School for Women Workers
The cover of the current (November 2005) Bulletin caught my eye: a 1930 scene from the Summer School for Women Workers in Industry. Since I was a BMC student assistant at the School in the summer of 1936, and undoubtedly one of the very few remaining veterans of that time, I was of course delighted to see this recognition of the school’s pioneer role in Bryn Mawr’s history of “engagement with the world.”
Now since you have taken the initial step, I wonder if you could not go farther: publish a feature article on the School, with its history, the courses taught there, sketches of some of the people involved—students, teachers, leaders like Hilda Smith—and its relation to the whole workers’ education movement of the time. As I am sure you are aware, there is an excellent documentary on the School, called Women of Summer, produced in 1985 by Rita R. Heller ’59 and based on her doctoral thesis in history at Rutgers University, which would give you a wealth of material and leads to still more. If there are any other remaining alumnae like me, I am sure they would be glad to cooperate, as of course I would. Because for me this was a turning point that determined the remaining course of my life, you can see the reasons for my concern.
—Elizabeth Lyle Huberman ’37
Newsweek magazine has published an article titled, “With No Boys to Ogle, We had Time to Learn” (October 24, 2005) written by alumna Christine Flowers ’83. While the value of a single-sex education is a timeless debate, we were dismayed to see this article in a national magazine.
The article is part of a Newsweek edition that focuses on women in leadership roles, profiling some of the most influential women in the United States. Flowers’ article addresses the value of single-sex education, drawing on her experience both as a Bryn Mawr graduate and as a teacher at an all-boys school in Philadelphia. She argues that she is “One of those people who believe that males and females should mix at parties, and at sporting events and in holy matrimony, but that it’s far too distracting to have a member of the opposite sex sitting in class beside you.”
Flowers writes: “I [never] hesitate[d] to contribute a comment in class because I felt intimidated by the attractive young man to my left,” which makes the backward assumption that girls attend all-women’s colleges because they are too weak to concentrate on their own or to learn to speak up over boys. Many women and girls flourish in single-sex classroom, but it is the energy and support of an all-women’s institution that inspired us to attend Bryn Mawr. We were not there out of fear or to avoid men. If Flowers visited the Bryn Mawr campus today, she would see that there are men from Haverford and Swarthmore in many classrooms, yet Bryn Mawr women continue to excel intellectually and benefit from this cooperation. And sadly, Flowers disregards the student who may hesitate to contribute a comment because she is attracted to the young woman in the next seat.
Equally problematic is the assumption that co-ed education will result in nothing more than flirtation and distractions. While many of us are devoted to our own experience at a single-sex institution and would encourage others on the same path, many of the world’s greatest women attended co-educational institutions as undergraduates. The pioneering women who first attended Harvard and Yale are to be revered for their courage and the opportunities they helped provide for other female college students.
As Bryn Mawr College graduates, we are proud to have attended an all-women’s college and we gained tremendous strength, motivation and self-awareness while we were there. Men are—and should be—part of a woman’s college experience, yet the focus of a Bryn Mawr education may remain the same: to produce independent, open-minded and successful young women in a nurturing and challenging environment that encourages an active social life. We hope this will be the College’s message, and one that can be spread as widely as the alternative.
—Catherine Foster ’94 and Hilary Becker ’99
Response from Christine Flowers ‘83
In the spirit of fairness, I hope that you will allow me to address the recent letter to the editor by Catherine Foster and Hilary Becker in the February 2006 edition of Bryn Mawr, misrepresenting my Newsweek essay "With No Boys to Ogle, We Had Time To Learn." I am not surprised at the reaction of Ms. Foster and Ms. Becker since I received a large number of similar responses from our sister alumna, one of which was printed in the letters section of Newsweek following publication of my essay. It is disheartening to see that Bryn Mawrters can be so entrenched in their views of gender equality that they can't acknowledge the importance of giving women (and men) a comfortable atmosphere in which to operate, free from the distractions caused by exposure to the opposite sex. There is nothing "backward" in maintaining that an environment which allows women to concentrate on their studies and not their social skills is beneficial, and while I'm happy that Ms. Foster and Ms. Becker were not at Bryn Mawr "out of fear or to avoid men," they should know that many women chose the school precisely because they were freed from the obligations of having to deal with the opposite sex.
Furthermore, unless the letter writers have had experience teaching in single-sex and coed environments (as I have) they would be advised not to make dismissive comments such as "equally problematic is the assumption that co-ed education will result in nothing more than flirtation and distractions." Having taught in all-boys, all-girls and coed schools, I feel justified in stating that the single-sex options produce students who are more serious, more dedicated to the subject matter and less likely to end up in exclusive and exclusionary cliques. That my evidence may be personal and not empirical makes it no less compelling.
I also take issue with the letter writers' final comment that "the focus of a Bryn Mawr education [is] to produce independent, open-minded and successful young women in a nurturing and challenging environment that encourages an active social life." As a former teacher, current attorney, active pro-life advocate and occasional journalist, I agree with the first part of their statement. However, I can assure Ms. Foster and Ms. Becker that my parents did not make significant financial and personal sacrifices so that I could have an 'active social life.' On the contrary, they sent me to Bryn Mawr to develop the skills that would help me lead an honorable and successful life. That task would have been significantly more difficult on a coed campus and, much as it might disturb the letter writers, many women (and men) share this viewpoint.
—Christine Flowers ’83
It was a delight to see the photos of my friends at the Pro-Choice March on Washington in the November 2005 Alumnae Bulletin (on page 23). Please note, however, that the march occurred on or about April 22, 1989, not in the 1970s. Standing in the center under the sign are Catherine Gutman ’90 and Emily Rees ’90 (right). Holding the sign are Melissa Neidlinger ’89 (left) and Judith (JAC) Cernese ’89 (right).
—Ginger Ziglar Thomas ’89
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