The Scarlet

Three Clark Women Share Reflections on 76 Years of Co-Education

Katy Flesher, Contributing Writer

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On October 25, women faculty and alumni organized a celebration on the 76th anniversary of Clark accepting women into the university. The event in Tilton Hall allowed the attendees to see a student-made documentary on the subject, as well as several poster presentations on influential female faculty and clubs throughout Clark’s coeducational history. One of the most impactful presentations was carried out by three female Clark alumnus who each spoke about a particular aspect of what it meant to be a part of Clark’s community.

Fordyce Williams, Clark’s archivist, allowed attendees to enter into the lives of women at Clark in the mid-20th century, solely through the primary sources and artifacts from the archives. This began with the testaments damning women and their possible enrollment in Clark; however, WWII forced Clark to seek female applicants to pay more tuition now that so many men were at war instead of in school.

Once women enrolled in 1942, their tuition was used to fund male student programs. Though women began advocating for themselves by 1949, 18 women formed an all-female council that included alumni and faculty wives. The group advocated for the welfare of students and promoted the connection between Clark and the community. They also shared the view that the Board of Trustees ought to represent women. Just 13 years later, in 1962, the first woman was added to the Board of Trustees. By the 70’s, women were allowed to be ranked among the same GPA system as men. Mrs. Williams’ explained that this was less integrative, and more to protect the egos of the men, as they received lower marks on average.

Elyse Darefsky (’79), the current President of Ladies Athletic Association, spoke about her experience in Clark athletics. She explained her urge to make a difference in female representation at Clark. During her return to Clark for a reunion, she noticed that the plaque wall honoring athletes throughout Clark’s history seriously lacked prominent female athletes. Elyse collected written and oral stories from women athletes pre-Title IX to advocate for the representation of female athletes on the walls of the Kneller, while also contributing to the archives. Elyse Darefsky spoke up against gender discrimination, and this enabled change she wanted to see.

The final speaker was Erma Fry Stevens, a Clark alumni admitted into the second gender-integrated class of Clark in 1943. She presented novel insight into the life of a female student in that era. While the liberal arts education forced Erma to take a variety of courses outside of her preferred field of study, it also allowed her to realize her love for studying foreign languages. Erma went on to study Spanish, French, and German, among other languages. She felt that it was “wonderfully difficult” to be the top of the class at Clark, and the apparent gender discrimination did not ease this difficulty. Women were held to high standards to establish poise in Clark’s women. Erma said she would never have imagined joining an athletics team, but she joined the crew team as the coxswain of the boat throughout college. Erma went on to be a professor at Clark and a published poet.  

Erma also expressed the value of comradery that sprung from the integration of Clark. She reported joining an interfaith club which brought together Christians and Jewish students of that time, and Erma wishes the club had the same potential as it has today to include the perspectives of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam. Erma said she felt that Clark has always had the ability to keep looking forward, and to follow through with achieving one’s goals. She expressed the love and openness that pours through Clark, as gender studies pick up in notoriety and the LGBTQ+ community is well-accepted and regarded. Clark is rooted in the values of progression, and Erma left the celebration with a bit of advice on this subject: “Do not wait too long to as ‘What’s next?’”


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Three Clark Women Share Reflections on 76 Years of Co-Education