This article was published in the April 19, 1996 edition of The Phoenix.
It was written by Elizabeth Weber.

How co-ed housing came to Swarthmore


You might say that it began in 1969. In April, the Board increased the ability of each womens' dorm to choose its own visiting hours and revoked the sex rule. In October, a shortage of mens' housing combined with empty rooms in womens' dorm led a group of students to propose Co-ed dorms. Within two years, Co-ed dorms were a fact of life at Swarthmore.

Before the '69-'70 school year, Wharton, Danawell, Mary Lyon, and Ashton house were mens' dorms, while Worth, Willets, Robinson, Woolman house, and at times PPR were womens' dorms. Students were granted permission to live off-campus by the dean's office. Freshman, sophomore, and junior women were required to return to their dorms by 2 am on weeknights and by 3 am on weekends, while parents choose the type of overnight permission granted to their daughters. Women students were required to sign out before they left the dorms at night, if they would be back after 12:30 and to be in by curfew.

In the February 3, 1970 Phoenix, the womens' Dormitory Council Coordinating Committee explained, "..Originally it was felt that, since women would have a difficult time coping with the rigors of a academic life, the institution...should provide a fairly rigid structure within which the woman might better cope with "a man's world." However, the presumption that women are less capable than men of coping with four years of college no longer remains." They voted to allow each dorm to set its own policy concerning visiting hours, even if such policies permitted visitors in womens' dorms 24 hours a day.

The previous fall, Students had proposed a hall exchange between a mens' dorm and a womens' dorm. The Phoenix reported on October 7, "Lodging several men in one of the less crowded womens' dorms... might simultaneously solve the problem of male over-population and female protection. A student committee looked for halls interested in switching "The committee... feels that coed dorms will improve the social atmosphere", the Phoenix reported on October 21. "As the questionnaire says, 'traditional dorms often foster social games, artifice, and mystification.' Hopefully, mixed halls would be most effective in bringing about a ‘freer, more casual life style,' but a hall switch would at least see integrated kitchen, lounge, and laundry facilities."

"Of the 258 students who responded, 96 per cent approved of allowing the individual the option of living in a coed dorm, while 76 per cent said they actually wanted to live under such an arrangement," the Phoenix reported on October 24. But Robert Barr, Dean of men students, vetoed the hall switching plan. "The dean's current opposition to the change stems in part from his belief that the alleged educational advantages of coed housing have not been sufficiently explored. In addition, he noted, the college is already trying many changes, such as the liquor rule, and "we have bitten off more than we chew'" he told the Phoenix.

President Cross vetoed a proposal to introduce co-ed housing during the spring semester in sections of Worth and ML 4 on January 29, citing its failure to meet "criteria for insuring appropriate privacy and enthusiasm of those affected." Students were displeased. "It is no revelation that is usually easier for those responsible for institutions to resist reforms than to implement them," Art Block fumed in a Phoenix opinion. The Phoenix editorial of February 3 concurred. "We urge President Cross...to reconsider his decision so that changes can be made this semester," the editors wrote. However, coed housing was not approved until April. Under a plan submitted to the Board of Managers, several dorms would become co-ed on a trial basis the following fall. Wharton E F would be coed by room, ML 4 would become coed by unit, Willets 1st would be coed by hall, and Worth M and N would be coed by floor. Students would have to apply through the Deans' Office to live in these dorms, and Sophomores and Juniors would be required to obtain parental permission. The affected dorms would be locked, and all residents would be given keys. (Phoenix 4/21/70) Room draw for the 236 Coed housing spaces took place on May 6, before either men's or womens' room draws.

A survey the following April indicated general student satisfaction with the coed housing trial. "Improvements in College morale and in male-female friendships were noted as advantages of the coed dorm. The greatest number of people chose the arrangement in E and F sections of Wharton as most preferable...Of those nor now in co-ed dorms, 72 percent of the men and 63 percent of the women would like to live in one next year, provided they are able to get a room they like. No present residents of co-ed housing would live by choice in non-co-ed housing next year," The Phoenix reported on April 6. "The only significantly unfavorable effects of co-ed living were reported by women. They were an increased noise level..., loss of privacy..., and distractions in the dorm..."

Room choosing was consolidated into one process for all students, and the famed "random computer numbers" were introduced for the 1971-72 academic year. Room choosing became a two-night process--the first night for singles, two-room, doubles, and three-room-triples, and the second night for all other room combinations. Coed housing was expanded to all of Willets and Roberts, and encompassed 30% of all student dorm spaces, and Freshmen were permitted to live in coed dorms with parental permission. (Phoenix, 4/16/71) "Nobody: alumni, Board members, students, nobody, according to Dean Townshend, is against coed dorms," Stan Luxenburg wrote in April 7 Phoenix. "Open hours, the Pill, and the general liberalism in society that accompanied it had made coed dorms at Swarthmore an inevitable in relatively minor step towards a more sane college existence, Any objections to coed dorms last spring have been silence 12 months and an abortion thaw later. And now to suggest that there might be something: anything, bad about coed dorms is an open admission of unhipness, or senility, or worse...[Choosing to live in a coed dorm] from now on will be a strictly routine choice."


Return to top of page
Return to the index of articles
Return to the Friends' Library College Archives Project page