Same Sex Education?-Bring It!


Part of our Alma Mater-seriously…

There was an article in an issue of August’s  USA Today about how enrollment in women’s colleges is down now more than ever-but it’s not where I went to school, where they have the largest freshman class in their 200 plus year old history!

30 years ago I graduated  from a women’s college in North Carolina.  In a class of around 200 mostly southern bred, driven, good lookin’, partying, smart and hilarious females. It was an anti-climactic end to four years of drama, hangovers, cigarettes, near miss DUI’s, frat parties, sneaking men in to the dorms, eating copious amounts of fried chicken, no air conditioning, education and life lessons.    This  past spring we gathered for our 30th reunion to catch up.  And drink, and catch up, and laugh, and drink, and re-hash those moments that we know we will never get back but changed us for a lifetime.

Today, most high school girls will never know the intimacy a small college, especially a woman’s college, can bring to a college education and to competing in the working world.  No glass ceilings exist in these environments.  The pressure of men in the classroom is non-existent.  Raise your hand, ask a question, be SMART and don’t be judged.  Speak up and become a leader.

I loved the small discussions we had with our professors over coffee (and  cigarettes-we were, of course, in Winston-Salem, home of RJ Reynolds…) We were able to develop a unique outlook on life and an appreciation for the education that we were being given.  We were able to appreciate the history of the environment we were learning in. This school, Salem College, is the oldest running woman’s college in the country.

Believing that women deserved an education comparable to that given men — a radical view for that era — the Moravians began a school for girls in 1772. In 1802, it became a boarding school for girls and young women; in 1866, it was renamed Salem Female Academy. Salem began granting college degrees in the 1890s. Today, the American Council on Education in Washington, D.C. ranks Salem College as the oldest women’s college in the nation by founding date and the 13th oldest college overall.

Most of today’s teenage girls  turn up their noses at the thought of attending a same-sex college. Mainly because they are being educated in huge factory-like public schools where the only way you can break out of the crowd early and achieve popularity is to have a boyfriend, exist in a clique, color your hair, wear designer clothing….or draw unwanted negative attention to yourself–piercings, tattoos, partying…Which is truly unfortunate. At same-sex colleges you are valued by who you influence, what you know, what you contribute.

I was part of one of the largest incoming classes in 1978 to this college in quite some time.  My peers were an assortment of debutantes, southern girls, actresses, musicians, artists and pre-med, pre-law, and pre-grad school students.  It was joked, of course, that the only reason that we were there was to get our MRS degree. Pretty hard to accomplish when you have curfew and no men in the dorms after 11pm in that environment back in 1978.  We tried, and did, break the mold of the kind of women who attended these places, starting with all of us scantily clad in our first month of school as freshmen (King Tut, anyone?) in the college’s annual Fall Fest weekend.  We have never lived that down and we are proud of that.

Our lives since our 1982 graduation reads like a southern Gothic novel.  Marriages, divorces, children, losses, rehab, self discovery, self REcovery, travel, job, business successes and failures.  Run of the mill stuff.  But in the back of our mind, we never doubted our ability to handle many of these good or bad events because of the resilience that was ingrained in us at a college with over 200 years of experience forming self-sufficient women.  We demanded respect from our peers (and men), not attention.

Main Hall, Salem College, NC

Our favorite motto at that time, in the beginning of the crazy big haired 1980’s was, ‘you can take a Salem women out of the class, but you can’t take the Class out of a Salem woman.’  We live by that today, and always will.  Thank you Salem College, for the close female friendships I still have with my alums, a fantastic education, instilling in me a love for all things history, and for giving me the confidence to be who I am today.

Don’t ever change…


51 comments on “Same Sex Education?-Bring It!

  1. I am really enjoying your blog! Terah

  2. Carmen S. says:

    From one Salem Sister to another…terrific post! Thanks for standing up for women’s colleges, and Salem!

    Carmen Sauls
    Salem College C’10

  3. […] St Augustine, NYC, Asheville (my visit with my CHS YaYa’s…), and my 30 year college reunion. We spent last Christmas with my sister Jenny in Germany and were supposed to spend this […]

  4. flemily says:

    This was great to read…my son just entered an all-boys high school as a freshman this year…we are hoping it turns out to be as positive an experience as you had in a single sex college. (btw, my cousin went to Smith College and loved it)

  5. Ann Michael says:

    Ann Dozier Michael ’66

  6. Dale Guffey says:

    My mother and sister are both Salem grads, while I went a little further up the road to Hollins. Oh, how I resisted the idea of a women’s college – right up to the moment I stepped onto the quad and had my interview. I wouldn’t trade those four years for a gold monkey.

  7. Elise says:

    How right you are! I graduated from Sweet Briar College more than 15 years ago and fondly remember my college days. I learned a lot, became more confident, and made lifetime friends. The college president even knew most of our names! A far cry from attending class in an auditorium and graduating in a stadium by standing up and moving your tassel (referring to my younger cousin’s graduation from Arizona State U).

    • Forever 51 says:

      We are looking at SBC for our daughter–she loves to ride–and I love the environment-less distractions at these schools!

