Women’s Lib

There is change here. It wasn’t drastic, it wasn’t a complete reversal, and it didn’t happen overnight, or even in a year. And some may have been too close to it to even notice. But take it from a senior—it’s there.

-Diane Peterman, a senior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1972

In sixties and seventies, America experienced an emergence of feminist consciousness— and UNL was no exception to this trend .The university’s sexist ‘women’s hours’ and heteronormative coed visitation ban were both abolished in the early seventies, due to students’ organized protests and outspoken criticism. The shifting attitude of UNL’s Home Economics department is also indicative of UNL’s growing feminist consciousness. The university’s Home Economics department housed UNL’s first Women’s Studies course, Women in Contemporary Society, in 1971, and actively supported the fight for gender equality.

‘Women’s Hours’ and Coed Visitation Rules

For over a decade, UNL students argued against the university’s strict dorm policies and pushed for reform. Two policies were particularly unpopular with students: women’s hours and coed visitation rules. All female students living on campus had a university imposed curfews—called “women’s hours”—and were penalized if they did not follow it. Women also had to sign out in order to leave their dorm building. In 1964, for example, women had to return to their dorms by 11 P.M. on weekdays, 1 A.M on Friday and Saturday, and 12 P.M. on Sunday. The university also prohibited members of the opposite sex from being in the same dorm room.

From a Cornhusker article in 1968, "With new found freedom in hand, a junior utilizes her key."

From a Cornhusker article in 1968, “With new found freedom in hand, a junior utilizes her key.”

The Association of Women Students (AWS) enforced ‘women’s hours’ but, in response to overwhelming student opposition, requested the Board of Regents liberalize the policy in 1969. The same year, Sandoz Hall implemented an experimental ‘no hours’ policy. As the Cornhusker describes, it “was the real beginning for students crying out for the liberalization of in loco parentis rules.” Students criticized ‘women’s hours’, describing them as “paternalistic, patronizing” and “grudgingly cognizant of the emerging power of Nebraska students.”

The Regents, unsurprisingly, did not agree. “Students should have a very real voice in their non-academic life,” said Regent B. N. Greenberg in 1970, “but they also should understand and respect the Regents’ responsibility to the electorate with reference to overall policy and direction of the University.”

The Council on Student Life (CSL)—a relatively new organization created by the Board of Regents to make university policy on student life— was instrumental in ending curfew hours. The CSL put considerable pressure onto the Board of Regents to end the policy, and also argued the university should begin allowing coed visitation in dorm rooms. Despite the Regents’ hesitation to reform ‘women’s hours’, it was officially abolished in 1970. The Regents did, however, unanimously veto the CSL’s proposal to allow coed visitation in undergraduate and graduate dorms. They argued that students could visit members of the opposite sex in their dorm’s hallways.

“The Regents’ rationalizations are as loud, as long and as empty as before, but things have changed,” wrote the Cornhusker. “No longer an impenetrable colossus of conservatism and Puritan morality, the Board seemed to be a cautious, stumbling giant in 1969-1970 … The Board stopped ordering students around last year and started bargaining with them, an unprecedented recognition of equality”.

When I went out after seven p.m. during my freshman year, I had to sign out or I could be campused. AWS ruled my life. The hours were nine p.m. on weeknights and the same as now for weekends and Sunday nights. Only seniors had keys that year. You can see in last year’s election that AWS’s prestige has gone down—all the gunners used to run for AWS. AWS might have a future in something connected to women’s liberation. We judged [Dean of Women Helen] Snyder harshly then. I thought she was stifling, but a true representation of parents’ opinions and a lot of people in Nebraska.

-UNL senior Ressa Almy, 1970

Dean of Women Helen Snyder, captured in 1962 by the Cornhusker.

Dean of Women Helen Snyder, captured in 1962 by the Cornhusker.

The conflict between student interests, and the perceived interests of their parents and university administrators, reached a peak two years later. Results from a survey presented at a Board of Regents meeting in 1972 highlight this tension: while 84% of students polled supported liberalizing the ban on coed visitation, 63% of their parents were against it. The students, determined to reform the policy, held a mass violation of the rule in in February of 1972—even though Chancellor James Zumberge threatened to close the dorms if mass violations occurred. In protest, ASUN passed a resolution that voiced their official support for non-violent efforts to reform visitation policies. After meeting with student leaders, Chancellor Zumberge officially agreed to loosen the university’s coed visitation policy. The reform, while allowing dorms to have designated visitation hours for opposite sex visitors, insisted that students’ doors remained open while their opposite sex visitors were there.

While the university’s policies clearly discouraged students from having sex, they were unsuccessful.

Home Economics 

Nancy Anderson, Chairman of the Home Economics Advisory Board, voiced her opinions on women’s liberation in an article she wrote for the 1972 edition of the Cornhusker. “As college women, we have a duty to our society,” she wrote. “Women are becoming an important force in the direction of social change.” Anderson went on to comment on the import of the Home Economic department’s new course, and the future trajectory of the department:

We, as Home Economics students, can no longer afford to accept the stereotype that traditional society has given us. We are in a position to affect leaders in the fight for feminine equality.

Women in Contemporary Society, an addition to the Home Ec curriculum, consists of speakers who present and attempt to explain women in today’s world. Resulting from communication between the Home Economics Student Advisory Board and the faculty curriculum committee, the creation of the course shows how the student voice can be influential.

Other women at UNL, like Cornhusker staff members Susan Jenkins Eisenhart and Diane Peterman, also noticed the shift on campus. Eisenhart described women’s liberation as a “groovy new topic” and pointed out the new responsibilities women were faced with. “Especially now,” she wrote, “university women will be asked to break through barriers that have existed for so long.” Though not as radical in her tone, Peterman echoed Eisenhart’s observations:

Change in dress is perhaps one of the most notable manifestations of new ideas. Four years ago, skirts were proper for the Union and the library, and slacks were considered permissible only for the lab. Now, jeans are worn literally everywhere, as are t-shirts, sweatshirts and army coats. It’s a move to a more free, less confined lifestyle that puts primary emphasis on the students’ own wishes and values rather than society facades.

Clearly, Women’s Liberation found its way to UNL’s campus by the early seventies. The progress of national feminist activists also impacted the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s administrative practices with the passage of Title IX in 1972. Title IX mandates that universities who receive any form of federal aid can not exclude women from participating in or receiving benefits from “any educational program or activity.”