With the admission of women in 1870, the University became a leading progressive example for other major colleges. But 90 years later, the University’s policies toward women had lost their progressive edge. It was then that female students campaigned the administration for permission to wear pants to dinner.
Constant during this time period was the University’s dean of women — a pseudo-parent for the female population until the position was eliminated in the early 1960s amid a growing campus rebellion.
In 1896, Eliza Maria Mosher became the University’s first to hold the post. She was also a professor of hygiene, sanitation and household economics. In her lectures, Mosher frequently discussed parenting techniques like how to time an infant’s bath.
The dean of women had a hand in nearly all aspects of women’s lives, including their social life, housing and academics.
Curfews, dress codes and housing polices remained strict until resistance built in the 1950s. Guidebooks from the 50s given to women when they arrived on campus illustrated the suggested dress code with cartoon sketches.
Women under the age of 22 were not allowed to live unsupervised.
In rare cases, single students were allowed to live off-campus by working as part-time nannies.
Later, the Dean of Women’s office managed the League Housing program, which arranged rooms for female upperclassman and sorority members in approved housing.
In 1958, the Women’s Senate, a student government for women, extended female student’s weeknight curfew to 11 p.m. for freshmen and midnight for upperclassmen. But the University Board of Regents did not vote to eliminate curfew entirely until 1968.
Women weren’t allowed to wear pants in the dining halls and most lounges until 1961. To comply with the dress code, students often threw on wrinkled cotton “dinner dresses” over their pants.
In the early 1960s then-Michigan Daily Editor in Chief Tom Hayden wrote a series of editorials condemning these restrictive policies and those of then-Dean of Women Deborah Bacon. The students presented testimonies that Bacon discouraged students from interracial dating.
Bacon resigned on Sept. 30, 1961 and the position was eliminated, ending the era of the dean of women.
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