More Than Lore

Chapter 9: The Dean of Women

Marion Talbot

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THE English language is not unlike other tongues in containing many words which have several different meanings. One may speak, for example, of a "captain," meaning of a regiment, a football team, a steamer, a squad of bell boys, or even of industry. The duties and responsibilities—and uniforms—are different in each case. The same is true of the term "dean." For example, my father was dean of a school of medicine; my brother, dean of a cathedral; and I, dean of women in a university. I think, however, that my niece, aged six years, stretched the term to its limit. On her way to Chicago to visit the Columbian Exposition her mother heard her tell some ladies in the sleeping car that she was going to visit her auntie who was dean of the World's Fair. "No, Margaret," her mother called across

( 156) the aisle, "that isn't what Aunt Marion is." "Oh, no," the child said, "auntie isn't dean of the World's Fair—she is dean of the Universe."

The functions of the dean of women vary all the way from those of a full teaching member of the Faculty holding the highest rank, both administratively and academically (the position which I was so fortunate as to hold) to those of an upper housekeeper or merely a chaperon. Before the University of Chicago adopted the term "dean of women," the office had different designations, where it existed at all. "Lady principal," "principal of the women's department," "adviser of women," "preceptress," and "lady assistant" were among the terms used.

The selection and organization of the Faculty of the University of Chicago forms an interesting chapter in its history. An important phase was the selection of women to assist in the administration. The action which was taken soon resulted in the establishment for the first time of the office of dean of women. On February 23, 1892, Julia E. Bulkley was elected by the Trustees, associate professor and Academic (later Junior) College dean. In 1895 she took up her residence at the

( 157) University. In the interim her name had appeared in the published lists of the Faculty as associate professor of pedagogy and dean (of women) in the Academic Colleges. She remained in the same position until 1899, when she became dean in the College for Teachers. The following year she resigned.

In his search for an experienced administrator who would give especial aid in organizing the life of the women students, President Harper realized that the outstanding woman in the country was Mrs. Alice Freeman Palmer, formerly president of Wellesley College. President Harper's efforts to secure her aid and to persuade her husband, Professor G. H. Palmer, of Harvard College, to become head professor of philosophy, were not successful; but Mrs. Palmer agreed to give her assistance for a part of each year. On July 25, 1892, she received her appointment and thereafter for three years her name was published as professor of history and dean (of women) in the Graduate School and College, with a footnote as follows: "Mrs. Palmer will reside at the University, in all, twelve weeks during the year; she will, however, while absent, retain an active

( 158) share in the administration." Mrs. Palmer held this position for three years.

In the meantime, President Harper felt the need of having a woman permanently charged with the duty of directing the academic, domestic, and social life of the women students; and on August 3!, 1892, the suggestion of Mrs. Palmer that I, who had been her colleague in the early years of the Association of Collegiate Alumnae, be appointed to serve was adopted by the Trustees, and I was made assistant professor of sanitary science and dean (of women) in the University (i.e., Senior) Colleges. Except during the comparatively short periods when Mrs. Palmer was in residence, I took the entire responsibility, including the registration of all women students. In 1895, I was promoted to an associate professorship and became dean (of women) in the Graduate Schools. In 18991 was appointed Dean of Women. The announcements for 1897 and 1 898 stated, "There are also two deans of women, one for the Graduate Schools and one for the Colleges." This was followed in 1 899 with the statement, "There is also a Dean of Women." This was the first time the term was used in any insti-

( 159) -tution. I was promoted to a professorship in 1905 and held this position and the deanship until my retirement in 1925.

Mrs. Palmer and I agreed that we would not favor having the women separated from the men in the awarding of degrees and consequently would not urge that the dean of women should present the women for the degrees. As the position of dean of women was one of responsibility, we laid stress on the importance of a dignified recognition of the fact by having her sit with the highest administrative officers on public occasions.

Before I left home for Chicago, my mother said to me, "Marion, do not forget that, as dean, you will be an administrative officer; it will be your duty to carry out regulations made by authorized bodies, not to make regulations yourself." Many, many times have I had occasion to thank her for this counsel; and many, many times have I been grateful that, because of it, I have escaped difficulties which have befallen other deans of women. When I have heard them say, "I made such and such a rule," "My rule is so and so," in describing their procedure, I have gasped with dis-

( 160) -may but have not wondered that they have met difficulties.

