50 years later, former students reflect on gender quota

by Matthew Chupack & Brammhi Balarajan

March. 16, 2022 | News

Carol Allen (74C) was excited about the prospect of the College of William & Mary after hearing about a family friend’s enriching experience there. She had the grades, the accolades and a strong academic record, only to find herself “totally stunned” when she saw her rejection.

After Allen’s family friend talked to William & Mary faculty to help Allen, she learned there was nothing she could do. The school conceded that Allen had a great application, but they could only accept four out-of-state girls per year. They could put her on a waiting list for dorm students, but she would not be one of the four students to embark on a journey to William & Mary. 

So instead, Allen turned to Emory.  

Banning of the sex quota

While the Board of Trustees approved the regular admission of female students to Emory College in 1953, according to a Wheel article from January 1971, sex quotas on female acceptances persisted until the 1971-72 academic year. The quota stipulated that for every two males accepted into Emory College, one female could be accepted. 

Staff Writer John Pallister (74C) reported that in January 1971, Emory College faculty voted to abolish the discriminatory quota, with the change affecting next year’s class, or those enrolling in Fall 1971. 

Although Emory wouldn’t see equal enrollment of males and females until 1980, then Director of Admissions Bert Carroll used previous application trends to predict that abolishing the quota would result in the class entering in Fall 1971 being composed of 44.8% females and 55.2% males. 

Then Dean John Stephens attributed the decision to financial factors, mentioning in the 1971 article that the University needed money in “this time of economic str[i]ngency.” To do so, he suggested increasing enrollment and admitting all qualified female applicants.

“We have been turning down admissible female students who are more than capable of meeting Emory’s standards,” Stephens said. “I[f] we are to continue to enroll in the College the number of students that we have room for, and we want to enroll, even this practically dictates a change in the ratio.”

The Board of Trustees also used financial reasoning to justify eliminating the sex quota, Bence said. Along with universities nationwide, Emory experienced a dip in enrollment in the 1970s. 

“They need many, and they can pay, so why would we exclude anyone who’s qualified?” Bence said. “I don’t know quite why the quota really persisted … could just be old habits die hard.”

However, University archives indicate that efforts to eliminate the quota began as early as the 1950s. In 1958, then President Goodrich White issued a report noting the controlled admissions of a sex quota only hurt the University’s prestige and academics. 

“It is clear that at this time academic quality in the College student body is being sacrificed in order to maintain the quota,” he said. 

The quota was then “relaxed” in 1958, and other efforts by the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees pushed for the rule to be permanently rescinded. However, while the University did not want the ban to be in place, they also did not want to increase the amount of female admits by a dramatic amount. It would not be until 1971 when the sex quota would officially be rescinded. 

On-campus housing

While women were admitted to Emory College prior to the 1950s, Emory was in an agreement with Agnes Scott College (Ga.) through a crossover program that prevented Emory from enrolling women as residential students. However, in 1953, Emory ended that agreement to boost enrollment in light of the Korean War and raise the academic standards of the institution. This marked the first time women were admitted as residential students.

Housing availability also played a role in Emory’s limitation of the further enrollment of women. There was no co-ed housing in the 1950s, and the vast majority of housing was dedicated for male students. 

When Emory began accepting more women, the University built The Complex to house women. Former University historian Gary Hauk noted that the underlying reasoning may have been resistance to the equalization of male and female enrollment. “The University could simply have designated one of the men’s dorms for women instead in order to balance the enrollment,” he said. “There had been some resistance to opening the doors so wide for the admission of women.”  

Even as housing availability for female students began to increase, there were discrepancies between what was allowed of male students and female students. Female students had a curfew and had to sign in male visitors. They also had to leave the doors open when they had male visitors. No such rules existed for male students. 

