Movements Toward Equality – Responses to Backlash

A brightly-colored, hand-drawn poster advertising Take Back The Night.

Dartmouth women navigated a culture and infrastructure that had been exclusively male for 200 years. Along with the optimism and excitement that met this historic change, these women also faced a negative backlash from a vocal minority of the student body. Women’s resistance to the backlash took on many forms. They led protests, held rallies, and even created and performed a theatrical work that called for inclusivity, cultural change, and awareness of issues faced by women on campus. They achieved all this by creating organizations and programs specific to women to fill gaps in the all-male campus culture and traditions.

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The first page of the "You Laugh" script.

"You Laugh" script

In 1975, a group of women students created a series of skits for a sociology class assignment. The series evolved into the student production “You Laugh” which was later performed at the inter-fraternity play contest. The production expressed what it was like being a woman at Dartmouth. The actors shared personal experiences of harassment, gender-based violence, and discrimination. Famously, in the opening skit, the actors recited back the misogynistic words of the infamous hum, “Our Cohogs,” which was performed by their classmates at Green Key weekend earlier that spring.

A black-and-white photo of the members of Women-at-Dartmouth.

Members of the student organization, Women-at-Dartmouth

Women-at-Dartmouth was established in 1972 as the only feminist political group on campus. In 1979, the group changed its name to Dartmouth Women's Alliance in response to student criticism that the name didn't represent all women on campus.

A black-and-white photo of the members of CB meeting in Foley House.

Members of CB meet in Foley House

CB was another organization specific to women founded in the summer of 1977. CB offered women an alternative social space from the one sorority on campus at the time, Sigma Kappa.

The first page of a pamphlet summarizing extracurricular activities for women.

Options for Women

Informational pamphlet, summarizing health resources, social and athletic opportunities, and music and cultural groups on campus, specifically for women.

A black-and-white photo of students signing up in support of sex-blind admissions.

Students sign up in support of sex-blind admissions

Students sign up for a rally in opposition to the College’s sex-ratio admissions practices. Both male and female students and alumni opposed the artificial policy as discriminatory. By 1980, the College had adopted a sex-blind admission process. However, it took until 2012 for the student body to reach an approximate 50/50 parity.

The first page of a proposal for a Women's Resource Center at Dartmouth.

Proposal for a Women's Resource Center

The campaign for a women's resource center started with calls by the Women's Issues League (third iteration of Women-at-Dartmouth), a student feminist group. WIL petitioned for a center that would "provide a space for all women students, faculty and staff to meet and exchange ideas about gender, women and women's experiences." Because of their petition, the College convened a Women's Support Task Force to review the proposal and evaluate whether or not a center was needed.

A newspaper article titled "Dartmouth To Get Women's Center."

"Dartmouth To Get Women's Center"

This article in the Valley News reports on the College's decision to invest resources into a Women's Resource Center. The article quotes Dean of the Faculty Dwight Lahr as saying that he "knew women at the college had problems" but didn't know how bad it really was. The Women's Support Task Force shed light on some of the harassment women experienced, leaving the Dean in "disbelief."

A brightly-colored, hand-drawn poster advertising Take Back The Night.

Take Back the Night

Take Back the Night started in the 1970s as a worldwide movement to bring awareness to and combat sexual violence and violence against women. The movement made its way to Dartmouth in the Spring of 1979 when approximately 200 members of the local and college community marched down Frat Row after dark. The location and time of day when the march took place are significant in symbolizing where and when women felt unsafe on campus.

A black-and-white photograph of students marching.

"We will not be made to be afraid"

Photograph of students marching to stand up to the intimidation they experienced on campus.

A typed letter responding to the Woodward Hall letter.

Response to Woodward Hall Letter

In response to the offensive letters shoved under the doors of women living in Woodward Hall (see Arrival: September 5, 1972), an alternate list of demands was circulated in direct response. 1973