Early Days for One Woman at Williams, 1970-1973

by Thomasin Jean Berry '73

I took a traditional college search approach for a suburban Boston high school senior in 1969. Because I could not apply to the all-male Bowdoin College where three generations of my family had attended, I applied to my mother’s alma mater, Connecticut College, and decided to go there.

I loved college but hated my choice from the start. Most women seemed entirely focused on their social life and only focused on academics from Monday through Wednesday. By Thursday the focus was on where to head for weekend parties, usually off campus. I'll never forget a dismal winter morning when I entered the dining hall filled with joyously shrieking women and witnessed the presentation of yet another engagement ring on the finger of one of the seniors. I wanted to scream.

In the spring of 1970, college campuses across the country were protesting the Vietnam war, racial injustice, and gender inequality. I was fired up and angry that the women around me did not recognize these problems and behaved as if nothing was wrong. Instead, during a rally on the Connecticut College campus, a recent graduate gave this advice: “You may graduate Phi Beta Kappa from here, but you will have to get a secretarial degree from Katharine Gibbs to get a job that pays enough to cover the rent of your apartment.” At that moment, I knew I had to get OUTTA HERE.

I learned that Williams had just decided to go co-ed, but gradually. In the fall they would accept a handful of transfer women who would fold in with the seven college exchange women already on campus. I applied and was accepted to become a part of the Williams College class of 1973.

I traded the anger and bravado of my freshman year at Conn College for a new bravado coupled with the terror of being "not good enough" to be one of the first women at Williams College. I bonded with ALL the women in Hopkins House—we were a suite of six women in a dorm of 80 men. (Love you, SISTERS!) And I learned how to act and be brave, gain confidence about speaking in class, and not let our extreme minority status get in the way. I studied my ass off. Sometimes I hid in my room, but that was OK because I had my family's golden retriever living with me.

There is a lot more to tell. My roommate and I wrote a paper entitled "Miscarriage in the Williams Womb: Women at Williams" as our Winter Study project in 1973. Supposedly it is bound and filed in the library. Though I would probably be embarrassed to read my 21 year-old rantings, it might be a great scavenger hunt prize or have some good trivia night fodder.

I did graduate Phi Beta Kappa from Williams College, Class of 1973. I am so happy that I went to Williams and so proud to be an alum. I dearly miss some of the great classmates and professors who have passed on but still live in my heart.

In my difficult moments, I meditate, see the Purple Valley and the campus at dawn in all seasons of the year. I feel restored.

We are so blessed to have the shared experience of brilliant minds, a beautiful setting and a caring community.

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