1990: "Chatham students protest a proposal to admit men"
Soon one of the oldest women-only educational institutions in the U. S. located in Pittsburgh may no longer be women-only. This year, Chatham, the 145-year-old college, is likely to undergo a historical change: to start allowing men into its undergraduate programs.
"Is that necessary?" some students wondered. "Why?"
The reaction to the news varied from negative comments by the alumni association protesting the move to one student’s tweet, “WHY DON’T YOU WANT BOYS HERE?!”
It’s not the first time that Chatham considered going co-ed. On February 16, 1990, Chatham students like Michelle Weber gathered on the steps of Jennie King Mellon Library to protest an announcement by Chatham President Rebecca Stafford that in the 1991-1992 school year the school would begin admitting male students. Our Steve Mellon, then the photographer for The Pittsburgh Press, captured the Chatham sit-in.
The signs captured the sentiment: “Better Dead Than Co-Ed” and “Save Women’s Education.”
Five days later, a group of professors who had each taught at Chatham for at least 20 years drafted a letter to the President reaffirming their support of the “concepts, aims, and practice of single-sex education for women” and intention to protest “any action to alter the college’s mission to accept male students, taken so precipitously as the present plans call on us to do,” the Post-Gazette reported.
In September 1990, the Chatham Board of Trustees voted to delay the decision on co-education indefinitely.
Since the 1960s the total number of women-only colleges in the United States had been drastically reduced. For many of them the co-ed option was an effort to alleviate financial difficulties. Chatham had also considered co-education in the 1980s.
The recent speech by Chatham’s president Esther Barazzone sounded more alarming than the speeches of her predecessors proposing the drastic change. The climate for single-sex residential colleges has gotten precipitously worse in a bad economy, she said.
Will Chatham go coed? It may have no choice this time.
— Mila Sanina