The first ladies of Lafayette

Looking back in honor of National Women’s History Month

This year, women comprise approximately 47 percent of the student population at Lafayette. It is curious to envision a 1969 Lafayette College, which solely admitted male students.

In the spring of 1970, two women, Susan L. Trotter and Joyce S. Cohen, submitted their enrollment deposits, and by so doing entered history as the first female students at Lafayette College. In the fall, the two pioneers were joined by 144 women eager and impatient to begin their education at the college on the hill.

Over the course of the next forty-some years, Lafayette’s female students combated prejudice and inequality in creating women’s athletic programs, sororities, gender oriented courses and much more. They strove to be recognized as leaders, taking up membership positions in clubs and committees, receiving awards and in 1980, Ann Gallagher served as the first editor of The Lafayette.

The road they paved, however, was not an easy one. On Feb. 2, 1971, a poll was taken by The Lafayette, and 26 out of 54 female students who participated expressed a “substantial dissatisfaction” with their college experience.

The conversion of an all-male college was not an overnight phenomenon, and women had no choice but to combat the inequality of their education, enrich the humanities, introduce the school to such fields as sociology and anthropology, according to the Special Collection online exhibit Coed in the Seventies as well as found the basis of what we know today as women and gender studies.

About 45 years later there are 11 women’s athletics programs, six sororities, a fully developed gender studies department and female students and alumni with high leadership positions in clubs, committees, programs and panels. Not only this, but last year Lafayette welcomed its first female president, Alison Byerly. All these things make Lafayette look a lot different from the campus in 1969.