The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Thursday December 8th

Dress codes and curfews: a balancing act for women at UNC

General Light Caption
Buy Photos General Light Caption

This is part of a series of stories looking into different parts of UNC's long history and how life at the University has changed over time.

Historically, UNC’s female students have faced an uphill battle on campus.

In 1898, Sallie Walker Stockard was the first woman to receive a degree from the University. Despite completing the same requirements as her male counterparts, she was not allowed to pose in the class portrait nor receive her diploma alongside the men in her graduating class.

From the 1920s to the late 1960s, female students were subject to different rules than male students. Taylor Livingston, a field scholar for the Southern Oral History Program, said every year up until 1968, women would be given an extensive rule book including rigid curfews, dress codes and regulations for behavior on campus.

According to an annual report by the Dean of Women — a former position to manage women's affairs on campus — in 1925, women were subject to rules such as full-time dormitory chaperones, a no-guest policy overnight and on the weekends, an on-campus living requirement until age 24 and a ban on riding in a car with men after 9 p.m. 

Livingston said she leads a sub-tour of the Priceless Gems tour, called "Digging in Our Heels, Angels on Campus: The Herstory of Women at Carolina," detailing the history of women on UNC's campus.

"All students were subject to in loco parentis rules, but there were special rules that just applied to women,” Livingston said. 

In loco parentis is Latin for "in place of a parent." 

She said even if female students were permitted to leave their dorm, they could only go to the library and other places on campus meant for study. Free time almost always involved a chaperone and parental permission.

Additionally, some of the all-girl dorms had dining halls and parlors so women did not have to leave their dorm to eat or socialize, Livingston said.

"These rules — meant just for women — not only restricted where you could go, but also what you could wear,” she said. 

She said skirts and blouses were expected for everyday wear. Heels, a suit and full gloves were required dress for football games. While these dress code rules were lifted in 1967, shorts and pants were still not permitted in classrooms, dining halls, libraries or South Building until a few years after. 

"From the 1920s to the 1960s, Carolina for female students was a smaller women's college within a larger university because not only were they subject to different rules that restricted what they could wear and where they could go, but it also restricted the clubs that they could be a part of,” Livingston said. 

Livingston said it was not until 1966 that these rules were questioned because of a scandal involving Paul Dickson, the student body president at the time. She said Dickson's girlfriend accidentally fell asleep in his residence and he was not reprimanded, yet she was expelled. 

Livingston said Sharon Rose Powell, who later became the chairperson of the Women's Residence Council at UNC, rallied with other women over the unfairness of the differing rules for men and women.

Livingston said Powell voiced her opinion to Katherine Carmichael, the Dean of Women at the time, but Carmichael did nothing about the issue because she strictly adhered to the rules enforced for women on campus.

"Carmichael had this idea of southern womanhood," Livingston said. "She believed that the woman was a fragile flower."

Next, Powell appealed to Carlyle Sitterson, the chancellor at the time, who agreed and enacted the beginning of the phasing out of rules for women.

"What was really the nail in the coffin of these separate in loco parentis rules has to do with Title IX, which passed in 1972, and said that there can be no discrimination in education on the basis of sex,” Livingston said. 

Livingston said 1976, four years after the passing of Title IX, was the first year women outnumbered men in UNC's first-year class.

Bill Ferris, a professor of history and folklore and the senior associate director at the Center for the Study of the American South, said the rules for women at UNC had to change alongside the ever-changing society.

"I think all institutions have to be forced to change — they do not act out of instincts for good,” he said. "It was only with the women's suffrage movements and the Civil Rights Movement that these states were forced to do the right thing. UNC was no different. It was forced to accept women."

He said World War II was instrumental in changing the typical societal roles for women.

"It broke up the old order of women's roles because when men left to go to war, someone had to work in the factories and do all of the jobs that men had been doing, so women did them,” he said. “When the war was over, women were not comfortable giving up those good paying jobs and going back into the home to simply take care of their children."

Ferris said while the rules for women have become less rigid, they still face obstacles and inequity based on gender. He said in order for women to be treated equally, there must be continued activism and protests fighting for their rights.

"Right to the present, women are radical voices and they have issues that are still unresolved in terms of discrimination and violence,” he said. “Those issues exist here on campus, but also all over the region.”

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.


The Daily Tar Heel's 2022 Year in Review

Special Print Edition

Games & Horoscopes

Print Edition Games Archive