When the first women’s colleges opened
their doors in the late 19th century, it was amidst heavy protest from those
who believed that education would make a woman “masculine” and unfit to be
a wife and mother. Subconsciously, for there was no developed category of
“lesbian” at that time, many people feared that college-educated women would
not be dependent upon men and would instead develop closer relationships
with their fellow educated women.
They had some grounding to their fears. Many of the graduates
went on to become career women, renouncing their traditional role in the
household by becoming teachers, missionaries and activists.
Some of these career women, however, were not as solitary
as might seem. They formed intense “romantic friendships” with one another
and had lasting “crushes.” These behaviors were socially acceptable; either
these relationships were viewed as training for a real one with a man, or
they were understood to be very deep friendships that were beneficial to
both involved, as it helped them support themselves without the presence
of a man.
Mount Holyoke, as a premier women’s college and environment
supportive of independent women, was no exception to this history of love