Sitting in the Gebbie Special Collections and Archives, I leafed my way through the issues of the Wheaton News (the predecessor of the Wire) from the school year 1963-1964. I thought about how, in our brief four years here, we believe it is safe to assume that institutions such as Wheaton are static. However, as I continued to read, I realized that, while some aspects of student life are seemingly inherent in nature, major changes do happen – not dramatically overnight, but rather gradually over the course of years.
On Oct. 10, 1963, the Wheaton News reported that, “Plans for a new Wheaton science building were announced on September 27. The $2,500,000 building will house the biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics department… The modern facilities will better enable Wheaton to advance with the changing concepts of science education.” These blueprints would become what we now know as the “Old” Science Center, a place daily frequented for classes, tutoring, advising, and more. Simultaneously, plans were in the works for “Dorms A, B, and C” on lower campus or Young, McIntire, and Clark Residence Halls, as they are known presently. It is hard to imagine the layout of campus, especially that of lower, without the additions that have been made over the past fifty years (though in retrospect, I wish that the architecture was consistent).
Likewise, it is difficult to envision the entirely female student population for which these papers were written. While Wheaton still has a very active feminist community, I was intrigued by the tone of the editorials and writing in general of the News. They mocked passing fads – such as the ironing on of the school emblem of one’s boyfriend to one’s jeans – and highlighted female progress – like that of Elizabeth Stoffregen May, an appointee to the U.S. Export-Import bank and a Wheaton dean at the time. Perhaps due to the lack of bylines on the articles, the writers also did not shy away from criticizing the administration. Although their grievances were mainly nonacademic in nature (i.e. they wanted to extend the visiting periods on weekends for males), they nevertheless outwardly pursued change.
Some complaints, however, could not be resolved completely by approaching the administration with resolutions and proposals. It was oddly comforting to read the criticisms about the weekend life for a young woman in Norton, Massachusetts. They too struggled with the transportation systems attempting to get into Boston. They said it was “more vexatious than ever,” costing “$1.42 one-way, nearly $2.00 round trip, to take the train between Boston and Mansfield. And a cab between Norton and Mansfield costs $1.85. This means that a student may have to spend up to $6.00 merely to get to Boston and back.” Even with the Gatra, we now pay approximately three times that to get to and from Boston. Talk about inflation. Additionally, they mentioned the poor turnout at student events on the weekends, which, as a small campus, Wheaton will continue to combat for the foreseeable future.
The 1960s were transformative years in the United States and Wheaton students witnessed historic developments firsthand. In October, African American actors Vinnie Burrows and Earle Hyman comprised the entire cast and performed “The Words of Shakespeare” on campus. During the following month, the infamous Alabama Governor George C. Wallace spoke at the Sheraton-Biltmore Hotel in Providence. Multiple demonstrations occurred that night at Brown University against Wallace’s stance that “segregation is not synonymous with hatred.” February brought the appearance of LeRoi Jones, an avant-garde poet who wrote The Blues People and several poems for “The Nation.” On March 3, Dr. Albert Gordon spoke on “Intermarriage,” a noticeably conservative lecture on the sociological problems and consequences of both racial and religious intermarriage. In April, as a sign of solidarity with many liberal college campuses across the country, Wheaton joined the student drive for the John F. Kennedy Memorial.
While the collegiate atmosphere lends itself to the “bubble effect,” fifty years ago, the women at Wheaton were exposed to their contemporary controversies and culture. And though it may not seem like it in the short eight semesters that we are here, Wheaton will some day be a mix of memories, newsletter updates, and class reunions. Our time at Wheaton may end, but time at Wheaton will carry on, bringing with it the adaptations of generations.