Another bad situation arises when the president of a college announces a rule ex cathedra for the dean of women to enforce without having had any previous conference with her. It was my good fortune to have been on such terms with the presidents of the University that, so far as I knew, they never proposed any action affecting the women students or the social activities of the University without conferring with me in advance. President Harper went even further. Once when a question of jurisdiction came up, he said, "That is for Dean Talbot to decide—all matters concerning women belong to her"; and such views he expressed to me in writing. This made my task no small one; but, at the same time, it made me very careful to heed my mother's warning. Over and over again students would come asking for exceptions to University rules. I would say, "I have no authority to make an exception; you should petition the proper board or committee either through its secretary or through me"; and occasionally I would have to say, "Frankly, I shall not favor granting your re-

( 161) -quest, but the board may not agree with me." It is a source of constant gratification to me that my counsel was always listened to with courtesy by my associates. If we did not agree, sometimes one side would yield and sometimes another; but it seemed to be the general view that in my field my views should prevail. This again made me careful to discuss questions of administration very frankly and fully with my colleagues in advance of action.

There were, however, occasions when I had to use my general blanket authority as understood by President Harper. One day I noticed from my office that his daughter, very grotesquely garbed and carrying a market basket, was walking outside and attracting attention and ridicule. I sent for her and learned that she was being initiated into a club. I said she must go home and attire herself properly for public gaze. Then I talked with the president of the club, pointed out that more strangers, especially from foreign countries, passed in and out of the University doors than those of any building in Chicago, except possibly the Auditorium Hotel (then the leading hotel of the city), that they were all critical of the Uni-

(162) -versity and especially of the women, and we could not afford to tolerate conduct which might amuse a small and intimate group but which reflected no credit on this group in the eyes of the public. Her justification was that men did such things and she understood that women had the same rights as men in the University. My reply in turn was that women had the same rights as men to do anything creditable, but no rights at all to do anything discreditable, even if the majority of the men set the example. Word was evidently passed about, for thereafter such features of initiations, if they were approved at all, took place in private. Such experiences made me very reluctant, in fact wholly unwilling, to have a new rule passed whenever an objectionable situation occurred. A much better way seemed to be to advise with the student concerned. This was, of course, a long-drawn-out process; but I doubt if it consumed more time or effort than would have been necessary to enforce a body of minute rules and, moreover, it resulted in the development of a kind of morale which was very effective. "It isn't done" proved more of a deterrent than "It's against the rules." It was in this way that the

( 163) term "co-ed" never came to be used by our community; and that "women of the University" was substituted for "girls of the University," commonly used in other institutions. I made a strong point of this because I was much impressed when Professor Salmon of Vassar College pointed out how disadvantageous it was to women to use the terms "college men" and "college girls."

There was one serious objection to the system which I have often heard phrased by students in this way: "I like it here, but I miss the fun of breaking the rules," or "Girls don't win prestige here by breaking a rule and getting away with it." A rather significant incident showed how the force of public opinion worked. An Irish Catholic student, who had been brought up in a convent under very strict discipline, entered the University a little late. She was vivacious and attractive and soon tried to establish especially friendly relations with a group of fellow-students whom she evidently admired. One day she said to them, "What do you do when you want to meet a man you have been forbidden by your parents to see?" The expression on their faces

( 164) must have shown that that way of climbing the social ladder was a failure. The story reached me. I was quite baffled. I had no experience with that type of problem. I chose the easiest way and did nothing but keep informed as to those of her doings which were easily observed. A young man called the next Sunday afternoon, and she went out with him. She returned about eight o'clock. The young man never called again. He may have done something which showed that he was really not a fit companion. She may have met already more attractive men. Most probably, the charm of successfully evading a rule was broken. It was fortunate that the whole episode covered only two days, for detective work and espionage were not my forte or to my liking.

