Dress Codes & Curfews: NU Women in the 1960s
By Eileen Wirth, Ph.D.
On a hot Monday afternoon in September 1965, a procession of freshman girls at the University of Nebraska wearing raincoats headed to their first phys ed class in Nebraska Hall (now an engineering building).
Raincoats in 90-degree sunshine? No, we weren’t crazy. We were obeying a rule that girls had to wear a coat over shorts regardless of weather. We had to wear our uniform blue shorts to class because there was no locker room on the floor temporarily housing Women’s PE. That also meant no showers.
Welcome to NU in the pre-Title IX era when there were strict rules policing all undergraduate women while men were exempt.
Here’s a look at some of those rules.
On pain of expulsion, all unmarried undergraduate females, including nontraditional students, had to live in university-approved housing: at home with their parents or a residence hall or sorority house.
Neihardt Hall, then Women’s Residence Hall, housed only freshmen which made it easier to enforce the 9 p.m. first-semester curfew. Girls who earned a 2.0 could then stay out until 10:30 p.m. on weeknights—the curfew for upper class women. Weekend hours were 1 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 10:30 on Sundays. RA’s performed random bed checks.
Women received a demerit for every minute past curfew, with 10 demerits resulting in a “campus”—confinement to quarters for a weekend night. Residents who went to a university event such as a basketball game had 10 minutes to clock in after the housemother got a call that the game had ended. We called it “10 after.”
At sunset, the residence director went outside to see if any rooms facing 16th Street had failed to close their curtains. She didn’t want the Kappa Sigs across the street checking us out!
Residents were required to sign out and in every time they left and returned.
The theory was that if you controlled the girls, you controlled the boys. SURE!
Women were not supposed to wear pants to class no matter how cold it was. No one ever did but there was likely no punishment for doing so. Dorm rules, however were enforced:
- Pants were forbidden in dining halls except on Friday evenings and all day Saturday. Women had to wear skirts for all other meals, even breakfast.
- For Sunday dinner at noon, women had to wear nylons and heels and men had to wear ties. This included an All-American football player who demonstrated to a line checker that he couldn’t get a tie around his neck.
- Shorts could only be worn on campus if covered by a coat. You couldn’t even go visit a friend in another dorm in shorts without a coat.
There was a Dean of Women but no Dean of Men. She worked for the Dean of Students and focused on enforcing the rules for females. The Associated Women Students (AWS), an elected student group, assisted her. All women students “belonged” to AWS. Dorm standards boards enforced hall rules such as noise complaints or other minor infractions.
From the Cornhusker 1966 (yearbook), p. 207.
Prior to Title IX, student organizations were frequently single gender, including many academic honorary societies. In journalism, for example, women joined Theta Sigma Phi while men belonged to Sigma Delta Chi. Phi Beta Kappa was an exception. Usually there were parallel groups like the male “Corn Cobs” and female “Tassels” athletic boosters. The Mortar Boards were all women and the Innocents all men. Mortar Boards were “tapped” and Innocents literally tackled.
Residence halls were STRICTLY sex segregated. A maintenance man coming to a female unit had to yell “man on the floor” lest he catch a someone running around in her undies at mid-day. During open houses, doors had to be kept open. Males were allowed to help women move into or out of their rooms at specified times.
I don’t recall any intercollegiate sports for women although there were likely some intramural sports. NU was a national leader in promoting non-competitive fitness programs for females while shunning competitive athletics for them.
The rules under which my class entered NU in 1965 had changed little since the 1940s when my mother was a student. However, we ‘60s women rebelled.
Upper class women agitated for keys that would allow them to come in when they chose. After a GREAT deal of discussion about whether women were responsible enough to handle such freedom, seniors then juniors were allowed to check out keys under tight restrictions:
- Keys had to be checked out before 7 p.m. If your plans to go out changed later, too bad. Many women checked out keys daily just to be safe.
- Women could lose key privileges if they let underclassmen in after hours.
- A woman who lost her key lost key privileges and had to pay a great deal to replace it.
A few sorority houses initially did not participate in the program because their alums would not allow it. Eventually the nonsense of curfews disappeared, as did the dress codes and the sign in sheets. Coed “visitation” in which men and women were allowed in each others’ rooms during specified hours paved the way for unlimited visiting access and then to today’s coed dorms.
One brave soul in the spring of 1967 rebelled against the housing requirement and moved out saying she couldn’t afford the dorm. She was expelled, but when the Rag (DN to today’s students) carried the story, it sparked a student rebellion that led to her readmission and rules changes. It was our greatest triumph as student journalists!
It took Title IX (1972) to create today’s great women’s sports programs and to integrate most student groups.
AWS is history along with WRH. Never again will hundreds of women and their dates battle to reach the doors of a dorm before they were locked for curfew. Gone are the days when hungry freshman women couldn’t order a pizza delivery after 9 p.m. or when a woman couldn’t stay at the library studying until it closed at midnight. Who can conceive of not wearing jeans to class or even church? How many UNL women even OWN a pair of pantyhose?
I wonder what Dean of Women Helen Snyder thinks of it all!
The author and her colleagues at the Daily Nebraskan. Only one of these students has no curfew. From the Cornhusker 1967 (yearbook), p. 233.
Eileen Wirth is a professor emeritus of journalism at Creighton University and a current member of History Nebraska’s Board of Trustees. She is the author of From Society Page to Front Page: Nebraska Women in Journalism (University of Nebraska Press).