As 100th anniversary approaches, Warner Hall remains symbol of women's history
Warner Hall, located on the South Green, is the university’s only existing all-girls dorm. The building represents almost 100 years of history for the women of the university, whose education began with an era of curfews, dress codes and gender separation.
The university opened a Women’s College in 1914 but did not introduce coeducation until 1945.
Current professor Carolyn Thoroughgood entered the university as an undergraduate in 1961, just 16 years after the official switch to gender-integrated classrooms and residence halls.
“The world was different,” Thoroughgood says. “Women were protected a little bit more, sure. When I was an undergraduate student, our dorms were closed at ten o’clock on the weekdays with the idea that if you locked up the women, the men would go back to their dorm.”
English professor Joan DelFattore depicts the environment female students faced in the foreword of “Beneath Thy Guiding Hand: A History of Women at the University of Delaware” authored by Carol E. Hoffecker. Hoffecker’s book offers an in-depth look at the experience of women in the university’s early days.
Delfattore writes that before the integration, live-in faculty acted as counselors by watching the girls’ every move to ensure ladylike behavior. Having a voice in the classroom was a challenge. Competing for spots in fields like chemical engineering was almost unheard of for women at the time.
The university’s restrictions on women have decreased significantly since the 1940s, and some female students feel that they do receive equal treatment today.
Sophomore Laura Ramirez says she believes she has a lot of the same resources and opportunities as her male counterparts.
“I have never felt as though I was at a disadvantage because I was a female on campus,” Ramirez says.
Thoroughgood has been a faculty member at the university for 46 years. Her resume includes many roles within the university, including 20 years as the Dean of the College of Marine Studies.
Thoroughgood was the first female with a doctorate degree and an established family to be hired at the university. She says she feels that the university gave her the 8 a.m., six-days-a-week teaching position as a test of her seriousness and commitment to the program.
When asked to comment on this anecdote as an issue of gender inequality, Thoroughgood waves her hand.
“I never thought about it,” she says. “I just did what I wanted to do. I didn’t seem to think that I had barriers.”
Women aren’t the only ones in support of a co-ed campus.
DelFattore writes in her foreword that while the university has improved over the years, its campus is still far from total gender equality.
She attributes this inequality to a “lack of collegial acceptance of women in new roles.”
Thoroughgood’s advice for the current female residents of Warner Hall?
“Things have changed drastically in a lot of ways, and we don’t want to forget that history,” Thoroughgood says. “We don’t want to forget our evolution. And it’s not so much the struggle of man versus woman—it’s more of being all you can be.”