Document Type


Publication Date



Cross-dressing and same-sex attractions were common occurrences at historically women’s colleges (HWCs) in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when the majority of these institutions came into their own. When examining typical characteristics of HWC campus cultures in their formative years, one might be surprised to see misalignment between common and accepted behaviors by college women versus outside social expectations for women of their class and time period. Thus we might ask: what unique opportunities existed in the early era of HWCs that permitted students to transcend elite patriarchal expectations for gender and femininity? This paper aims to explore how students found unique opportunities to evade traditional gender roles in the foundational years of women’s higher education. I trace the similarities and differences between common practices and values on HWC campuses versus mainstream expectations for the role of women, in order to provide a basis for identifying the areas in which students’ lived experiences of womanhood exceeded the boundaries set upon them by patriarchy.


Undergraduate Research Awards - 2024 Winner, Junior/Senior category