A People's History of Middlebury College

a history of Middlebury College centered on marginalized voices, social/political mobilizations, and periods of struggle

A People's History of Middlebury College

Herstory of Women at Middlebury

Timeline: [Sources: GSFS department, Chellis House, The Campus; 1990 Special Committee on Attitudes Toward Gender Report; 1997 Task Force Report on the Status of Women at Middlebury College; 2008 Report of the Task Force on the Status of Women at Middlebury; Special Collections “Women’s Studies” Program folder; College catalog; Oral history interviews with Paula Schwartz, Yonna McShane, Alison Byerly, Peggy Nelson, Marjorie Lamberti, Stan Bates, and Cheryl Faraone; “Women at Middlebury: A Brief History of the Highs and the Lows,” by Jan Albers]

1883: the College’s precarious finances, low enrollments and a demand for female higher education from the townspeople of Middlebury, led to the acceptance of the first three female students: May Anna Bolton, Louise Hagar Edgerton, and May Belle Chellis. This was not unusual for the time, as over 50 percent of American colleges were already letting women in by 1880. Maybelle Chellis finished first in her class and created some degree of consternation when she walked away with the coveted Greek prize.

1967: Torie Osborne started first feminist club, and a women’s underground health support group.

1976: 22 female faculty; 1987: 66 male faculty

1976: Marjorie Lamberti made full professor

1986: Women’s Studies Concentration offered in Sociology Department

1987-88 school year: Popularity of the concentration in Women’s Studies: Approximately 10 students were registered as Women’s Studies concentrators; just over 200 students registered in nine courses in nine different departments.

May 1988: During the annual Delta Upsilon toga party, a female mannequin splattered with red paint and the epithet “Random Hole” was suspended from the house’s balcony, where it remained for several days until Dean of the Faculty Maggie O’Brien asked for it to be taken down. In response to the incident, President Robison appointed a seven member “Special Committee on the Attitudes Toward Gender,” led by O’Brien, to explore the campus climate around gender. Their eye-opening 1990 Report recommended, among other things, further development in the Women’s Studies program, ‘mainstreaming’ gender in the broader curriculum, and the establishment of a Women’s Center. [DISCUSSION IN THE CAMPUS]

1988: Proposal for Women’s Studies major was presented to the Educational Council [DISCUSSION IN THE CAMPUS]
1988: Middlebury’s Winter Term faculty seminar “Women’s Studies: Issues of Equality and Difference” helped 15 faculty members explore the contributions of Women’s Studies to existing academic paradigms.

March 1989: Women’s Studies proposal passed with a 13 to 1 vote by the Educational Council and Curriculum Committee: proposal passed with vote 13 to 1.

May 1989: Unanimous faculty vote approved the new interdisciplinary major of Women’s Studies

March 1989: “Faculty Votes 113-13 to Abolish Fraternities” [THE CAMPUS] 1989: Loss of Alison Fraker, the much beloved, vocally feminist student. Her parents offered to endow a feminist reading room in her memory (now part of Chellis House) September 1989: Women’s Studies program debuts [THE CAMPUS]

March 1990: Release of Report of the Special Committee on Attitudes toward Gender, commissioned by President Robison. Maggie O’Brien said of the Report, “It could make us look bad. We might come out of the tunnel and feel why we did this to ourselves. But I’m proud of Middlebury for admitting that this is where we are. A lot of college presidents wouldn’t let this report be released.” [DISCUSSION IN THE CAMPUS]

1990: Major discussions in The Campus around homosexuality and gender neutral language

1991: Women’s Studies major started, offering first introductory and theory and methods courses.

1991: Drew Cortell Gensler ‘57 supported the opening of a Women’s Center (put up $20,000, if rest could be raised). [DISCUSSIONS IN THE CAMPUS]

1993: May Belle Chellis Women’s Resource Center opened. It became home to many student organizations such as the Women’s Union, Artemis magazine, Middlebury Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Alliance, Feminist Action at Middlebury, students from African- American Alliance, Alianza Latinoamericana y Caribena and the International Students Organization.

1997: The Task Force on Status of Women reassessed Middlebury’s progress in creating a hospitable environment for female students, faculty, and staff. Their report applauded the Women’s Studies Program, Chellis House, the development of sexual harassment policies, and the elimination of fraternities. On the other hand, the report recognized the lack of women in the upper echelons of the College administration and in supervisor positions. (In 1996-1997, all of the top nine administrators at the College were men, and only 23% of the staff supervisors were women.) In this report, Task Force called to create a designated faculty position in Women’s Studies, and to regularize the position of a Women’s Studies Administrator at Chellis House.

1999: The College instituded parental leave for faculty, allowing them to take one term off from teaching with full pay when giving birth or adopting a child.

1999-2000 First year of shift from “Women’s Studies” to “Women’s and Gender Studies.”

2000: Child Care Consortium, consisting of 3 existing centers and fourth: College Street Child Care Center

2001: WAGS gets full time faculty position

2004: Three women in top nine positions (in 1997, there were none).

March 2008: The Task Force on the Status of Women again reassessed policies and attitudes on campus revolving women. They largely applauded the new parental leave and child-care policies, in addition to the expansion of the WAGS program. However, the report found that sexism persisted student social life, and many of the challenges for female students noted in past reports remained.

1 Comment

One Comment so far ↓

  • Octavio Hingle-Webster

    I’m surprised by how recent much of the feminist action on campus has taken place. For some reason I expected achievements like the development of a women’s studies program and conversations like that during “Special Committee on the Attitudes Toward Gender” to happen earlier in the 1970s, instead of later in the 1980s. This timeline shows me how much time it takes for real change to be made after initial ideas are first brought up. Its easy to state that change doesn’t happen overnight, but it is hard to understand the reality of this concept until one examines a thorough historical timeline like this one.

You must log in to post a comment.