A Century of UMD Women

by Karen Shih ’09 | illustration courtesy of University Archives | lettering by Hailey Hwa Shin

Strict 7:30 p.m. weekday curfews, mandatory chaperones for fraternity parties and expectations of “ladylike” behavior greeted the first women to enroll full-time at umd a century ago this fall.

It’s hard to picture living under such stifling rules now, as female students step out from their mixed-gender residence halls in sweats and wet hair. But those pioneers fought through paternalistic priorities to create a new era for the university. University Archivist Anne Turkos, who created an exhibition at McKeldin Library to celebrate this anniversary, takes us through those early years.

Regulations for women governed everything from typewriter usage (banned after 7:30 p.m., except for between 10 and 10:30), to specific timeframes for male callers, to smoking (prohibited, even off-campus). On the other hand, “as far as I know, there was never a curfew for male students,” Turkos says.

Those who strayed could be “campused”—confined to their rooms except for classes and meals—or suspended or expelled. Vivian Simpson, for example, was thrown out in 1924 for not only starting a sorority without permission and allegedly leaking scandalous information about administrators to The Washington Post, but also wearing a kimono with her hair loose in front of men, using an electric iron in the dorms and being “insolent and intolerant.”

Adele H. Stamp was appointed the first dean of women in 1922. “She had a dramatic, long-term impact,” Turkos says. “She looked at those young women as her children and really was totally consumed by their welfare.”

Though she was strict, frowning on open-toe shoes and “unrestrained courtship,” she also created traditions like May Day, which celebrated graduating seniors with elaborate costumes, songs and skits; founded the Women’s Senior Honor Society, which became Maryland’s chapter of Mortar Board; and organized the first Women’s Physical Education Club, establishing women’s athletics on campus. She retired in 1960, and the student union was named for her in 1983.

Campus life wasn’t all tea service and sewing machine care. By 1926, women made up more than 20 percent of the student population of 1,139. They competed in tennis, basketball, track and riflery (which produced Olympian Irene Knox ’34), formed the first official sorority on campus and integrated organizations including the student newspaper—though it wasn’t until 1944 that Jackie Brophy became the first female editor-in-chief of The Diamondback.

Women were steered primarily into teaching and the College of Home Economics, established in 1918. Areas of study included cookery, textiles, hygiene and home management. (Occasionally, men also took classes in the college; Muppets creator Jim Henson ’60 earned a degree in home economics.)

The two earliest female graduates bucked the trend: Charlotte Vaux earned a two-year degree in agriculture in 1918, and Elizabeth Hook earned a four-year degree in entomology in 1920.


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