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.
Since the end of World War I, many colleges and universities across the United States have recorded data on their incoming first-year classes. The surveys still in evidence at Bowdoin cover a wide range of topics including race, family educational background, religious preference, marital status, home location, and reasons for attending college. Until the early 1970s, the data Bowdoin collected was, for obvious reasons, not broken down by gender. In the fall of 1971, however, Bowdoin admitted its first coeducational class and began to tally responses according to sex. The page of the survey (Document SW, 35) presented here documents the probable major field of study and career occupation, for the incoming freshmen for fall of 1975.
In terms of likely major field of study, men and women make up similar percentages in the responses of biological sciences, education, physical sciences, social sciences, and other nontechnical fields. While men make up notably higher percentages in choosing business, history/political science, and mathematics and statistics, women make up notably higher percentages in selecting English, humanities, and undecided.
In terms of probable career occupation, men and women have similar percentages in indicating educator (college teacher), health professional (non M.D.), and farmer or forester. Men make up notably higher percentages in selecting businessman, doctor, and lawyer, while women make up notably higher percentages choosing artist, research assistant, and “other occupation”. It is also important to note that roughly 20% of male responses and 25% of female responses remain undecided.
As this survey data indicates, from the start of its transition to coeducation, the women who entered Bowdoin’s student body had a range of academic and career interests that they hoped to pursue while at, and after attending, the College.
Three years after the official announcement of Bowdoin’s transition to coeducation, specifically in August 1974, a committee entitled the Special Committee on the Curriculum began its operation. Although initially comprised of ten members and a consultant, by the time the data part of the report presented here was released, that is, on March 10, 1976, it was comprised of only seven regular members, three of whom were often absent. As a result of its dwindling numbers, the Special Committee was unable to make specific recommendations in every area of the curriculum in this report but still asserted its belief that the curriculum needs to “remain the object of on-going study and of periodic adjustments.”
Within this thirty-page report, the Special Committee on the Curriculum addresses and makes recommendations on topics such as the “Liberal Arts Curriculum,” “Distribution and Requirements,” and a “Freshman-Sophomore Program” and provides various data tables pertaining to these subjects areas at the end of the report, including the two presented here. The first distribution table entitled, “Number of Freshmen…” (Document SW, 36.1), reveals that after the admission of women in 1971, in almost every single course area, except for French, German, Russian, and Biology, enrollment increased, if not substantially so, by 1974. The second distribution table entitled, “Courses taken by majors…” (Document SW, 36.2), reveals that, after three years of women’s admission to Bowdoin, the dominant majors were Government, History, Psychology, Biology and English, and that students were still taking a relatively equal amount of courses outside their majors.
Thus, although Bowdoin anticipated many curricular modifications occurring as a result of women’s admission to the College, as these distribution tables expose, very few changes actually took place besides a general increase in class enrollments.
Orient Article: October 22, 1971
Is it any surprise that the origin of Dance at Bowdoin coincides with the presence of female students on campus? Prior to 1970, Bowdoin College did not provide male students (or the few female exchange students from the 12-College Exchange) the opportunity to pursue Dance on campus.
In the Spring of 1970, then teacher at Brunswick High School, June Vail and Marcy Playvin, a dance instructor at Bates at the time, teamed up to offer eight weeks of dance classes on a subscription basis to college –related people. Bowdoin did not officially sponsor the program but did provide a space in the gym.
The following year June Vail contacted Dean A. Leroy Greason about teaching Dance at Bowdoin on a similar subscription basis. In the 1971-1977 Review of the Bowdoin Dance Program, Vail recalls having said that such a course would “provide the women students arriving in 1971-72 with a program that satisfied a demand for recreational, physical exercise and a demand for dance as an art form”.
Vail was hired in a salaried position and taught three 90-minute classes in the fall semester of 1971. The classes were offered as part of the Physical Education department. Thirty five students enrolled in the first class, though most students were first-years or exchange students. The Orient article [DocumentAG, 39] is from the first year that Bowdoin Dance was offered to the student body.
The department eventually grew and secured stable sources of funding. This allowed for the purchase of dance related books and subscriptions to two periodicals, Dance Magazine and Dance Perspective. Today, dance classes are run out of the Department of Theater and Dance, which Vail helped to establish in 1994. Bowdoin currently only offers Dance as a minor.
This discussion involved four professors who arrived on Bowdoin’s campus either shortly before or after the College began admitting female students in 1971. If you are interested in hearing how Professors Vail, Cafferty, Cerf, and Potholm recount their experiences of Bowdoin’s transition to coeducation with regard to classroom dynamics, course content, student-professor relations, and faculty/departmental interactions, click on this audio link here and/or view these selected video clips.
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