When RPI officially identified itself as "coeducational" in 1942, its administration struggled to come to terms with the label.  A typical attitude was reflected in the 1958 correspondence between Joan J. Brown, Class of 1947 and Edward Dion, Secretary of the Rensselaer Alumni Association.  Mrs. Brown inquired whether RPI was considered coeducational.  When Brown asked General Secretary Richard Schmelzer for verification, the latter wrote "we are coeducational even though we don't stress the fact because we don't want too many gals around." 
Not surprisingly, applications from prospective females dwindled during the 1950s.  There were never more than eight female students in one class. Among the many explanations for this phenomenon are the facts that Rensselaer was not promoted as coeducational and the Institute was not equipped to respond to the needs of women students.  Campus housing was not available for the "girls" and there were no student services designed specifically for coeds.  1952 Biological Society
At first there was little pressure to change the campus to accommodate women.  There was also a distinct reluctance to make a full commitment to coeducation. The women who attended Rensselaer during the first twenty years of its coeducational status tended to stand out - often dramatically.  Their successes were frequently singled out in publications as admirable exceptions and they were often asked why they decided to attend Rensselaer.  It is not surprising that in 1961 the Polytechnic quoted one coed as saying, 
"Rather than being stared at and being regarded as freaks, we would like to be treated as humans."  The article further states that the coeds were "tired of being interviewed." 

Comments and suggestions to: Archives Staff