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Mousy Look or Mini Skirt?


Three Mount Holyoke students held a list of 1200 fellow students' signatures, who petitioned against the latest edition of the "Comparative Guide to American Colleges" in 1968. They believed that the publication misrepresented Mount Holyoke's campus life. Especially disturbing to students was the statement that short skirts were prohibited at Mount Holyoke. Courtesy MHC Archives

Breaking the Seminary Stereotype: Mount Holyoke’s beginnings are of a seminary that upheld a strict regime of work and study, leaving little time for personal activities and recreation. This description suggests that seminary students were not primarily concerned about their clothes or outward appearance. Mary Lyon’s Puritan past helped create a popular image of the wholesome woman. By the Swinging Sixties, this stereotype was still being perpetuated by local broadcasters and the public.

Mount Holyoke students began to revolt against this stereotype and felt the need to express that they had changed and were continuing to change with the revolutionary times. By the end of 1964, the News Bureau conducted a campus survey in hopes of understanding how Mount Holyoke students reacted to fashion. According to the poll’s answers, very few Mount Holyoke women still favored traditional school ensembles, such as blazers and kilts. Instead, the majority of students preferred to wear current fashions. The survey concluded with a question on pierced ears, a symbol of independence. In April of 1965, the News Bureau compiled various answers and figures from the survey, along with supporting viewpoints, and later published them in the College's bulletin and in local newspapers.

Mount Holyoke women wanted to demonstrate that Mount Holyoke was modern and forward- thinking, especially compared to its fellow women’s institutions. Students demonstrated this through fashion. As the first of the Seven Sisters, Mount Holyoke students were determined to set a revolutionary tone throughout the consortium. Perhaps there was also slight competition with nearby Smith College, which could have possibly contributed to and motivated the Mount Holyoke students’ actions.

The News Bureau survey results made clear that students greatly preferred clothing that was non-traditional. Fashion had inevitably allowed Mount Holyoke women to express their revolutionary spirit. Throughout the 1960s, students became more confident in expressing their personal viewpoints. They began to speak to camera crews and circulate petitions.

In the above photograph, three audacious young women hold a list of 1200 Mount Holyoke students’ signatures against the latest edition of a comparative guide to American Colleges. Apparently, the handbook misrepresented life at Mount Holyoke and had disturbing comments, such as a statement that alleged that short skirts were prohibited on campus. Students were infuriated by this fabrication and took action against it. Although Mount Holyoke did uphold certain regulations concerning clothing, there was nothing mentioned in the Student Handbooks regarding the length of skirts.

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This page was created by Carina Galliano 'LF in History 283, Fall Semester 2003 -