Being the first to do anything is often exhilarating. Elizabeth Mackey '75 understands this: "Whether we wanted to be or not, we were pioneers," she says of that first group of women to matriculate at Franklin & Marshall in 1969. Susan Kline Klehr '73 remembers the Admissions Office calling her a pioneer. "I liked the concept, but I wish I was the first woman to walk on the moon as a result of it." Klehr might not have done any space exploration, but having done some self-exploration she found that being in the first class of coeds has informed her life: "It has made it where I don't mind being different," she says. In 1969, though, she knew that she and the other 75 women coming onto campus were "unusual."
At different times, they felt like anomalies, novelties, minorities, even exhibits in a zoo. Yet in the midst of the snickers and catcalls could be found kindness and consideration from the younger men. "They did have the sense of wanting to take care of the girls on campus, to make them feel safe," says Lindy Litrides '74. "The boys were just friendly," agrees Klehr.
The upperclassmen, however, were "lukewarm" on having women on campus. After all, it was they who had to make the biggest adjustment. "For me, this is what college was," Klehr says. The men, on the other hand, had spent their first two years at an all male institution. One of the hiccoughs was an integral part of college life -- the parties. Before the College went co-ed, and even after, the men bussed women in from nearby schools. Now that there were women on campus, Monday morning meant seeing them in class, the "good, bad or ugly," Litrides says. Many men found it "disturbing."
For the women, it was the rows of urinals in many of their bathrooms that was a shock. Sherri Heller '76 remembers planting flowers in them. "Marigolds, I think, or geraniums, something very easy that didn't need a lot of light." It may have been a little thing, Mackey explains, but "you kind of felt that people weren't really ready for you, yet." Though this is precisely why many of the women viewed the experience as an adventure. There were opportunities and challenges, "and everybody was feeling their way," says Klehr.
In 2009, women (and men) often use the Women's Center to explore gender issues. One of the center's most popular events is the Vagina Monologues, an episodic play that focuses on female empowerment. "Long story short, I fell in love with it," says Ashley Lippolis '09. "It was the most liberating experience I've ever had in my life." Lina DeJesus '09 echoes this sentiment: "I just love the whole experience because you have about 40 women who are just so different, different personalities, you know, and they all come together and they socialize and interact with one another." All of the proceeds go towards ending domestic violence against women.
Mackey underscores, however, that making changes to embrace women on campus was—and continues to be—an evolutionary process. "They all take time, you know they happen over time."