In the school year of 1961-1962, women first moved on to the Furman University campus. Since 1958 Furman women had been taking classes on the new campus, but it was not until this year that they moved into dormitories and made Furman their new home. With the coeducation process came many changes. Of these, the most significant related to social life and education at Furman.
In the years after the merger, the emphasis on strengthening the education process and the importance of liberal arts rose. Expectations increased, which led to frustration and discouragement. Some students transferred or dropped out because of the new attempt to increase Furman’s status (Reid 173-181). Reid states, “With the merger, the faculty brought a ‘firm commitment to self – determination in curriculum and standards” (Reid 178). Most of the female professors from the Women’s College continued teaching when they moved to Furman, and offices and departments merged. Yet men took over the top positions. (Hayes 3, 23) An Honors Program in College Teaching was implemented, as well as a new Honor System (Bonhomie 1963). Eventually the quality of students rose. From 1959 to 1963, the average SAT scores rose 85 points (Reid 183). After the merger, Furman’s goals also included bringing in a “wider, more cosmopolitan selection of students.” More money was put into recruitment and scholarships and less was spent on athletics; however, enrollment dropped by over one hundred from the 1961 to 1963. (Reid 189) Standards were rising, but there was less crowding which eased tensions in the first years after the merger (Reid 183). The Bonhomie yearbook also changed during this time. The introduction of the 1962 yearbook talks about the coeducation process. It says, “For the first time in history, Furman men and women are united on one campus.” It continues with the comment, “…the feeling of being together and the thrill of tasting victory” (Bonhomie 1962). The yearbook from 1963 was different and much larger. The editor’s epilogue at the back said that there are “many other changes from past years” (Bonhomie 1963). The Furman magazine also printed an article in the first month of the 1961-1962 school year called “Make Way For The Women!” It gives a brief history of the merger in 1933, and welcomes women to the new campus (Fletcher).
Social life at Furman was transformed with the merging of men and women at Furman. Because Furman was much further away from downtown than had been the case with the previous college campuses, there was less of a social life for the students (Reid 173). A student center was not built until a few years after the merger, so in the meantime, a social lounge was opened in the basement of the library for students to mingle (Reid 174). The women were especially excited to finally be on the new campus because for decades they had simply just been coordinated with Furman (Reid 172).
One day-student commented in a Letter to the Editor on the lack of a student center: “Another school term has started. Will this be similar to last year with interest of day students in the activities on campus declining as it did last year? An identical situation will exist unless a better meeting place is set up for day students so as to be able to meet together each day and take a more active interest in Furman” (Colet). The students’ irritation was obvious, including those who commuted to classes. Though the students were frustrated with these things, for the most part they were happy to be together.
In the spring of 1962, the women complained about the seal from the Greenville Women’s College – a reminder of the divided past – which was mounted on the front of their residence hall. Other complaints involved the Parlors. They were built in the dormitories and became a sentimental meeting place for students, but their door handles revealed the emblem of the Women’s College. They were removed after much complaint (Bainbridge 233). Because of the additional female students, parking became a problem. An article in the school newspaper from September 1961 stated, “Parking facilities were a major problem during the first new days, but campus officials said students were ‘considerate’ in their use of limited space” (Colet). There were problems with students leaving their cars in the streets overnight, but a few months later in February, Dr. George Berry remarked, “In general, the Furman student body has cooperated with the campus parking regulations in a satisfactory manner (Colet). It was not until 1961 that Chapel services were held downtown for both men and women together (Bainbridge 225).
In the years after the merger, there were still frictions between the faculty and the students on other issues. Fraternities were banned, as well as dancing, and talk about integration of blacks began in 1963 (Reid 177). There were traditions from before the merger that remained. Engaged couples were still dunked in the lake. Class ring ceremonies for the women took place each year. People skated on the frozen fountains in the winter, and summer marriages still took place in the Rose Garden (Reid 184). However, most of the women’s traditions from the Greenville Women’s College were lost (Fletcher 10). Marguerite Chiles, a female student during the merger, says, “We [the women at GWC] had so many traditions. One was the Hanging of the Greens; one was the Daisy Chain. Those died eventually because, well to be honest, we just lost almost all of our traditions when we moved to the present campus because the men didn’t support us” (May). This comment was not the feeling of all the women, but it does show how the women had to make sacrifices when they merged with the men.
When the men and women merged in 1961, student government was first united. Yet it was not until 1971 that women were allowed to run for president of the student body. The students were not entirely happy with the merging of their separate student governments. Men ridiculed the women’s rules, and the women became upset when they realized their system of self-government would not survive at the new campus (Bainbridge 222).
Alongside the Men’s Judicial Council, a Women’s Council – based on the Women’s Student Government from the Women’s College – began operation (Bonhomie 1962). The Men and Women’s Advisory Boards were also coordinated, and the Student Senate approved a new Constitution (Bonhomie 1963). The first woman to serve as editor of the school newspaper was Lynn Williams in 1961 (Bonhomie 1961). The “A Capella” Choir, the choral group at the Women’s College, changed names after the merger. It became the Concert Choir and included both males and females (Reid 184). Unlike this music club, however, most of the women’s clubs remained the same, while the men’s clubs almost immediately became coeducational (Bainbridge 221).
The changes in social life, education, and student organizations reveal the difficulties that went along with the merger of men and women onto Furman’s campus. Not only did the students have to adjust to being around each other, but the school had to adjust to accommodating females and new faculty. It took a few years for everyone to become accustomed to the new campus, but eventually the school began running smoothly. Chiles says again, “It took about, a lot of patience and just working together, … and I really am proud of the fact that they took their time and worked it out little by little” (May).
Bainbridge, Judith T. Academy and College: The History of the Women’s College of Furman University. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2001, p. 219-237.
Bonhomie. Furman University: 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963.
Chiles, Marguerite. Interview with Melissa May. Furman University Special Collections and Archives. 2 July 2001.
Colet, Dow. Furman Paladin. SC Collegiate Press, 15 September 1961, 19 October 1961, 9 February 1962.
Fletcher, Allen, ed. “Make Way for the Women!” The Furman Magazine Autumn 1961: 10.
Hayes, Marguerite, ed. “Furman Women: A History.” The Furman Magazine Spring 1974: 3, 23.
May, Melissa. Interview with Marguerite Chiles. 2 June 2001.
Reid, Alfred Sandlin. Furman University Toward a New Identity 1925-1975. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1976, p. 173-192.
Lazar, Gail. Personal Interview. 6 May 2004.