On November 21, 1977 a play opened in New York in a small theater at Marymount Manhattan College. ‘Uncommon Women and Others’ written by Wendy Wasserstein is a memory play set in1978 with reflections back six years earlier at a college for women.
Act One, Scene 1
Man’s Voice: “The college produces women who are persons in their own rights: Uncommon Women who as individuals have the personal dignity that comes with intelligence, competence, flexibility, maturity, and a sense of responsibility. This can happen without loss of gaiety, charm or femininity. Through its long history the college has graduated women who help to make this a better, happier world. Whether their primary contributions were in the home or the wider community, in advocations or vocations, their role has been constructive. The college makes its continuing contribution to society in the form of graduates whose intellectual quality is high, and whose responsibility to others is exceptional.”
Wendy Wasserstein graduated from Mount Holyoke College in 1971. The play opened at a critical moment in the women’s movement and was the first to depict contemporary women and their efforts to negotiate the world of careers, relationships, family, and society.
The play’s dialogue has passed its’ expiration date, but the value of a women’s college is as relevant today as it was in the early 70s.
A woman’s college is a place dedicated to the success of women, academically and professionally. In some ways it’s a more relevant ‘incubator’ of self-esteem and self-confidence. It’s a place where you see successful women as faculty, administrators and alumni and you have the opportunity to take on leadership roles and build life long networks. In laboratories and classrooms you engage in research and discovery absent of preconceived gender bias.
There are fewer than fifty women’s colleges remaining in the United States. Most recently Sweet Briar College in Central Virginia has announced it will be closing at the end of the spring semester.
I attended a women’s college. I developed my own voice, but more important I was given leadership roles as a student that prepared me for work. I managed budgets, planned events and interacted with administrators and alumnae. I learned how to make decisions and deal with their consequences. Most important, I left campus believing my dreams were without limits.
Near the end of the play, the offstage man’s voice fades into a woman’s voice “A liberal arts college for women of talent is more important today than at any time in the history of her education. Women still encounter overwhelming obstacles to achievement and recognition despite gradual abolition of legal and political disabilities. Society has trained women from childhood to accept a limited set of options and restricted levels of aspirations.”
A women’s college is a portal to unlimited options.