Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Social Life

Controlling the Conduct of College Women in the 1960s

Why did the threat of high-spirited young women seem so scary in 1962?

Knox College Archives/Used by Permission
Source: Knox College Archives/Used by Permission

If you are old enough to have any stereotypes at all about college life in the 1960s, the first things that probably popped into your head when you just read the phrase “college life in the 1960s” were images of long-haired antiwar protestors, wannabe hippies having promiscuous sex, leftist professors leading “teach-ins,” and drug fueled rock concerts. If this is the case, you were probably only thinking about the very late 1960s or even the early 1970s.

The truth of the matter is that for most of the 1960s, American college campuses were fairly tame places, and in a futile attempt to keep the inevitable misadventures of youth at bay, countless hours of faculty time were frittered away crafting rules to regulate the social lives of students.

While male students certainly got in trouble for running afoul of university conduct policies, rules restricting the freedoms of women were absolutely draconian. In light of today’s standards, the innocent and unabashed double standard of collegiate social regulations is jaw dropping. At almost every university, women were bombarded with advice regarding everything from the proper use of forks to when to offer a handshake. At Ohio University, there were even guidelines about how to refrain from “the unladylike habit of complaining.”

And it turns out that the proverbial rule about keeping “three feet on the floor” if a woman had a male guest in her room is more than just an urban legend - it really was a thing.

I teach at a small liberal arts college that prides itself on being progressive. Our current college catalogue states that “the college is proud of its heritage as one of the first colleges open to both African-Americans and women” and its very first president, Hiram Huntington Kellogg, openly opposed discrimination against women way back in 1837.

Against this historical backdrop, I was curious about my own college’s policies regarding the social life of women in the 1960s. To check this out, I obtained a copy of The Women’s Handbook from the 1962-1963 school year. Curiously, there does not seem to have been a corresponding “Men’s Handbook” for me to examine.

The Handbook starts out gently enough as follows:

“The rules concerning all college women, as listed in this handbook, are those deemed necessary for the welfare of Knox women. With Knox, as with most institutions of higher learning, the college is held responsible for the social protection of the student, particularly the woman student. Therefore, the living habits of the Knox woman are subject to certain regulations. While these regulations are for the most part reasonable . . ."

I love the phrase “for the most part reasonable,” as it betrays the recognition that many of these regulations may in fact not have been so reasonable.

There was great concern about women presenting themselves well. Sunday dress was to be worn for Sunday dinner and for visits to faculty homes, and short shorts could only be worn during gym class, on tennis courts, and while sunbathing in “designated areas.” Beds were to be neatly made at all times except when someone was sleeping in them.

My favorite dictum has to be the mysterious campus custom that a woman who was smoking must remain seated. Perhaps there was a fear that irresponsible coed smokers would burn the whole place to the ground if they moved around? No one at Knox College seemed too worried about the body positions of male smokers in 1962.

Keeping Track of the Coeds

Knox College Archives/Used by Permission
Source: Knox College Archives/Used by Permission

The lion’s share of the rules were fixated on keeping track of the whereabouts of female students at all times. Here is a sampling:

  • Women may not leave the residences before 6:00 a.m. without permission from the head resident.
  • Freshmen women must be in by 10:00 on weeknights, Midnight on Friday/Saturday, and 10:30 on Sunday. (Upper class women could stay out until 11:00 on weeknights and Sundays, 1:00 a.m. on Friday/Saturday.)
  • Two 1:00 a.m. permissions were granted per month - in advance
  • At the beginning of each year, the parents of each female student filled out a form articulating specific permission for their daughter to leave campus at all, how she may travel if she did, and whom she may stay with.
  • Any woman leaving the dormitory after 7:30 p.m. had to sign out and sign back in when she returned.

Battling Cupid and Eros

The hideous specter of high-spirited young women developing interests that were not entirely chaste clearly haunted Knox faculty and administrators and seems to have kept them awake at night.

  • Women were not allowed in fraternity houses unless the housemother or an approved chaperone was present, and even then, only during very limited hours of the day.
  • If a girl was to visit the home of a young man, she had to have a written invitation from the man’s mother and written permission from her own parents.
  • Women were allowed to stay in a hotel in Galesburg only in the company of their parents.
  • Female students were not allowed to spend the night off campus in the home of married students in Galesburg.
  • Gentlemen callers could only be seen in the main lounge of the residence hall and only during certain hours of the day. Women were advised to “be discreet in their conduct while sitting in the parlor,” as open displays of affection would be embarrassing to others who may be in the parlor.
  • Under no circumstances would men be allowed to enter or leave dormitories via the side entrances.

The Wages of Sin

Judicial proceedings were brought to bear upon any woman who stepped out of line. Punishments were meted out for minor offenses such as having a messy room, making unnecessary noise, returning late, or failing to properly sign in or out of the residence hall.

Knox College Archives/Used by Permission
Source: Knox College Archives/Used by Permission

Stiffer penalties awaited those who committed more serious crimes. “Serious offenses” included such things as staying out all night, having a man in one’s room, possessing alcoholic beverages in the dormitory, intoxication, gambling, or driving an illegal car.

The first level of penalty was something known as a “Date Jerk.” (This comes uncomfortably close to how I may have been described by women during my own college years.) Date jerks were meted out for minor offenses and for coming home late, with one “date jerk” being levied for every ten minutes that the woman was late. A woman who received a date jerk had to be in her dormitory by 8:00 p.m. on weekend nights and she was not allowed to receive any phone calls or visitors. Essentially, she was “grounded.” Date jerks could be carried over from one semester to the next.

If a woman committed a more serious offense or acquired an “excessive number of date jerks” she might be “campused.” A woman who had been campused was required to be in her dormitory by 8:00 p.m. every night for the duration of the campusing, and she was confined to campus during the daytime. Fortunately for the women, ankle monitors were not yet available in 1962. Her only consolation was that she was allowed to leave campus to attend church or “to go to a nearby drugstore.” To add insult to injury, parents were routinely notified if their daughter had been “campused.”

My wife and I served as dormitory head residents in the early 1980s at this very same college, and it is amazing how completely these rules had evaporated in less than 20 years. Or perhaps, not so amazing at all.

More from Frank T. McAndrew Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today
More from Frank T. McAndrew Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today