Muriel Simonson at Jackson College 1924-1929

Women Students and Faculty at Tufts in the Twenties

In 1892, Tufts College became coeducational. Soon thereafter, female students made up more than 70% of the student body and outperformed male students academically as well as receiving more awards and scholarships than their male colleagues. Parents of male students, members of the Board of Trustees, professors, and others did not like that development and began to pressure for separating women students into a coordinate college in order to give male students an 'equal' chance. In response to this pressure, a separate coordinate college, Jackson College, was established for female students in 1910. Subsequently, the number of female students was restricted for enrollment as was their share in awards and scholarships.

When Muriel studied at Jackson College from 1924 until 1929, about 27% of undergraduates were women. Her professors were almost exclusively men. In 1924-1925, for instance, 100% of professors and lecturers and 94% of assistant professors and instructors were male. Of the 11 women teaching at Tufts that year, eight were working for the Medical School. (Course Catalog 1924/25)

In the U.S. overall, female students made up approximately one fifth of all undergraduates at the time. While more women received degrees in the Western states and in coeducational institutions, female students in the East tended to attend elite, parallel single-gender institutions such as Radcliffe.

Having gained the right to vote in 1920, young women then focused on breaking everyday gender barriers in sports for example, or in terms of hairstyle (bobbed and short hair), dress favoring the waiflike boyish look created by wearing either short, waist-less outfits or corsets hooked to a garter, and in behaviors previously considered outlandish such as drinking, smoking, dancing, and going to parties. The so-called 'flapper' was born. Muriel was no exception to this pattern.

Academic Achievements

In 1929, Muriel graduated with Final Honors in English (magna cum laude). This was an exceptional academic achievement in an era before grade inflation had become a widespread phenomenon. For final honors, Muriel needed an average of "at least 300 in all the studies of the course with grade A in 18 hours and grade A or B in 18 hours more of the same or allied subjects." (Course Catalog 1924/25. Each hour of A was counted as 400, B 300, C 200, and L 100, i.e. unsatisfactory but credit was permitted.)

Muriel also competed twice for the Goddard Prize. This competition sought to encourage the 'speaking of English verse' and an appreciation for poetry, prose and drama. Following Oxford Recitation Rules, judges from Harvard, Simmons, and other institutions sat behind a screen and evaluated students by voice and interpretation alone. Having won second place the previous year, Muriel won first place in 1929 and received a prize of $40. To participate in the competition that year students had to read sections of William's Wordsworth's Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood.

While Muriel's grade reports have been lost, you here see a contemporary grade report of her friend, Virginia Call.