      • Amy Davis says:

        I graduated from SBC in 1994, & am now a lecturer in England, so I’ve seen both mixed & single-sex higher education. One isn’t “better” than the other, it’s what’s right for the young woman. But I am SO glad I went to SBC, & know it made me stronger & more independent, & I really value the superior education I received there (in more than 1 class, I was the only student, or 1 of only a handful; I didn’t get that again till I did my PhD!). I’d go there again, if I had to do it all over, & would go teach there in a heartbeat! Good luck to your daughter, & go vixens! Hola hola! 🙂

  8. Monique says:

    Strong are thy walls! Great post!
    Monique Farrell C’01

  9. Elizabeth Gianini says:

    Thank goodness someone has been able to put into writing what Salem means to us !
    hopefully the administration reads this too!
    Elizabeth Gianini C92

  10. Monica Varandani says:

    Great article! Salem College is so very close and dear to my heart.
    Monica Varandani C’01

  11. Neal Dunlap Hughs says:

    Amen sistah! Salem ’77

  12. Ashley Tully says:

    Long may our song ring clear!!! Salem Freshman 04-05. It will always be my alma matar

  13. Maggie says:

    Love the post! It is easy to forget what a wonderful experience it was to attend Salem College! I could not imagine having a more amazing 4 years at any other college!
    Maggie Brooks C’07

  14. Kelsey says:

    Kelsey Finnie-Class of 2008! Salem will forever be my home away from home. Salem made me who I am.

  15. Julie DeNeen says:

    What a great tribute to your college, your education, and WOMEN! I do think same-sex education could really benefit a lot of us who spend more time fighting for equality (or not being looked at as objects). Excellent job Mary Anne. As glad I’ve met you!

    • Forever 51 says:

      Thanks so much Julie-we have a ‘sensitive’ issue going on there right now regarding a woman who is going through gender re-assignment surgery and wants to come back and live as a man on campus and finish…while we appreciate the courage it takes for her to do this, this school has FOUGHT tooth and nail over the years to remain single sex, to the stent of cutting salaries, etc. And made promises to alumnae. It’s pretty complicated!

  16. Forever 51 says:

    Once you enter that campus….

  17. Nichelle says:

    Love your post!! I will never forget those four years because they made me the woman I am today. The knowledge I gained from my fellow Salemites, professors and experience I fear would have never been afforded to me if I had went anywhere else. I could not imagine going anywhere else from the day i stepped off that plane from Texas I was in love.
    Nichelle Pinkney C’05

  18. Lani says:

    Working in higher education, i have had the opportunity to work in many large, public institutions. I have come across many professionals in my career that are in awe of the types of relationships I still hold today from Salem. From relationships with faculty, staff and students – I have quite the successful and supportive network…even almost 10 years after graduation! Salem was a truly unique experience that changed my life for the better.

    Lani C’05

  19. So proud to say I am connected to you!
    Current Salem woman 😀 – C’2015

  20. Rachael Barbett says:

    Thank you for sharing the beauty of Salem! C’12

  21. Ruthie Edwards-Hines Cole A'95 says:

    Love it!

  22. Amy says:

    Terrific post! I went to a co-ed college, but an all girls catholic high school which I loved! It was a similar experience in many ways – it wasn’t cool / uncool to be smart, to work hard, to excel. I wish I had a similar school to send my girls to now. These schools are hard to come by these days…glad to hear there are still some options on the college level.

  23. Only at Salem do you meet more squirells than men…

    Thank you for writing this. I’m currently going through applying for jobs and employer affer smployer asks me to explain this. If you haven’t been there, you will never truly understand.

    Stephanie-Rose Young C’ 2012

    • Forever 51 says:

      Ok I love that comment! It’s funny that later in my life I joined a small real estate company here in Atlanta and the other young gals who became my best friends there went to women’s colleges too. One at Agnes Scott and the other at Hollins. Twenty years later we are still best friends!

  24. Lauren says:

    This was brilliant.
    Salem College class of 2016

  25. Layne says:

    Awesome post! I think every young woman should check Salem out, it’s an amazing place. Randomly enough, I met a man today whose wife graduated C’78. I love it when my path crosses with a Salem woman! No matter if we’re both evens or not, we always have a special connection: sisterhood.

    Layne C’14

  26. Erin VanBuskirk says:

    As I prepare to walk across that stage in the May Dell come May, I know that Salem will always be a home to me. Thanks for the wonderful article!

  27. Jessica Petree says:

    Wonderful! I wish more teens would consider the opportunities of great institutions like Salem. I wouldn’t trade those years for anything.

    Jessica C’2009

  28. Yes! Just graduated from Salem and I miss it so much. My littlest (biological) sister is in high school right now and I told her she can apply anywhere she wants, as long as it’s a women’s college. She’s in love with Sweet Briar right now. Women’s colleges are the best education and experience and I am so grateful that I was smart enough at 18 to know I wanted to go to one–especially one as badass as Salem.

    Also, I love the picture of the shirt you have. Wren Wilson, who graduated with me in 2012, made and designed them. 🙂

  29. zimmkia8 says:

    My favorite thing about this is reading the comments and knowing the people who left them. Far may our song ring clear!

  30. melissa says:

    Sweet. Thank you. My husband attended elementary-10th grade in a single-sex environment. I wish that option were available for my son (not likely). Salem made me who I am today. Melissa, c’ 1997

  31. Edmondson says:

    Great article. Love my Salem College and my Salem sisters! It helped to make me who I am today! Can’t wait for April and my 15th college reunion.

    Dee Dee Edmondson. S’98

  32. Wren Wilson says:

    Lovely post! I designed those shirts and they were hand printed by the Salem College Art Society. I’m sure the club will be selling them for years to come. Now they are even offering them on backpacks! I treasure my time at Salem.

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