The WGA handbook contained rules specifically for women students on campus. This section dives into the reasoning of why these rules might have existed by looking at cultural norms in the 1950s.
On the old campus of Wake Forest, there existed a special set of rules and regulations for the female students, or “coeds” as they were often called. This set of regulations was created and monitored by the Women’s Government Association (WGA), a group made by and for young women. This group set regulations to “regulate all matters pertaining to the life of the women of Wake Forest College not under the jurisdiction of the Faculty.”1 This quote, mentioned in the preamble of the WGA Constitution, stirs up many questions. The main question I seek to answer is why Wake Forest felt that it was its responsibility to monitor what women did outside of the classroom. The 1955-1956 Women’s Government Association Handbook, the WGA offers up a few reasons as to why they put this handbook in place. The three reasons this essay will examine are the emphasis on “dignity, honor, and integrity”, unity of the women of the college, and the role of women in society.2
In the foreword, the WGA writes that “the success of the Women’s Government Association…is dependent upon the dignity, honor, and integrity of each coed”.3 The WGA expected each woman to have these characteristics but did not give them any space for exploring them. The “dignity, honor, and integrity” of each woman had to be within the confines of not only Wake Forest WGA rule, but societal rules, as well.4 The WGA also seems to connect the ideas of dignity with how women dress. The foreword states, “we would advise each girl to accustom herself to the practice of wearing hats and heels to Sunday morning church-services, for this action aids in establishing an outward dignity for the Wake Forest coed”.5 Clothes are often used as signifiers of what social class you are a part of. In the 1950s, “not only can a wife’s good taste enhance a little her family’s social status, but her skill in maximizing the number and quality of the clothes she acquires on a given budget also counts”.6 With this in mind, it appears that the WGA wanted women to dress nicely to possibly attract the men on campus. Even if the WGA did not have this intention when writing the foreword, the rule hints at the idea of needing to dress nicely for those around them instead of pleasing oneself.
To ensure that women upheld the standards in the handbook, they entrusted other women to submit those who violated these rules to the WGA council. This concept brings about another issue within the WGA handbook; the council mentions in the Constitution Preamble that they desired to “further a spirit of unity among the women of the college”.7 However, if “names of the girls who break any rules or are guilty of misconduct will be turned in to the Executive Board by the Dean, House Presidents, House Mothers, or by any member of the Woman’s Government Association in accordance with the honor code,” this does not promote any unity amongst women on campus.8 Women are responsible for turning in other women for breaking rules while on and off campus which does not promote a sense of unity among women, but a sense of competition.
In the foreword, WGA takes a clear stance on what they seem to think to be the role of women in society. They provide the color of the walls in the dorms and even the window measurements, which they cite as being “of certain interest to the coed”.9 A college woman might assume that she would have more of a choice of what to do with her life upon graduation, but even her college is forcing her into a household role. These unlimited possibilities were far more likely for a single woman because “should she marry and have a…her choice is not much wider than that of her frontier forbear”.10 Society at the time did not view college-educated women much differently than they viewed non-college-educated women. College was simply an opportunity for women to meet wealthy, educated men.
Wake Forest made it clear not only by the establishment of a committee to monitor specifically female students but also by their wording in their WGA handbook that they intended for their women to conform to societal standards at school and upon their graduation. The true message of the WGA Handbook was that women did not have nor need the same freedoms as male students because they would work in their households after graduation anyway.