Lately, I’ve been wondering what my place at CMC is as a woman. From our namesake originally as Claremont Men’s College to our institutional skewing towards male-dominated fields such as economics, I’m not quite sure how I fit in. Our “bro culture,” whether an undercurrent or overt, is undeniable. One administrator once told me that to be a woman at CMC, you have to be “tough and hot.” I don’t think she’s wrong. How exactly do women fit in at CMC? Historical records show there’s undoubtedly a trend.
Looking back, CMC archives discuss the “masculine, bold and direct” ethos stemming from the GI connection. A 1959 profile in Harper’s Magazine describes CMC as “exuberantly extroverted, tireless cheerleaders of fun, and, in their own self-image, mad bad playboys.” While this gradually petered out, the driven and individualistic sentiment remained. The same article remarks that CMC men used to conduct panty raids – essentially breaking into Scripps students’ dorms – across Ninth Street. The Ayer (the former yearbook) caused scandals as it featured nude drawings of Scripps students that rated their bodies.
Kevin Starr, author of the 50-year anniversary book on CMC’s history, Civilization and Commerce, noted that Vietnam and the general 1960s attitudes changed CMC and the college “became a wiser and more inclusive pace. Women held positions on the Board of Trustees and more than held their own in the undergraduate student body.”
President Jack Stark and the CMC Board spent years figuring out the most fair way to implement co-ed integration. He also noted that he didn’t change the curriculum with this transition, as the goal was to always “seek the best students.” The decision to go co-ed passed with a 2/3 majority and was met with a relatively smooth transition from the CMC community. However, there was still some controversy and CMC male students created t-shirts that said “GCO” – standing for “Get c•nts out” – which circulated around campus.
The first women at CMC, in face of this, stayed “independent and motivated, focused on their goals.” Early women graduates formed the CMC Pioneer Steering Committee, the parent organization of today’s Women and Leadership Alliance. The Committee has a goal of funding an endowment, collecting oral histories of alums, and conducting workshops with the WLA.
These women had their own distinct outlook of their place at CMC. About 25–30% of the entering classes post-coed integration were women. These first batches of women were called “pioneers” who took pride in their “Claremont Men’s College” diplomas. The 1980 senior class (the first co-ed class) president was Meredith Uhlmann. Uhlmann noted, “I intended to win. I believe the reason I won was because I talked to more people.” Even outside of CMC, these pioneers were trailblazers in their own ways, with Elizabeth Matthias ’81 joining a law firm as its first female attorney. She remarked that “she was ready for it, even though people in the firm weren’t.”
While the general attitude of CMC women has been one of determination, there are still many structural gender disparity elements at CMC. One noticeable area of imbalance is our Board of Trustees. The first woman trustee, Edessa Rose (of the Rose Institute’s namesake) was elected to the Board in 1972. Currently, 5/38 trustees are women. CMC’s Board requires a large sum of wealth to join, as well as establishment in a certain field (usually something business-related), hence the disconnect. As more women didn’t join those fields until the 1980s, it makes sense why we have such few women Trustees.
In 1990, there were 11 female faculty members out of 91 tenured or tenure-track professors, according to professor Cynthia Humes. While this number has risen to around 30–40% in recent years, our Government and Economics department in particular skew male. Currently, only one department chair is a woman. In academics, men far outnumber women throughout most departments. Though Keck Science’s chair is Marion Preest, indicating that there have definitely been strides, we’re not there yet.
A turning point when for women could be attributed to Pam Gann’s tenure as president. Gann’s policies included initiating parental leave to recognizing the need to support and further diversity. During this time, the Gender Studies Sequence was created, KLI worked to help women and taught women-specific workshops along with the Berger Institute.
Gann’s presidency perhaps can be viewed as an overall shift for the college, not just for women. One big push during her time was the emphasis on leadership that drove home the ideas of being active and vocal, as well as taking charge. Much of leadership’s rhetoric, even outside of CMC, has its masculine roots. During Gann’s early years, the gender parity was around 40% women. Professor Christine Crockett ’01 remarked that there were only three female Literature faculty members during her time. Crockett noted, “[This] struck me as incongruous, as we had few female faculty members, but a female president.” However, she did note that she was rarely conscious of a stark gender divide at CMC.
Professor Hilary Appel joined CMC in 2000 and was the only teaching female professor in the Government Department for much of the aughts. She was also the first female Goverment professor promoted to Full Professor and given an endowed chair. She noted that she would frequently find herself in a room with all men, yet she previously experienced this both in graduate school and when she taught at Duke University.
Professor Emliy Pears ’08 noted some changes between her time as a student and her return to campus as a professor since the campus has grown more intellectually diverse, as well as the increase in humanities majors. Despite not having any female government professors when she was a student, she never saw this as a drawback, but is glad that more women have joined the department since then. CMC’s traditional focus on Government and Economics has in the past lent itself to this masculine image as those tend to be male-dominated fields off-campus as well. In regard to vibe, Pears remarked that CMC was often seen as the most male-dominated college amongst the 5Cs when she studied in Claremont and sensed a change from then until now.
Currently, on the staff side, the gender breakdown is more equal with women actually heading many departments. Off Campus Study, the Athenaeum, Center for Student Opportunity, Treasurer’s Office, the Registrar, Admissions: all run by women. Whereas our gender imbalance is noticeable in faculty, our staff side is much more even, if not women-dominated. However, on the Senior Vice President level and the President’s Advisory Council – which were historically male-dominated – 16 out of the 25 are women on the 2016-2017 Council.
We’re now hovering close to even on a male-female student ratio. We have an active Women’s Forum, a robust Gender Studies and Sexuality Sequence, and many women-helmed departments on campus. Even in my brief 3 years thus far, I’ve seen a more active feminist discourse more women talking openly about what it means to occupy that space at CMC.
Professor Cynthia Humes told me “if a women wants to make it [at CMC], she has to include herself and not simply complain.” Perhaps this is the CMC ethos – to roll up our sleeves and get busy.
Sources consulted: https://www.cmc.edu/magazine/spring-summer-2015/holding-their-own. Civilization and Commerce by Kevin Starr, Honnold-Mudd Special Collections