The 1970s were a tumultuous time: Many College campuses were rife with protests against the war in Viet Nam and the shootings at Kent State University. Americans were divisive about the cultural and environmental issues that were beginning to emerge. And the fledgling women's liberation movement was ramping up for a decade-long fight for equal pay, political autonomy and other disputed rights.
"It was kind of a culture shock," says Jennifer Pugh '74 about her arrival at Franklin & Marshall College. "The campus had been radicalized in a way that I hadn't been yet." Not everyone embraced this forward thinking, however. Sherri Heller '76 learned this first-hand: "I remember a government professor coming into class the first day chomping on an unlit cigar looking around slowly and saying, ‘Just my luck, they finally admit women and it's the age of blue jeans, no skirts."
Heller explains that in the early days of coeducation, some faculty members were quick to assign women to one of two groups: serious academics or women who came to marry a dentist. Heller is now the president of a Fortune 500 company, but still regrets not having delved more into the arts. But like many women on campus, she believed that involvement in arts and culture indicated a yen to be "the cultured wife of a professional."
Such attitudes didn't permeate the entire campus, however. "The male/female thing never came up in the education side of F&M at all from my experience," says Lindy Litrides '74. "I think we felt very accepted here," agrees Sue Rengler '77. Regardless of the gender dichotomy, women at Franklin & Marshall have engaged in the life of the mind with enthusiasm and prowess.
Heller remembers a philosophy professor who introduced her to the idea of the liberal arts, saying that cleverness and being articulate wasn't good enough, rather one had to think rigorously. "I thought, boy, if this is what academia is like, he was wonderful," Heller says. "It's all about an exploration of each other's minds."
It's about exploring one's own mind, too, and embracing a spectrum of subjects --both tenets that have endured over time. "I felt comfortable enough to think that this is a place that I can do whatever I want to do, and I did," says Nicole Teillon-Riegl ‘90. By this time, freedoms had matured, such as more female professors -- many of the fist women lament having none, or only one -- as well as opportunities to delve deeper into women's issues.
For Teillon-Riegl, her time at Franklin & Marshall coincided with the first Women's Studies course. "It was good!" she says. Alice Drum and two other professors taught the class, all three drawing on different academic perspectives. "I wish there had been more," Teillon-Riegl says. "I would have taken more courses had there been." Likely, Teillon-Riegl would have been excited to be on campus in 2009 when Ginelle Krummey '09 was working on her honors project. Set within a feminist context, the study strove to discover "where we are on the trajectory toward -- or away from -- sexual autonomy and decision making." Many of the women's stories, Krummey says, were much like her own.
But even if they weren't, most of the women who spent four years at Franklin & Marshall have similar things to say about their academic experience. Professors encouraged you to study what you loved; were accessible, visible, and made an effort to get to know you; they were more than receiving and accepted everyone's differences. "They were part of the fabric of our lives," says Susan Kline Klehr '73.
Jessica May '70 speaks for so many -- pioneers through recent graduates -- when she says: "The advantage of the liberal arts education is you learn how to study things, how to analyze them, how to solve problems, and that's what you need to be successful in life." Ask her if she ever used her major, Russian Area Studies, and she'll say: "Nope, not at all. I now manage a manufacturing company - the advantage of a liberal arts education."