An analysis of how gender and religion influenced rules for women at Wake Forest College from 1962-1963.
“Upon entering Wake Forest you will become members of the Women’s Government Association and will take on the responsibility of maintaining the standards and ideals set before us as women of the college.” -Irma Browder, President of Women’s Government Association (1962-1963)1
While Wake Forest was first established in 1834, women undergraduate students were not formally admitted to study at Wake Forest until 1942.2 The Women’s Government Association’s (WGA) stated purpose was
“to regulate all matters pertaining to the life and women of Wake Forest College not under the jurisdiction of the faculty; to increase a sense of individual responsibility; to further a spirit of unity among the women of the College; and to cooperate with the Faculty in creating and maintaining ideals for the women of the College.”3
As early as 1945, the WGA published handbooks specifically for women students beyond those in the college’s rules for the whole student body. The WGA Handbook [1962-1963] laid out the behavioral and etiquette standards for women students at Wake Forest in that particular period of uncertainty and transition for both the United States (particularly the American South) and Wake Forest itself.
As more people in the American South gained middle class status between the 1940s and 1970s, children increasingly completed their elementary and secondary education, but college attendance rates in the South would still lag behind the North by 1970.4 Betty Friedan’s pivotal book The Feminine Mystique would not be published until 1965.5 Issues such as civil rights and the Vietnam War had yet to be protested on Wake Forest’s campus.6 Wake Forest was still over two decades away from its 1986 break from the NC Baptist State Convention.7 How did the social and religious expectations of the time influence the rules the women students of Wake Forest committed to following?
“A woman student who plans to continue her enrollment in college after marriage must have her parent or guardian notify the Dean of Women before the marriage takes place. She must secure the permission of the Executive Committee of the faculty to continue her enrollment…”8
The “strict” parenting styles of Fundamentalist Christian family units may have inspired this rule requiring women’s families to report a student’s marriage to Wake Forest.9 While the idea of in loco parentis (in lieu of parents) declined as a higher education ideal beginning in the 1960s,10 the need for faculty approval for a married woman’s continued enrollment could be a lingering desire for parental oversight, in a broad sense, at a religiously-affiliated college. These types of rules disappeared after the 1960s as legal rulings provided students in college with greater independence from not only their parents, but also their institutions of higher education.11
“No man, not even a father, may go to a student’s room except with the knowledge of the house hostess.” 12
“A date is considered being in the company of a boy more than fifteen minutes.”13
Public perception of premarital sex in the United States was “restrictive” during the 1960s.14 Southern Baptists in particular also denounced premarital sex, connecting its practice to “national decline.”15 As a result, these rules were most likely a manifestation of this social norm to a highly preventative degree. Knowing these rules existed, parents with daughters could also feel assured that their students would be behaving appropriately or that their behavior would be managed with penalties like restricted social privileges rules were violated.16 Wake Forest opened its first co-ed dorm in 1971, ending the strict gender separation in on-campus housing.17
College rulebooks such as the WGA Handbook for women crystalized and operationalized the social and religious values of Southern Americans in a Baptist setting into concrete guidelines for the students under their control. However, these rules were made with the well-meaning intent of instilling “responsibility,” “unity,” and “ideals” into women students at Wake Forest. They endeavored to prepare students as best as possible for success as adults that would be judged on their ability to meet the challenges US cultural and religious systems would grade them upon.
Darnell, Alfred, and Darren E. Sherkat. “The Impact of Protestant Fundamentalism on Educational Attainment.” American Sociological Review 62, no. 2 (1997): 306–15. https://doi.org/10.2307/2657306.
Flowers, Elizabeth Hill. Into the Pulpit: Southern Baptist Women and Power Since World War II. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012.
Gregory, Dennis, and Roger A. Ballou. “Point of View: In Loco Parentis Reinventis: Is There Still a Parenting Function in Higher Education?.” NASPA Journal 24, no. 2 (October 1, 1986): 28–31. https://doi.org/10.1080/00220973.1986.11071996.
Hanner, Carol L., Maria Henson, and Michael Breedlove. “Women of Wake Forest: A History of Their Own.” Wake Forest Magazine, January 25, 2021. https://magazine.wfu.edu/2021/01/25/women-of-wake-forest-a-history-of-their-own/.
King, Kerry M. “Lessons From a Time of Upheaval.” Wake Forest Magazine, January 25, 2021. https://magazine.wfu.edu/2021/01/25/lessons-from-a-time-of-upheaval/.
Lee, Philip. “The Curious Life of in Loco Parentis at American Universities.” Higher Education in Review 8, (2011): 65-90, https://papers.ssrn.com/abstract=1967912.
Levering, Linda, ed. WGA Handbook [1962-1963]. Winston-Salem, N.C.: Wake Forest College, 1962. https://lib.digitalnc.org/record/240598?ln=en#?c=0&m=0&s=0&cv=2&r=0&xywh=-406%2C0%2C3962%2C2407.
Potter, Sarah. “‘Thou Shalt Meet Thy Sexual Needs in Marriage’: Southern Baptists and Marital Sex in the Postwar Era.” Church History 89, no. 1 (March 2020): 125–47. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0009640720000062.
Special Collections & Archives. “WFU Timeline.” ZSR Library, January 17, 2017. https://zsr.wfu.edu/special/collections/archives/wfu-timeline/.
Thornton, Arland, and Linda Young-DeMarco. “Four Decades of Trends in Attitudes toward Family Issues in the United States: The 1960s through the 1990s.” Journal of Marriage and Family 63, no. 4 (2001): 1009–37. https://www.jstor.org/stable/3599811.