These discrepancies were also prominent in Greek life. Despite a barrage of fraternity houses, there were no sorority houses at the time, and Karyl Barron (73C) noted “they didn’t really have a home or recognition or place to call their own” 

Life before college

Allen always knew she would attend college, as her mother received a Ph.D. in mathematics from Emory and taught at Agnes Scott College (Ga.) and Georgia State University. 

“With a mother having a Ph.D. in math, the unfortunate part was that her expectations were extreme,” Allen said. “She expected me to go to medical school even though I had no inclination towards it. When I made my first C in my life at Emory in freshman biology — medical school was not in my future — she wanted to pull me out of school.”

Allen’s case was not a lone incident. Pauline Albert (74C) came to Emory in 1971, after transferring from Bates College (Maine). College had always been an inevitable for Albert. As graduates of junior colleges, her parents recognized that higher education was necessary for their children’s socioeconomic mobility. 

“It was not the general assumption in the environment that I grew up in,” Albert said. “I was considered a little bit of an exception to not be staying in my own environment.” 

People in her Maine hometown questioned Albert’s decision to attend college, since they viewed her summer position as a bank teller as a great job. Albert said her parents would respond by saying “she’s gonna go do other things,” which require a college degree. 

Brenda Mooney (76C) applied to Emory because she knew the University accepted women, whereas some Ivy League universities at the time did not. She noted that the late 1960s marked a cultural shift on society’s view of women’s place, with dramatic differences even between her older sisters’ experiences and her own. Compared to previous generations, it was the norm for women to attend a college to find a career and develop their interests, rather than be expected to merely find a man to marry. 

“There was that kind of change where a growing number of women who went to Emory were really there to establish their careers and lead an independent life,” Mooney said. 

At the same time, some female Emory students found the University refreshing compared to their hometowns. Lucy Ackerman (74C) noted that in her high school clubs, the president was always a man. She was the vice president of one club, so the president always called her with every problem for her to fix. She remembered “thinking something is wrong in the system. But [she doesn’t] ever recall feeling that way at Emory.” 

Academics and resources at Emory

Former students also recalled a sense of genderization of majors, with STEM fields being almost exclusively for men and the languages and psychology attracting more of the female population. Allen said that her first-year biology class was majority male, along with most other science classes that were predominantly Jewish men from New York on the pre-med track.  

But the experience of being a woman in the sciences was isolating for many. 

“Pre-med was pretty rough for the women,” Albert said. “I have sorority sisters who were pre-med and that was a rough, competitive environment. As Honor Council president, I saw a lot of science majors going through trauma, trying to cheat their way through.” 

Former students also recalled a lack of mentorship at the time for women. Barron noted that professors in sciences sometimes would not take her at “full face.” She recalled an instance where a professor commended her for her work in physics “because [he] didn’t really expect [a] female to do well in the class.” Barron said that since her twin brother was at school at the same time, she had to take advantage of the mentorship and resources he was provided.

While there were significantly fewer female professors, they tended to teach in departments aligning with this gendered major breakdown. Following her tribulation in freshman biology, Allen wound up majoring in psychology and minoring in French. Allen found these classes to have a more balanced male-to-female ratio, which she attributed to these classes not falling following under science departments. Albert recalled that during her whole time at Emory, she only had three female professors — two in French and one in art history. 

Allen also remembered having two female professors in French and two in English, and doesn’t recall ever having a female psychology professor. Ackerman also recalled that the only female professors she could remember were both French professors. 

Beyond academics, female students experienced gendered implications in their required athletic coursework. During this time, all students were required to take a class to prove their proficiency at swimming. The student’s feet were tied together while they attempted to tread water and swim a few laps. Students did different iterations of this test with their hands, feet and both tied. As there weren’t many women, the men would always attempt to “rescue” women they thought were about to drown. 

“I remember I was rescued a lot even though I didn’t feel I needed it,” Barron said. “Being a female in that class was difficult because you had to repeat the class over and over again because you were rescued when they didn’t really need to be rescued.” 

