Library Exhibit: The History of Gender At Dickinson College

Earlier this month, the Waidner-Spahr Library Archives organized an exhibit portraying the topic of gender throughout the past century at Dickinson College. Aspects of the exhibit included women’s sports team photographs, rulebooks directed at female students, letters between women’s advocacy groups and administration members, items from student-led movements, among other artifacts. There were pamphlets, photographs, and meeting entries from as early as the 1880s, as well as posters and articles from the 2012 protests surrounding Dickinson College’s sexual assault policy.

For me, some of the most treasured pieces were evidence of the struggles of women’s advocacy groups on campus. An entire folder was dedicated to the correspondence between Dickinson College’s Women’s Group, formed in the early 1970s, and members of Dickinson’s administration at the time, including the president and two different deans. The Women’s Group had given out a survey to female students asking for feedback on gender-based discrimination on campus, if they had positive relationships with men at Dickinson, and other related questions. The questionnaire caused a huge amount of controversy among college staff—letters show that members of the administration found the survey highly inappropriate. There was also a letter from this same Women’s Group reporting the estimated percentage of women on campus who used birth control, based on another survey they compiled. This letter requested a number of changes at Dickinson, the most important being a request for the college to hire a gynecologist for its students and stating they had already found one available to be hired and interested in the job.

The exhibit made it clear that issues of gender have always been debated at Dickinson and have continued to be for over one hundred years. It makes woman-identified students, like myself, grateful for those who fought for our rights in earlier times and inspires us to help finish the fight —and be relentless while doing it.

Written by Ella Wiley ’18, WGRC student worker