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Alma mater: design and experience in the women's colleges by Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz

By Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz

Alma Mater: layout and event within the Women's faculties from Their Nineteenth-Century Beginnings to the Nineteen Thirties ASIN: 0870238698

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I soon realized that what I intended as a chapter ought to be a book. My comfort in limiting the field of inquiry to one type of institution lasted only a short time, for I quickly confronted the vast number of what once were women's colleges in the United States. I began to pay closest attention to those that I knew best, the Eastern colleges originally intended for women and formerly known as the Seven Sisters. As I probed, it became clear that while the Seven College Conference began only in 1926, giving its members the collective nickname Seven Sisters, the colleges' relationships with each other and in the public mind went back longer, in fact to their beginnings.

Three other dormitories joined with mine in a group called the Quad. Students trailed down a steep path to classes in buildings shaped like cathedrals, to the library in a classical temple, and to chapel in a medieval church. Vast spaces separated these buildings. The college had no connection to the town at the edge of the campus. Boston and Cambridge beckoned. The bus that stopped outside the Quad entrance to campus and started us on the long journey became our lifeline to an urban world and to college men.

Built in a town, rather than as Wellesley or Vassar on a country estate, Smith did not have a single seminary building, but rather a variety of buildings for different uses. Students lived in "cottages," structures designed inside and out to look like family dwellings. Smith broke the seminary's disciplinary code and disposed of the structure of rules monitored by female faculty; as in a family, students lived by informal and unwritten rules. The hope was that, protected by the patriarchal order of the New England town, Smith students would keep their femininity.

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