If you read Jill Lepore’s recent article on Wonder Woman in The New Yorker, “The Last Amazon,” it is very possible that a passage about Tufts caught your eye. On page 67 of the article, Lepore, a Tufts alum and recent honorary doctorate recipient, makes a brief mention of a curious and long since abandoned Jackson College tradition:
At Tufts, Marston and Olive Byrne conducted research together. Byrne took him to her sorority, Alpha Omicron Pi, where freshmen pledges were required to dress up like babies and attend a ‘Baby Party.’ Marston later described it: “The freshmen girls were led into a dark corridor where their eyes were blindfolded, and their arms were bound behind them.” Then the freshmen were taken into a room where juniors and seniors compelled them to do various tasks, while sophomores hit them with long sticks. (67)
The DCA’s collections, including the Melville Munro papers, contain a number of photographs of these Baby Parties, largely dating from the 1920s. But the collections don’t just give us photographic evidence of these events–they provide some historical context as well. Take this passage from a manuscript in our holdings written by former Tufts History professor Russell Miller:
There has always been freshman hazing to enliven proceedings, and one of the earliest traditions was the annual “baby party,” inaugurated in the fall of 1910. Such festivities were produced by the sophomores “as a suitable reward for improved conduct on the part of the freshmen.” This of course followed a period of hazing of the first-year students for which the survival rate was astounding. Rule Number 1 in 1910 was not to be seen with a Tufts man. In the 1920’s a grass-green button the size of a giant lollypop resided over the heart of every Jackson freshman until the Thanksgiving holidays, and woe betide the wearer who had a forgetful moment. In the fall of 1931, the green buttons gave way to green hair ribbons because of the disastrous effect on clothing. (17-18)
For more on Baby Parties and other interesting bits of Tufts history, stop by the DCA at any time during our open hours or check out our online collection material at the Tufts Digital Library.
 Lepore, Jill. “The Last Amazon.” The New Yorker. September 22, 2014: 64-73.
 Miller, Russell E. “Women’s Role in the History of Tufts University, A Sketch by Russell E. Miller” in Jackson College Histories binder. February 1960. Tufts University. Digital Collections and Archives. Medford, MA.
First female graduates of Tufts College
The history of women at Tufts College–it wasn’t Tufts University until 1955–has many ups and downs. When the school was founded in 1852, many within the Boston-area Universalist churches that supported the school assumed women would be allowed to enroll right from the start. However, it wasn’t until forty years later, in 1892, that the first women joined the ranks of students on the Hill.
Henrietta Brown Durkee
The first female graduate was Henrietta Noble Brown. The daughter of mathematics teacher, Benjamin Brown, Henrietta started her academic career at Boston University, but transferred to Tufts during her junior year. She received a Bachelor of Arts in 1893 and spoke at the Commencement Ceremony. Her topic was “Some Aspects of Immigration.” However, it was misprinted in the program as “Some Aspects of Imagination.” Perhaps the typesetter thought imagination a more appropriate topic for a women than immigration.
An uneasy calm existed between the male and female students on the newly co-educational campus. The women lived “down the hill” along Professors Row where the wives of faculty members could watch over them while the men continued to live in their dorms at the top of the hill (much closer to the classrooms and library).
Starting in 1905, however, the calm was to be broken, in no small part due to the efforts of the new college president, Frederick Hamilton.
President Frederick W. Hamilton, 1906-1912
Hamilton, himself an alum, felt very strongly that both men and women were disadvantaged by a co-educational environment. His efforts for a separate school for women culminated on June 15, 1910 when the Massachusetts Legislature approved the charter for Jackson College for Women. The next day all women enrolled at Tufts College were automatically transferred into Jackson.
While legally Jackson College still exists today, few within today’s Tufts undergraduate community have probably heard of it. However, in the course of its one hundred years of existence, Jackson College has played a pivotal role in the lives of women attending the school. Its influence on the social and inter-personal environment available to women may be obvious, but more striking are the subtle influences its mere existence has had on the academic opportunities available to them. Starting in 1918, the faculty of Jackson College, which was also the faculty of Tufts College, created their first overtly gendered course of study: the secretarial course. The stated purpose of this series of classes was “to fit them to be intelligent, resourceful and competent secretaries for professional men: college professors, physicians, lawyers and clergymen.” Later, affiliations such as those in 1942 with the Bouve-Boston School of Physical Education which was also affiliated with Simmons College and Northeastern, in 1945 with the Boston School of Occupational Therapy which admitted only women until the late 1960s, and in 1951 with the Eliot-Pearson Children’s School, continued the trend towards feminized courses of study.
Do you recognize the engineering professor
in this photo? If so, please comment to let us
know who she is!
Yesterday was Ada Lovelace Day, an international day of blogging to celebrate the achievements of women in technology and science. To celebrate, I looked through the Tufts Digital Library for our resources on women in technology and science. I was pleasantly surprised to find that a substantial portion of the student computer science and engineering scholarship currently available through the digital library is by women. Check out New Methods for Ontology Alignment, Kelly Moran’s undergraduate honors thesis for the Department of Computer Science, or Wireless Power Transmission for Biomedical Applications, Cynthia Wisineff’s undergraduate honors thesis in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
First class of women in engineering,
Some Tufts women who were honored during Ada Lovelace Day:
- Bonnie Myers of Scientific Computing
- Karen Panetta, professor of electrical and computer engineering at the School of Arts, Sciences, & Engineering
- Judy Stafford, computer science professor at the School of Arts, Sciences, & Engineering
We’ve got plenty more fascinating images in the Digital Library. I’m particularly fond of Professor Leighton with the first two engineering students in Jackson after World War II and McIlroy Fluid Network Analyzer analog computer, 1958.