Throughout March, in celebration of Women's History Month, we're looking at the women who have set significant milestones at Calvin: the first woman professor, first woman coach, first woman graduate and others.
Women's History Month events:
"For the Girls: Celebrate/Advocate International Women's Day"
5–8 p.m., March 8
Ladies Literary Club
Music with Brie Stoner and stories from the community
"Pray the Devil Back to Hell": free screening
7 p.m., March 9
Ladies Literary Club
"The Sexual Politics of Meat: a 20-Year Retrospective"
7:30 p.m., March 10
CFAC Recital Hall
"Masculinity, Militarism and Modern American Evangelicalism"
Kristen Du Mez
3:30 p.m., March 17
Covenant Fine Arts Recital Hall
Women and "The Code"
On January 25, 1972, Gretchen Zuiderveen, then dean of women, sent a survey to 1,100 families of Calvin College students on the subject of the long-standing curfew for women living in college housing. No such curfew existed for men, and by the early 70s, students and administrators alike were questioning the legitimacy of such a policy.
The 10 p.m. curfew during the week extended to midnight on Friday and 11 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. If women checked in late, they incurred “minutes,” eventually incurring groundings on the weekends. Additionally, Calvin’s student housing agreement required women under 21 to record their comings and goings “whenever they go out except to classes.” These stipulations applied to women living in residence halls on campus and in off-campus cooperative homes, or "Coops," as students called them.
Calvin’s student conduct code was adapted in the 1920s from a similar document used by the University of Michigan at a time when gender-based educational policies were commonplace. The rationale for the women’s curfew, according to Dick Harms, curator of archives, was that “if you limit what the women can do, you limit what the men can do.”
Over two-thirds of parents responding to the 1972 survey expressed a desire that the women’s curfew be lifted. This was not the unified voice Zuiderveen had hoped for. However, when a petition demanding a justification for the system landed in Student Senate with 250 student signatures, the issue had become unavoidable.
The administration was caught between the two opinionated groups, and Zuiderveen recommended decisive action. In a memo to Bernard Pekelder, then vice president for student affairs, Zuiderveen wrote, “I am not in favor of consulting the parents about (ending the curfew), in spite of the high percentage which like the idea of hours for sophomore women. A high percentage of parents wanted hours for men too, but we don’t seem overly sensitive to that request.”
Diane Vander Pol (’65-69), documents librarian at Hekman Library, recalled the restless spirit of Calvin’s students in the era of Vietnam, Civil Rights and Women’s Liberation. “A lot of my friends went into the Peace Corps to avoid the draft,” she said. “It was a pretty tumultuous time.”
Women students found ways to circumvent the limitations placed on them. Vander Pol recalled how her classmates snuck into the dining hall wearing prohibited Bermuda shorts under their long coats. Smoking was also forbidden for women students as late as 1961. Even though the official injunction had faded from the conduct code by the early 60s, the stigma against women smokers remained. Vander Pol related a common occurrence on her floor: “If you walked down the hall and were hit by a burst of Ambush Perfume, you knew someone was trying to cover it up.”
On April 8, 1974, then-Dean of Women Jinny De Jong finally succeeded in ending the women’s curfew that had stood since the 1920s. An editorial in the Chimes commented, “Women at Calvin have reason to believe this week that the college is finally, gracefully admitting that the whole system of women’s hours is indeed unfair and unjust and not merely an inconvenience to bear for the sake of security…. The present rules are a good deal more relaxed than those of just a few years back; yet, even the slightest vestige of the old attitude, however lenient, is a continual reminder to Calvin women that the college thinks they are… somehow more susceptible than men to the dangers of the outside world.”