A Safe Place for Smart Women: Public and Private Images of Mount Holyoke College During the 1940s



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This research analyzes the ways in which Mount Holyoke College crafted an image of women s education within the context of the changing social frameworks of the 1940s. The growing degree of social conservatism at Mount Holyoke stemmed from the replacement of Mary Woolley as the President of the College in 1937 by Roswell Ham, who was the college s first male president and more traditionally conservative concerning gender roles than previous college presidents had been. However, this growing conservatism is juxtaposed with the massive desegregation of the labor force after the onset of World War II, leading to a push by the college to place more of their graduates in the workforce. Is there any evidence to show that the social expectations of women changed the educational expectations of Mount Holyoke? A survey of Admissions Office records, news clippings and correspondence from the Press Bureau, employer and student survey data and other materials from the Appointment Bureau (the precursor of the current CDC) as well as Freshman Handbooks, records from the Dean of Students Office and student organizations, curricula materials, and annual reports from various departments and offices, shows that different parts of the college were more active in creating a public image of the college that was in line with current social trends that others. My analysis also suggests that the changing public representations of the college had little to do with the continuous high quality of the education the college provided. While the social roles for women in American fluctuated during this time, Mount Holyoke did not see significant, long lasting changes to the overall institution.