Becki Miller '93, our ace Bulletin correspondent, took time out from her graduate studies at the University of Virginia to chat with a few of the women who came to Kenyon during the early years of coeducation. Here are some of their reminiscences:
"Dean Crozier liked to say that half of her first class of women graduated Phi Beta Kappa, and it was true!" says Patricia Sellew Cimarosa, who distinguished herself as the first woman to graduate Phi Beta Kappa from the College. Cimarosa was one of the first two women to graduate in May 1971 from Kenyon.
Studious, but hardly a drudge, Cimarosa remembers her days at Kenyon as fine times. "Nobody ever had a better time in college than I did. I had attended all-girls' schools until I transferred to Kenyon, and afterwards I think I attended every party in Gambier.
"Some of the nerdy guys who were inducted into Phi Beta Kappa at the same time said that they didn't want to be in it if someone as social as I was could make it in," laughs Cimarosa. "But, yau know, sometimes when you're really happy, you can do your work incredibly well and it hardly seems like work. That's how it was for me at Kenyon."
Often the only woman taking the upper-level courses in which she was enrolled, Cimarosa thinks her visibility in the classroom may have indirectly affected her academic performance. "How could I cut class?" she asks.
Patricia Sellew Cimarosa is now the deputy director of the Westport Housing Authority in Westport, Connecticut.
"I never thought of myself as the first woman president of the Black Student Union," explains Gerry Coleman Tucker. "At the time, there were so few black students at Kenyon that we didn't think so much about whether a man or a woman was in charge. There were other priorities."
Tucker recalls that ii just seemed natural for her to take a leadership role in the Black Student Union (BSU) as a member of a small minority community. "Almost all black students on campus were active in the BSU in some visible way. It was a new organization when I arrived on campus, with a great deal of work to do.
"I suppose I did think of myself as a pioneer of sorts, being in the second class of women at Kenyon. That was part of the attraction of going there," Tucker says.
Gerry Coleman Tucker, an assignment editor in the Money department for USA Today, lives in Sprinfield, Virginia. She reports, "I talk to my eight-year-old son every day about his going to Kenyon.
"I knew that I wanted to be the first woman to be elected president of Student Council, so it was very disappointing when I lost," remembers Liz Forman, the first woman to vie for office. "In the long run, I think it was probably better to have been on Campus Senate and to have access to the president and the deans."
Forman recalls an incident from a Senate meeting. "There was a first-year man who had been appointed to Senate, and I suggested that perhaps there ought to be two first-year appointees, a man and a woman. He turned and said to Dean Edwards, 'Well, I guess that's all right if you think that a girl could handle the stress of being on Senate.' By this time, I had served on Senate for two or three years, so I thought the whale thing was very funny."
Liz Forman took up new duties this year as assistant director of admissions at Kenyon, having already worn many hats at the College, from acting registrar to interim director of the libraries.
Liesel Friedrich and Denise Largent Roberts managed to make the campus site up and take notice of their editorial efforts in the Collegian offices high atop Peirce Tower — even if they weren't allowed to live there.
The first women to edit The Kenyon Collegian, in 1971, Friedrich and Roberts still smart a little at being denied permission to live in the rooms in Peirce Hall that were traditionally assigned to Collegian editors and other campus leaders. The decision was made not to make Peirce a coeducational living space, so the 1971 Collegian editors received a singles suite in Caples Residence, then known as "Dorm 3."
"Unlike the bathrooms that women manage to share with their fathers and brothers at home, Kenyon bathrooms had to remain segregated at all costs," Friedrich recalls, with a tinge of the ironic tone for which the Collegian was known under her and Roberts's leadership.
"Both of our fathers had careers in journalism, and the two of us had extensive backgrounds in newspaper work," says Roberts of the editorial selection process. "So, we had more experience than anyone else who applied.
"But as soon as it was known that women wanted to be the editors, it was as if the job were up for grabs. Many more people applied for the position than usual," remembers Friedrich.
The duo set out to change the Collegian from the start. "The Collegian took on our tone," Roberts says, "a more ironic, witty voice. We wanted people to want lo read every article, which hadn't been the case in the past."
Friedrich adds, "It became a more feature-oriented paper and more politically conscious, more substantial. Part of that was the times, too. We were in the midst of the Vietnam War, al a time when college deferments were ending. Also, 1972 was the first time a college student could vote."
