to attend their upcoming reunions and organized a special brunch at each class’ 40th reunion.
The question of offering these women ceremonial adoptions was left up to the respective alumni class councils, Fisher said.
“The decision to adopt someone is made at the discretion of a class and written as such in each class’ constitution,” Fisher said. “That’s not something that the alumni office can do.”
While the Office of Alumni Relations applauds the Class of 1969’s decision to adopt their female peers, there are a number reasons why other classes may have avoided similar blanket adoptions, according to Fisher. The exchange students in the Class of 1969 were primarily a small, tight-knit group of drama students, but subsequent groups of female students were larger and dispersed throughout the College’s departments.
“Not all of the women may want to be adopted,” Fisher said. “They might feel a greater affiliation to their alma maters, or they may not want to be involved in their class.”
In the first year, nine women came to campus as a part of a special drama department initiative to fill female roles with female actors — roles previously played by students from Hanover High School, wives of professors or women in the Hanover community. A 10th woman, Dona Heller — later adopted by the Class of 1969 — began taking classes at Dartmouth in 1964 when she was a senior at Hanover High and returned as an exchange student during the 1968-1969 school year separate from the drama department program.
From 1970 through 1973, Dartmouth participated in a 12-college exchange program that brought women from the Seven Sister schools and other colleges to campus to study for a year. A total of 350 women participated in the program before Dartmouth became coeducational, including 53 women during the 1969-1970 school year, 68 in 1970-1971, 110 in 1971-1972 and 94 in 1972-1973. After the Board of Trustees voted 12-4 in favor of coeducation in November 1971, a small number of women were allowed to apply to transfer to Dartmouth after completing a one-year exchange. Graduating female transfer students numbered 36 in 1973, 26 in 1974 and 48 in 1975. Dartmouth graduated its first class of four-year female students in 1976.
Heller credited the adoption process and re-engagement with her class for “ending her 40 year academic identity crisis.” She is now involved in regular and local class reunions, sits in on class executive committee conference calls and pays class dues.
“For me, coming back for the reunion gave me a great sense of legitimacy,” Heller said. “I’m really grateful to the Class of 1969 for giving me a home, even if it was a long time coming.”
Sally White Harty, who attended Dartmouth on a one-year exchange in 1971-1972 and is married to a member of the Class of 1973, said she was able to stay in touch with male classmates by attending events with her husband, but she had not stayed in touch with other female exchange students.
“There was a breakfast for the exchange women in my class at our 35th reunion, and that was the first time that I had seen any of those women at all,” she said. “Even though a long time after the fact, it’s nice to have some contact with the College at this late date rather than not at all.”
Since then, Harty has been in touch with the Office of Alumni Relations to reconnect with some of the women in her class year as the group approaches their 40th reunion this fall.
“Most of us had a very positive experience that we felt ended too quickly,” Harty said.
Kathy Rines, who attended Dartmouth on a one-year exchange during the 1970-1971 academic year, has worked with the Office of Alumni Relations to send questionnaires to former female classmates to collect stories from their time at Dartmouth. She hosted three women who were in her class at her house in Etna during their 40th reunion last year and said that none of the women brought up the question of adoption.
“The men in the class have fully included us in everything, and the women at my house were thrilled to come back, but before I pressed for Dartmouth to adopt the women exchange students, I would want to have a feeling that these women wanted to be adopted,” Rines said.
Instead of encouraging blanket adoptions, Fisher said that the Office of Alumni Relations is trying to invite these women back to campus so they can reconnect with their male peers and feel welcomed into the community.
“At that point, if someone makes the decision to reconnect with the class and attend reunions, it makes sense for the class to say that they would like to adopt them,” she said.
While Fergenson said he is glad to hear that the Office of Alumni Relations has increased its outreach efforts to reconnect with the female exchange students, he believes all the women should be adopted in recognition of their equal status to men in their class.
“It’s a double standard to only invite the women back to campus as guests,” Fergenson said. “It’s not an insult to be adopted. The class executive committees are fully empowered to vote today to make women full members of their class, and the College should take this action if the individual classes won’t.”
Dartmouth became coeducational in the fall of 1972 during the presidency of John Kemeny. At the time, a survey of Dartmouth students showed that 74 percent of students were in favor of coeducation and 26 percent opposed the change.