While the University lacked female-focused support at times in academics, other faculty members provided beacons of advice. Albert recalled going to former Associate Emory College Dean Garland Richmond upon uncertainty on whether she wanted to be a teacher and what to do about graduate school. Richmond said that there were already many teachers, so it would be better for Albert to apply to business school or law school, which she didn’t previously consider. 

Other than that, Emory made no efforts to support the female student population, such as women in STEM programs seen today, Albert said. 

Women-designed programs and resources were few and far in between. Organizations such as the Emory Women’s Cacucus and the Emory Women’s Alliance — which attracted a lot of lesbian students at the time — began to spring up. However, other gender-based issues were rarely addressed by the University. 

While sexual harassment was present on campus, Allen said that it was never brought up, and rarely discussed by either students or the University. As many other gendered issues at the time, protecting oneself from sexual violence was an isolating experience for female students. 

Female extracurricular involvement 

Throughout the 1970s, female leaders began to materialize in more and more organizations. However, the University still treated female leadership as an anomaly. Mooney recalled that the Chairman of the Board of Trustees invited her to meet him for lunch as she was Editor-in-Chief of the Wheel at the time. She remembered it was strongly recommended she bring her boyfriend along as it would not be considered appropriate for her to meet the Chairman alone. 

As Mooney broke gender barriers at the Wheel, Albert was the first female president of the Honor Council, although she did not initially realize that.

“You think I would have put two and two together, like maybe there weren’t as many women before, but I really had not created that connection,” Albert said. “I just thought, usually the guys are in charge, so times are changing.”

Albert added that sororities and choir were fulcrums for the female community. With so many women involved in a group together, however, it was almost deceptive of the actual percentage of women at Emory.

“When you’re hanging out with other women, you don’t have a sense [that] there aren’t many of us around,” Albert said. 

At the time, gendered expectations were strife in sorority culture. Ackerman recalled that there was the expectation for sorority sisters to be “ladylike” in all aspects, such as reprimands to not smoke a cigarette in a public setting. “I can assure you, even though I don’t know it for a fact, that nobody was telling the boys how to behave like a gentleman,” she said. “But I was very conscious of telling the girls how to behave like a lady.” 

Diversity at Emory

The banning of the sex quota paved the way for greater female presence on campus. However, it would take years for the same strides to be made for women of color. Several female students recalled few, if any, students of color at the time.

Describing Emory as a “privileged white environment,” Albert said there were very few people of color in her class. The student body was rather “very heavy Jewish environment from New York, a lot of pre-med and very ecumenical.”

However, several former students referenced a quota on Jewish students. Mooney said that many people in the Northeast who applied to Ivy League schools used Emory as a safety school, resulting in a growing Jewish population at Emory.

Mooney added that the Board of Trustees “was not dealing well with this issue,” prompting her to write a column about the situation. 

“There ended up being an article about it … basically saying there was a bit of antisemitism in the constant effort by the board of Trustees to do things to define Emory as a Southern university,” Mooney said. “The Board of Trustees had proposed … quotas on how many people from outside of the South they would accept, and to me that led to be very directed against the growing Jewish population.”

Students also seemed hesitant to indicate whether they identified as LGBT+, as Albert only learned that two or three of her sorority sisters were lesbians in the last 10 years. 

“Some of us suspected that they were likely lesbian, but in fact, we still remember one of them getting engaged [to a man] because that was the thing girls did,” Albert said. “It was very much in the closet and not discussed. This was the South, and although Emory is very cosmopolitan, it was not something that people were open about at all.”

Emory College began enrolling Black students in 1963, with the enrollment of Charles Dudley marking the desegregation of the University. However, Allen said that “hardly anyone” in her graduating class of 1974 was a person of color, potentially just the two Black girls across the hall and “a couple of other people.” It would be years before students of color would make up a sizable part of the student body, rather than a meager few accepts. 

The banning of the sex quota paved the way for greater representation of women — but what it really meant in practice was white women. For women of color, queer women and others, representation on campus was still lax.