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.
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…