The women decided to change the face of the sports page as well. "Most of the sports events happened on the weekend," Friedrich explains, "and the Collegian didn't come out until the following Thursday. We thought that whoever wanted to know the scores would have either gone to the game or talked to someone who had by then."
Although response to Roberts's and Friedrich's decision to cul back on sports met with some outcry — "especially from the Betas," says Friedrich-they believe they gave women's sports more attention than they had received before. Roberts notes, "We had women writing about women's sports."
Overall, response was positive lo the paper under Friedrich's and Roberts's editorship. "The most satisfying thing was walking into the dining hall on Thursday night and having ii be silent," Friedrich remembers. "No one was throwing their jello or messing around. Everyone was reading the paper."
Liesel Friedrich went on to a successful career in journalism, which included an assignment as book editor at The New York Post ("At least until Rupert Murdoch arrived," she grumbles) and then as associate producer and writer for ABC News, where she won a 1978 Emmy Award for investigative reporting on the show "20/20." Friedrich currently lives in Santa Monica, California.
Denise Largent Roberts recently moved to Sarasota, Florida, but she continues her association with the Cleveland Scholarship Program. She has worked in editing, writing and public relations for various nonprofit organizations.
As the first female faculty member on the tenure track as well as the first to serve as chair of a department, Professor of Drama Harlene Marley has taken a part in much of the history of women at Kenyon. Reflecting on the changes she has seen since 1969, when she and the first class of women arrived in Gambier, Marley says, "It's been a long time since I was asked to bake cookies for a campus event.
"The culture of the College has changed since the time when women were expected to help with entertaining. As a woman in the community, people asked me to bake cookies for various events. And I did.
"But I remember that during the events surrounding Philip Jordan's inauguration as president of the College, I was incredibly busy with a number of things when a faculty wife called me up to ask if I could contribute a couple dozen cookies for something," Marley remembers. "I replied, 'Are you asking any of the male faculty members to bake cookies, too?' I was never asked again."
Marley recalls that her being the first woman on the faculty in a tenure-track position never seemed extraordinary to her. "I suppose it must have seemed stranger to the male faculty members and older students, many of whom had never worked with women except for secretaries. To me, the first years of women at Kenyon were all I knew of the College.
"Certainly, I felt highly visible as the only full-time female faculty member and one of about one hundred fifty women on campus," Marley notes. "I was asked to join extraordinary numbers of committees, because the other faculty members all felt they needed a woman's perspective. When there were only two or three of us women on the faculty, we felt stretched pretty thin."
Harlene Marley continues to teach at Kenyon as a professor of drama. She contributed "The Last Page" to this issue of the Bulletin.
Although Kim Stapleton Smith made Kenyon history as the first woman to be an active member of a nationally affiliated fraternity, joining Psi Upsilon seemed "perfectly natural" to her.
"My father had been a Psi U in the Omega Chapter at the University of Chicago. He was particularly proud that I was a Psi U, too," explains Smith. "Plus-and this is not as cheesy as it sounds-most of my friends were dating Psi Us or were Psi Us themselves. The guy I was dating was also a Psi U. For me, it was just a matter of ioining a club of people who were my friends already.
"The Psi Us didn't have a social chair, and I loved to organize parties," Smith notes. "That's what got me involved in the first place, and I became their social chair. Our parties were known as something special, not just the usual beer-and-pretzels affairs."
Smith says she was initiated into the group along with the other male pledges and that Psi Upsilon's rules included nothing that precluded female membership. The Kenyon administration posed a potentially more difficult obstacle. "Dean Tom Edwards was against having women in frats, so the guys arranged for me to sign the pledge book one weekend when he was out of town. There was never any confrontation about it.
"I never thought about sororities. I think the first classes of women at Kenyon felt like we were pioneers of a sort and thumbed our noses at 'feminine' traditions. Sororities seemed to me to fall into that category.
"For me," Smith observes, "joining a fraternity wasn't a revolution, but a tongue-in-cheek gesture. There didn't seem to be any conventions suitable for women at Kenyon at the time."
Kim Stapleton Smith, who earned a master's degree in art history from Case Western Reserve University after graduating from Kenyon, is currently a homemaker in Lexington, Kentucky.