When I was a teenager in the 1970s, I remember reading and hearing about “coeds.” But the term never made sense to me because they always showed pictures of female students. How did female students come to be called coeds? Eventually I learned that coed stood for coeducational. Well, calling female students coeds made even less sense to me after that. Why would you call someone coeducational?
My older sister subscribed to Glamour Magazine. As soon as she was done with it (and often even before she had a chance to read it), I would devour it. It was a different world than our suburban Southern Californian mindset. And I’m not just talking about the models wearing wool in September! They were all so sophisticated and elegant! And I would read all of the fashion advice so that I wouldn’t end up with a black bar across my eyes and be humiliated by the words “DON’T.”
My favorite issue was the August College Issue. I would read the stories about the featured college women and wanted to go away to one of the Seven Sisters colleges so that I could live a fabulous life, too! To this awkward teenager, I just knew that all my troubles would fall away if I could just go to one of those elite private schools. I even requested information from a couple of the colleges when it came time to choose a college. My parents talked me out of attending them. They used the reasoning that the schools were clear on the other side of the country and I would become homesick. I was so naive, I never even considered that there was no way my parents could have afforded to send me to one of them, even with financial aid. Nor, did I consider that the fit would have been terrible (which was proved later when I taught at a similar college in California). No, I’m more of a state university kind of gal. And lucky for me I was because that is where I met The Mister.
By the time I got to college in 1979, female students weren’t being called coeds as often as they had in the past and it slipped out my mind. It wasn’t until I was in my doctoral program and taking a class in the history of higher education in the United States that it hit me–women were called coeds because up until the 1980s, college was still primarily the domain of men. Even today, there are disciplines, such as engineering, that struggle to attract women students at the same rate as men. Women were called coeds because they made the domain of men coeducational. And, during the time period when they were still called coeds, many women–not all, but many–were going to college merely as a means for getting the fabled “M.R.S. degree.” Now, women surpass men at graduating from college but when I earned my doctorate in 2000, the statistic I remember was that 75-80% of the professors were white men. It was a very big deal that I, as a woman, earned a Ph.D.
Today, I looked across my class of 21 freshman students, 15 of them young women, while they were telling me how excited they are to be in college and two weeks into the semester they’ve decided that it isn’t anything like they show in the movies. I would not call my students coeds. They are future accountants, teachers, public relations representatives, computer scientists and programmers, sociologists, and recreational therapists. And I’m honored to be their professor.
Did Glamour’s college issue have an influence on me? You better believe it! And I’m grateful that it did.
What about you? Did you devour the college issue, too?