Occasionally the question of organized student government came up. I never favored it. There were several reasons. First, I had observed that in some instances, if not in all, the students did not really govern except in very trivial matters which did not interest them. Second, if theoretically they had great power, practically the Faculty pulled the strings. This situation led once to a serious revolt in another institution—in fact, al-

( 165) most disrupted the college. Third, the time consumed in making and enforcing rules made serious inroads on the students' working time and strength. Fourth, it is a serious question whether it is a proper or desirable function for students officially to discipline and punish each other. Fifth, and to my mind the chief reason, government, in the sense of a penal code, has no place in a group of intelligent people working with common intellectual aims on a rational social basis, any more than it has in a family of ordinary intelligence and with common interests.

As I have said, the duties and opportunities of the office of dean of women vary greatly in different institutions. When it was established at Chicago, there were no precedents to serve as guides. A carte blanche order had to be filled. Fortunately, my own resources were generously and sympathetically supplemented by suggestions and aid given by other officers of the University, of whom I would name with special appreciation Deans MacClintock, Capps,Vincent, Angell, Lovett, and Robertson, Mr. W. A. Payne and Mr. F. J. Gurney. Nevertheless, each situation as it arose had to be met in general on an individual basis.

( 166) It may be imagined that if all the situations and problems had appeared simultaneously they would have been overwhelming. Fortunately, it was not long before I realized that it would be futile to pass much general legislation to regulate procedure, since there seems no limit to human ingenuity in evolving social problems. A solution is no sooner found than its further need seldom appears, but one for a different question becomes pressing. Nevertheless, when it came time for my retirement and I was asked to prepare a statement concerning my activities, I was able to present a brief outline as follows:


General policies concerning women by

1. Correspondence, i.e., giving information concerning conditions of living, methods of administration, forms of organization, candidates for special scholarships, social life, etc. answering questionnaires, following up newspaper stories

2. Consultation, i.e., advice as to relations with women's undertakings such as Naples Table, deans of women, Association of University Women, etc.

3. Attendance at meetings of Faculties and Boards and recommendations for action

Graduate women:

Promotion of Women's Graduate Club

Hospitality to women fellows

Consultations as to plans, etc., of graduate women

Organized social life:

Recommendations to Board of Student Organizations Registration and approval of social functions Direction of social calendar

Conferences with social committees and officers of organizations

Assistance to fraternities in maintaining good social standards

Lists of members of women's secret clubs

Approval of proposed new members

Conferences as to methods of administration of clubs Assistance in forming organized groups

Consultations with officers of organizations (e.g., Y.W.C.A.)

Publicity and hospitality:

Arrangements for women guests and speakers. Entertainment of women visitors

Representation of women of the University at meetings, banquets, on advisory boards, etc.

Women's Halls:

Assistance in choosing Heads of Houses

General co-operation with Heads of Houses

Help in meeting perplexing situations in Halls Chairman of Inter-House Council

General social and personal matters:

Standards of dress, dancing, conduct, and manners

Consideration of unfavorable criticisms

(168) Requests from non-University people and organizations for co-operation

Conduct of men in Women's Quadrangle

Women's activities in sales contest and other money-raising undertakings

Advice about money matters

Conferences as to occupation, marriage, etc.

Complaints of landlords, employers, etc., lack of conveniences in buildings, insults, offensive conduct, thieving

Aid in accident, illness, death, mania, etc..

The foregoing outline indicates the large part that social direction played in the duties of the office. It was always subordinated to the intellectual interests of the University and the well-being of its members as students. The following principles were formulated quite early in the history of the office of dean of women and were used to the fullest possible extent in taking official action and giving personal counsel:

The social life is to be so ordered as to (1) contribute to, and not impair, the intellectual efficiency of the students; (2) be a source of physical recreation and not of bodily exhaustion; (3) add to social resources of students and to their ease and enjoyment in meeting different social situa-

(169) -tions; (4) develop a sense of social responsibility and dependableness; (5) aid in establishing reasonable standards of money expenditure; and (6) include as many students as possible who need it.

While intellectual achievement was my ambition for the men and women of the University if they were to prove worthy of the devotion, ability, and sacrifices which were poured into the making of the University, it was also perfectly clear to me that fine social standards and activities were contributory factors in this achievement. Without them the utilization of intellectual equipment provided at such cost would be greatly lessened, if not wholly prevented. Such is the teaching of sound psychology, and to its end I was content to give my constant and best attention.


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