It’s one of Alice Drum’s favorite photographs: a group of F&M students in her Women and Gender Studies class. The young women—and one young man—all hold signs proclaiming, “This is what a feminist looks like.” Each student is unique, but each looks cheerful and optimistic—like Alice herself.
If you want to trace the rise of modern American feminism, you might well start with Alice Drum. This Wilson College graduate became a mother nine months after her first marriage. The next year, she had twins. In all, she had five sons in seven years, and later raised a stepson as well. After there were no more children in diapers, she earned a doctorate in English, commuting 90 minutes each way from her Gettysburg home to American University.
After holding adjunct positions at Georgetown and the University of Maryland, Alice Drum got her first full time job at Hood College—at age 45. Five years later, in 1985, F&M hired her as the first dean of freshmen; she would later become their first female vice president.
Dean Drum learned that women could hold management positions along with men—with a few caveats. She was advised to “act like one of the boys.” But when she advocated for women to become Dana Scholars, an honor reserved for student leaders, a male colleague mused, “Female leadership? Isn’t that a contradiction in terms?” Responding like one of the boys was clearly not the answer, she said.
Dean Drum developed a management style that was transparent, inclusive, and tough when necessary. Some colleagues dubbed her “the firing dean.” To others, she would say, “Please do not interrupt me again.” She got to work early, stayed late, and attended College events daily to meet students. Along the way, she earned the support of prominent male colleagues such as Stanley Michalak, Claude Yoder, and Joel Eigen, who joined her in developing a more balanced social/academic approach to First-Year Orientation.
She particularly enjoyed the strong connection between F&M faculty and students, and the students’ serious academic commitment. When the College derecognized fraternities, students held an impassioned rally in front of the College Center. It ended promptly so they wouldn’t be late for class.
Dean Drum was also on the committee that proposed women’s studies as an academic program. She team-taught its first core course with Leslie Burlingame and Nancy McDowell. Soon, students asked her to launch a Women’s Center. She did so—and encouraged students to define its mission. With Maura Condon Umble ’83 as director, the Women’s Center opened in 1992 as a safe place for women—and men—to discuss gender-related issues. When Dean Drum retired in 2001, the Women’s Center was renamed The Alice Drum Women’s Center in her honor.
The ADWC has remained committed to longstanding programs such as “Take Back the Night.” It also reaches out to women of diverse backgrounds, and studies global issues. Current speakers address topics from the hook-up culture to the ongoing crisis in Puerto Rico.
Now that F&M boasts its first alumna board chair, first woman president, and a student body that is 53 percent women, is the work of the women’s movement complete? What about those successful alumnae who refuse the label, “feminist?”
Dean Drum replies, “We must remind them that not every woman has had their success. We still need them to be role models. We need to hear their voices.”
What is one of her favorite memories? “Convocation, when I would introduce the class. It was wonderful, as a professor and dean, to look out at that sea of faces and wonder which ones I would get to know––and as a mother, to look at their parents and feel their mixed emotions.”
What surprises Alice Drum the most? How long it’s taken for women to achieve a degree of equality in public life. Yet she sees women’s challenges as similar to men’s: how to adjust to a rapidly changing world, while balancing career, family and personal lives.
What advice does she have for today’s female students? “Choose a double major! Or a major and a minor! Take courses to help your future career, but also to nurture your personal growth.”
So, what does a feminist look like? If Alice Drum is our example, she is bright, confident, caring… and someone you’d be wise not to interrupt.