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The Gendered Style of Education: Wake Forest Women’s Government Association Handbook (1945-1946)

Published onDec 01, 2022
The Gendered Style of Education: Wake Forest Women’s Government Association Handbook (1945-1946)

As the United States emerged from the second World War, American women began to integrate into the world of higher education. Although they were permitted to attend universities alongside men, this in no way meant equality in social life or in education. Most schools had handbooks pertaining to how all students should behave. In many cases though, these rules were not considered enough to control how women behaved. Hence, handbooks like the “Handbook for the Women Students of Wake Forest College [1945-1946]” were created.

Coeducation as Experimentation

Post World War II, coeducation in general was viewed as an experimentation.1 Women tended to be part-time students because of the responsibilities they now held both inside and outside of the home. Not much importance was placed on making sure women could acclimate easily; scholarships were rarely granted to part time students. Education was concentrated to only middle/high class women who could afford it. Only high class women truly had the leisure of choice in whether or not they wanted to pursue education. “Equity meant more than mere access”.2 Lower class women technically could become educated–and were expected to in order to get fulfilling jobs– but they did not have the tools for it.

For Wake Forest, women first began enrolling in 1942. In 1944, 125 women made up the student population of 756. As the number of students making up the population increased, the number of women did not increase in the same manner. In 1949, women were 300/2,313.3 This small population of women were held to a very specific set of standards. For students, Wake Forest issued a student handbook outlining rules that all students attending must follow. “The Handbook for Women Students of Wake Forest University” was an addition to this, laying out rules for just women. This ranged from dating privileges to what time lights must be out, when typewriters can be used, and when calls are to be made.4 Parents were looked to as the guardians of women, still being asked for written permission to let their daughters leave campus. Until handed off to husbands to make rules for them, women were property of their parents and subject to the school’s rules. Miss Lois, one of the heads of the women at Wake Forest, claimed that her strict set of rules for women were simply because she had “high standards for female behavior”.5

Women in Education: An Opposition to Communism

Especially in the south, institutions had a desire to prove their hatred of socialism post WWII; this came with an eruption of religion. “Religious participation was heavily emphasized in the postwar life of the old campus, and the standing of Bible studies was enhanced.”6 Out of 215 women enrolled at Wake Forest in 1945, 43 were religious studies majors.7 This was another reason to include a few women; use them as a political tactic to boost religion in America and oppose the idea that Wake Forest might be threatened with communism. Hence, the strict rules for women to keep a moral compass. Dr. Kitchin wanted to ensure there was “no radicalism here at Wake Forest.”8 He wanted Wake Forest to encompass an "unusually fine type of Christian men and women" whose total emphasis was upon "a way of life which is an absolute contradiction to the teachings and practices of Communism."9

Student Body

In regards to women’s admittance to Wake Forest, women’s test scores were on average 50-100 points higher than men’s since there were fewer spots available for them10; they worked harder to receive less. Women had complaints about this student body; “Wake Forest women voiced a very common complaint to the reporter: since admissions standards for men were lower, women tended to be more ambitious and intelligent, and they found it difficult to locate a marriageable man on the campus.”11

No Longer Accepting of Conservatism in Southern Institutions

University of Georgia rules for women in 1922 included those like “conduct must at all times be prudent and becoming to a woman” and “improper dancing must be prohibited.”12, similar to those in the Wake Forest Handbook for Women. It was bound for women to eventually question what this “gendered nature of higher education”13 is qualified by. Women were considered “not wholesome” if they did not follow these rules. In 1957, students at UGA marched in protest to rules pertaining to women’s morality and the “racial, gender, and class-based past”14 that they are based upon. Many of these rules were accepted as commonplace because they were used so often in other southern institutions. In the US Supreme Court's 1960 Dixon v. Alabama State Board of Education decision, the court ruled that these rules were acceptable because of how many institutions had them.

In 1968, new rules were finally introduced at the University of Georgia; these rules at Wake Forest were finally done away with in 1971, when the last edition of the Women’s Handbook was published. There had to have been an animosity toward these rules, as women recognized the differences in how they were told to behave. In the Z. Smith Reynolds Library, the archives show how many women were written up for things like not making up their bed or being on the phone past permitted hours. Because of this, I question the extent women truly cared about these rules and how seriously they were taken. Now, more women than men are enrolled at Wake Forest, and appearances like the Women’s Handbook would definitely not be tolerated.

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