Bowdoin’s student newspaper, the Orient published this article by Debbie Robertson on November 5, 1971 (Document JH, 55), regarding the first game of the first women’s athletic team at Bowdoin—the field hockey team. Bowdoin played Bates at Pickard Field on October 30, 1971. Although Coach Sally LaPointe did not know how many student-athletes would show up to the game beforehand, thirteen hard-working women came to participate. Despite the Polar Bears’ 7-0 loss, LaPointe demonstrated her knowledge as a coach and made halftime changes that benefitted, as Bates did not score during the second half. This example shows that the perseverance of Bowdoin’s women’s athletic teams has, by now, been carried on for decades.
This document is an excerpt from the June 1, 1972 Report of the President’s Commission on Athletics (Document JH, 56), written by President Roger Howell, Jr., directly after the end of the first full year of coeducation at Bowdoin. The President notes the importance of investigating women’s athletics in order to for the report to “have any validity.” Because the first year of women’s athletics had displayed low numbers, the College gave a survey to women to determine their interest in physical activity. The survey indicated that women did want to participate in athletics.
The President comments on the necessity for women to have not only mentors and teachers who were of the same gender, but also their own areas on campus such as locker rooms, field space, and their own equipment. Howell writes, “The Commission notes with approval the inclusion of funds in the 1972-73 budget for such equipment.” He also acknowledges that Bowdoin women need a voice on campus in groups that had a say in athletics. President Howell concludes by stating the importance of providing female athletes with the opportunity for and resources to shape their own program in ways conducive to them, not merely to men, and not to the administration.
In this December, 1973 article (Document JH, 57), Debbie Swiss discusses the growth of women’s athletics at Bowdoin since their introduction in 1971. She demonstrates the initial small number of women participating in some athletics at the College, explaining for example, that the women’s swimming program was under scrutiny because of a lack of participation. One interesting problem women athletes faced was a lack of competitions; women’s teams played against the Brunswick Women’s Recreation Center and Brunswick High School, rather than against other colleges. Coaches also faced high demands, as they were often responsible for scheduling games that were to be played with little practice time beforehand. Even so, a willingness on the part of the coaches and players rings clear throughout the article.
The first women’s coach at Bowdoin, and supervisor of the women’s athletic program, Sally LaPointe, wrote this letter regarding the condition of women’s sports in May of 1977, about six years after the College first admitted women (Document JH, 58). It seemed to be LaPointe’s responsibility to update the president on the status of women’s athletics annually, or bi-annually. She alludes to the impact of equal rights and Title IX—implemented in 1972, just after coeducation started at Bowdoin—on women’s athletics (see http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/interath.html for more information). That is, Title IX resulted in more women participating in sports before college, which, in turn, meant more women wanted to be athletes at the College.
LaPointe comments on fall, winter, and spring teams, and praises the athletes for their efforts. However, she notes the necessity for more female coaches and assistant coaches because of the large number of participants, which had increased drastically since the President’s Commission of 1972. LaPointe concludes by applauding the women for their contribution to the College, for their hard work, and for their spirit during their respective seasons.
President Howell responds to LaPointe (document available in Special Collections at Bowdoin) thanking her for the report, but offers no evidence or promises of immediate action to be taken to fulfill her requests.
The following series of documents represents requests made by women’s sports teams during the late 1970s. Evidence from the letters shows that concerns that emerged in LaPointe’s 1977 review of women’s athletics remained unresolved but that women athletes, and coaches of women continued to ask for support.
The women’s indoor track team wrote the first letter to the Athletic Director and the Deans of the College on February 9, 1979 (Document JH, 59.1). The team suggests that the men’s coach, Frank Sabasteanski, possessed too much responsibility in coaching both teams. In addition, they argue that a women’s coach would be more appealing for female students, and would also be able to work in other areas of the athletic department. The letter demonstrates the team’s desire for equality between men and women’s teams. Members of the team signed the letter and carbon copied Athletic Director Ed Coombs, three deans, and Sally LaPointe, the first female coach at the College.
A response, written on March 5, 1979, to Athletic Director Coombs from Dean Paul Nyhus (document available in Special Collections at Bowdoin) insisted that Coombs reply to the team and fulfill their request by the upcoming (1980) school year. However, today, forty years later, there is still one coach for men and women’s track, Peter Slovenski.
Richard (Dick) A. Mersereau (see interview, Part 2, 00:05:50), volunteer women’s basketball coach, wrote the second letter on May 4, 1979, to Vincent (Vinnie) B. Welch, a member of the Bowdoin class of 1938 (Document JH, 59.2). Mersereau requests that his team travel to London to play against European teams. Not only would this experience give his players a different type of competition to improve their skills, but it would also “provide a rich cultural experience.” Mersereau calculates the cost of $500 per player, and directs his request to Welch, a supporter of women’s athletics at the College, and, according to Mersereau, a successful fundraiser. Before closing the letter, Mersereau commented, “Thanks…for any help you might offer this dreamer,” suggesting he has little confidence that any women’s sports team at that time would be approved to do something as far-fetched as traveling to Europe.
Ten days later, on May 14, 1979, Welch forwarded the letter to C. Warren Ring, Vice President of Development at the College, who then sent a letter to President Enteman on May 18, 1979 (documents available in Special Collections at Bowdoin). Paralleling Mersereau’s dreamer quotation, Ring writes, “Mr. Welch, quite understandably, does not know how to answer Mr. Mersereau’s request.” Ring offers many questions that, in his opinion, need to be answered before taking further steps in planning a trip to London. The letter does not offer any conclusions; however, an interview with Mersereau revealed that a lack of funding did not permit the team’s trip.