A look into the university’s history of gender integration

Kissing arches 6
Mitchell Patterson /THE REVIEW
Above, the famous “kissing arches.” Legend has it that men and women would meet here to kiss one another good night before separating while campus was still gender segregated.

BY Senior News Reporter

Walter Hullihen served as the president of the university from 1920 until 1944. When he took office, the university was separated into the Delaware College and the Women’s College of Delaware: separate colleges with exclusively male and female students and different faculty.

According to Lisa Gensel, the coordinator of the university’s archives, by the late 1930s, Hullihen felt it was time to change that.

Gensel said that, at the time, some faculty were doing “double duty” and teaching the exact same course simultaneously at the two different colleges, to two different groups of students. That brought on an obvious set of inefficiencies.

The issue was greatly exacerbated by World War II, which saw male enrollment plummet dramatically as many men were drafted into the war effort. For the most part, according to Gensel, the men that were still attending classes were heavily concentrated in war-related fields like chemistry, medicine and engineering.

During the war, the amount of women at the university grew, and according to Gensel, many of the women were attending classes in all seasons, many finishing their degrees in far less than the traditional four years.

During the war years, Gensel said that the university’s students functioned in a very different way than they did before (and after) the war. The publication of The Review and university yearbooks came close to a halt and extracurricular clubs did too. Essentially, the people that were here were solely focused on nothing but classes and getting out into the workforce as soon as possible.

For that reason, having separate classes for men and women made little sense, and Gensel said that by the end of 1945, and into 1946, the two colleges merged.

James Munroe, the namesake of Munroe Hall, wrote the pre-eminent history of the university and its campus: “The University of Delaware: A History.”

“A dean of women and a dean of men would assume some of the former duties of the dean of the Women’s College and the dean of Delaware College — duties as student counselors and in regard to housing and health, for instance,” Munroe wrote regarding the new organization. “The two colleges would remain only as ‘general welfare units,’ mainly housing units.”

Perhaps surprisingly, the unification of the colleges was not popular among all who were involved.

“The contrasting responses Sypherd received from men and women of the faculty are interesting and display a degree of jealousy that had existed between the two colleges,” Munroe wrote. “The great majority of the men approved of the plan; some of them had been annoyed by the supervision exercised over their courses by Dean Winifred Robinson and Marjory Golder, successively. The women faculty were generally aghast at the idea of the destruction of their college, which they considered superior in morale, traditions, and standards to Delaware College.”

The unification of the two colleges brought a separate issue. As mentioned previously, there were duplicate departments at each of the colleges. For example, each had a chemistry department. The new unified department had to determine who would be the new department chair: the chair of the women’s department, or the men’s?

In the case of the unified chemistry department, Gensel said that Quaesita Drake — the namesake of Drake Hall — should have become chair if it was decided by seniority, but that did not happen, and the honor went to the men’s chair. Gensel said that when the departments merged, there was only one female department chair: Harriet Bailey, a fine arts professor. Gensel said that the only reason for that was that there simply was no men’s fine arts department, and had there been, the situation would have been similar to Drake’s.

Even years after the colleges were merged, men’s and women’s on-campus residence halls remained separate.

For decades, women exclusively lived on the South Green, and men on the North Green. After World War II ended, and the G.I. Bill came into effect, the population of the university expanded rapidly and many residence halls were built. But the major growth did not stop there. Baby Boomers were on the way, and far more space was needed.

“By the 1960s, they’re building East Campus like a maniac because they did not know where to put people,” Gensel said.

Building complexes like Harrington and Russell were built, and they were coed by building. Men and women shared lounges and central areas, but each of the five buildings — which contained the individual rooms — was either all-male or all-female.

Gensel also said that around the time of the late 1960s and the early 1970s, the university’s students became very politically active, which caused a liberalization of some campus rules, especially those regarding residence life.

Gensel said students became active in the anti-Vietnam War movement, and in the movements for the rights of women and black Americans. The Women’s Studies program started at the university in 1973, and the Black Student Union was incorporated in 1968. It is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

According to Gensel, attitudes were changing around that time and especially female students started to actively push for more relaxed residence hall rules.

Carol Hoffecker also wrote a leading historical book on the history of women at the university: “Beneath Thy Guiding Hand: A History of Women at the University of Delaware.”

“As a first compromise, opposite-sex visitation was permitted for a few hours each week on condition that students left the door to the room open; then, the hours were lengthened and the door rule was relaxed to the partly ajar position; finally, in the fall of 1969, the University took the final step of permitting on a trial basis an unrestricted visitation policy,” she wrote. “The doors could now be closed.”

Hoffecker also wrote on the broader impact of the new residence hall policies.

“With that change, the whole concept of what constituted a protective environment for women was revised,” she wrote. “Women students no longer had to return to their residence halls by a specific time. Instead, the halls were kept locked at all hours and every resident was given a key, just as in the private housing market.”

Further, Hoffecker described how one policy led to another, essentially creating a snowball of liberalized university policies. With the changes to the visitation rules in 1970, the path was open for residence halls where “alternate floors or even alternate rooms were occupied by members of the opposite sex.”

Lastly, one would be hard-pressed to find a discussion about the former men’s and women’s colleges at the university, without a mention of the landmark that has become known as the “kissing arches.”

Gensel said that the legend is “apocryphal.”

“We can’t say yes or no, but we can say this much: Women’s College starts in 1914, there’s already Delaware College,” she said. “They built the library [what is now Memorial Hall] in the middle of the Green, which is mostly empty at this point, in 1925. Men and women are sharing the library already in 1925, but there’s no Brown Lab and there’s no Hullihen Hall yet. So, there are no arches.”

There is one thing, however, that Gensel cannot rule out.

“You can’t say that people didn’t stop near the library and, you know, smooch,” Gensel said.

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