College Then and Now


Women’s colleges had strict parietal rules when I went to Smith College in the 1950s. Weeknight dorm curfews at ten fifteen. Friday and Sunday nights at twelve. One a.m. on Saturday. A student on watch to check you in and out and a housemother to enforce the rules.

In the fall, I’d climb the stairs with my parents; my mother and I carrying lamps and bedspreads, my father holding the suitcases. I’d call out “Man on third,” as we rounded the corner.

I can’t see coed dorms and coed bathrooms as progress. Anyway, it doesn’t matter what my generation thinks, we don’t have to live it. Except at reunions when, as old married folk, we share dorm rooms and bathrooms.

Some colleges still segregate bathrooms. Not Smith. At my fiftieth reunion, having showered before bed, I headed out of the bathroom in my robe, turned the corner, and noticed a man, also robed, hugging the wall.

“Where can I take a shower?” he whispered furtively.

“The bathroom’s right behind me,” I said

Someone opened the door to the sound of running water, flushing toilets, and cheerful female conversation.

The man looked pained.

“Try coming back after midnight,” I said.

Photo credit: mattbuck, Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

2 responses

  1. I love this story. So true. We women of the 40s and 50s were taught to be modest and private.
    I had to go down in the basement of my dorm at the last Mt Holyoke reunion. Couldn’t bear to see man’s shoes and pants around his ankles in the stall next to mine.(not to mention what was going on ) I don’t share my bathroom with anyone, even now.

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