‘Better Dead Than Co-Ed’: Wheaton Alum Organizes Reprinting of Protest Shirts

Following the popularity of a post in a college Facebook group of a Wheaton College student in front of Cole Memorial Chapel in a shirt bearing the motif “Better Dead Than Coed,” Katherine Mooney ’17 began to organise the reprinting of the protest shirt from 1987. After bringing together a graphic designer to keep the design as true to the original as possible and a screen printing shop to print the shirts, Mooney recently began to collect orders. 

“The photo posted in [the Facebook group] of the student holding the original protest shirt is just a super cool photo. You can see the conviction in the girl’s eyes. The statement is so bold!,” said Mooney by way of explaining her decision to organize the reprinting. 

“That photo resonated with me in a way I did not anticipate,” she continued. “‘Better Dead Than Coed,’ those ladies were not messing around.”

Mooney pointed out that the motto was not limited to Wheaton College, referencing several other women’s colleges and speaking of an order she received from a friend whose mother and wife went to Wellesley College in Norfolk County.  

For Mooney, the photo put into perspective the “long, rich history of resiliency and transformations the college has gone through.” 

She said, “Wheaton is 186 years old, and for 154 of those years it was a women’s college, rebranding attempts can’t really change that. I think that Wheaton’s history and tradition should be revisited with more frequency and celebrated. Even though I do think Wheaton made the right decision to go coed, I couldn’t help but feel a tinge of solidarity and compassion towards the students of 1987 protesting a drastic change that they did not sign up for when they enrolled. A logo change is one thing, co-education is entirely different!”

Mooney referenced stories she had heard from alum of the time, saying that her hope with the reprinting was paying homage to the decades of women who set the foundation for today’s Wheaton. 

Kyra Lefebre ’20, who conducted research on the decision Wheaton made to go co-ed, said she found from her research that the decision was made largely by the Board of Trustees at the time. 

“Little consideration was given to how the students would handle the transition to co-education. There was outrage, understandably,” she said, suggesting that the shirt had been one of the mediums of expressing this outrage. 

“The design is timeless and just really cool,” continued Lefebre. “Plus, it’s a reminder of Wheaton’s history, and it’s a commentary on the school administration, a way to remind the students that Wheaton may be run by people that don’t always have the students’ best interest in mind. But, as students, we always have the power to speak out and try to make change. It’s our school too.” 

Kate Constantine ’21, who purchased a shirt, said, “Wheaton’s history of being a women’s college has been foundational in the values of so many groups on campus and the commitment of student leaders towards gender equity. I really wanted to have a piece of that.”
Orders can be placed at, or by contacting Katherine Mooney at