Skip to main content

Let's Talk Human Rights

Independent Revolts: Women on UD’s Campus from 1968-1971

By Hannah Kratofil ’20 and Alexandra Michalski ’20

Mrs. Lynn Brumfield ‘71 is an extraordinary woman who we interviewed about her mother, Betty Perkins. Her mother was a champion of women’s rights on the University of Dayton campus, a pioneer in the University’s Title IX process, and one of the driving forces behind the establishment of the Women’s Studies Program. Lynn, an activist for the women’s movement in her own right, offers fascinating insight into the life of women on the University of Dayton campus during the tumultuous period of the late sixties and early seventies. We included some of those insights in our review of the women’s rights movement at the University, summarized in our previous blog post

Lynn began her time at the university in 1968 when women could not attend class unless they were wearing a skirt. In a time when jeans and a tee-shirt were the outfit of choice for young women, many protested this rule by wearing their nightshirts under a raincoat to class, making it appear that they were adhering to this rule. Lynn remarks that these women were performing “independent revolts.” She explains the girls’ mentality: “You won't let me put on my jeans and a T-shirt and to come to class? Okay. Watch what I'll do… I'm going to laugh all the way to the, you know, all the way to class. And while I'm sitting there, I'm going to giggle internally because I have defied you and you don't even know it.” For these women, the act of secretly defying the rules gave them some sense of control over their lives. Times were changing, however, and professors began to accept women in pants in their classes. By Lynn’s sophomore year she notes  that “very few professors were throwing girls out of class for not having a skirt on.” Not long after that, the rule was changed. 

Women faced many struggles during this period, especially when attending college. Many men considered female students frivolous and believed that they were not serious students, simply because of their gender. Lynn recalls that there was a saying on campus that “Women went to school to get their MRS. In other words, you went to find a husband who was going to make good money for you. It wasn't because you were pursuing a profession.” Lynn argues that being a feminist means having “a sense of pride in oneself and the freedom to develop as you want.” She believes that whether a woman wishes to enter the professional field or become a stay-at-home mother, women should have that opportunity to make a decision and not be denied access to these options. 

Lynn attended the University of Dayton during a time of profound change. Because of the Vietnam War and the protests about it on campus, the previously compulsory ROTC program for men was deemed no longer mandatory in 1969. As such, there were no longer any compulsory classes for men. However, the women’s equivalent courses, physical education and health were still required in order to graduate, a norm that Lynn viewed as discriminatory. She argued to her advisor that “Men don't have to take health. They don't have a [compulsory] thing. I have all the credits I need. I guess I'll wait a year till you change the policy. Then you'll graduate me.” Her advisor was not happy with her decision but allowed Lynn to graduate on time, despite never taking the mandatory health class. The following year the compulsory classes for women were dropped from the course catalog. 

The controversy surrounding the Vietnam War was one avenue through which women could gain a voice on campus. With no organized activism for the women’s movement on campus in the 1960s and early 70s, women flocked to other social movements. Anti-Vietnam War and civil rights groups were popular choices with women taking on various leadership positions in these organizations. Lynn remarks that in doing this, women were “establishing themselves, perhaps through the back door.” From sit-ins at Father Roesch’s office to seminars in Zehler Hall, the anti-Vietnam war demonstrations were quite prevalent on campus from 1966 onwards and allowed women to have their voices heard by their peers. Some faculty members also supported these activities, including history professor Mary Evelyn Jegen, who later became vice-president of Pax Christi International. Research into student and faculty activism against the war is currently ongoing at the Human Rights Center as part of its Vietnam Legacies Project.

Near the end of Lynn’s time at UD, women’s safety was emerging as an important issue for women on campus. She remarks that “the whole concept of sexual assaults were never even spoken of when I was in school.” It was considered a taboo topic. In an effort to protect women, the University of Dayton decided to limit the freedom of female students: women were required to be in their dorms by midnight for their own safety. While the world was adjusting to the demands of the women’s movement, it also meant “more freedom, but at the same time, that created less protection” according to Lynn. In this environment, sexual assaults were considered better addressed through interpersonal discussion, meant to be debated amongst women in private. This silence was slowly broken with the next generation of women leaders at UD taking on these issues publicly through marches and campus events in the 1980s and 1990s. Lynn graduated from the University in 1971, returning for her master’s degree in school psychology in 1984.


Hannah Kratofil is a 2020 graduate of the History and Political Science Programs with a certificate in Nonprofit and Community Leadership. Hannah worked as a student intern at the Human Rights Center supporting OpenGlobalRights and SPHR19; she was also a Dayton Civic Scholar.

Alexandra Michalski is a 2020 graduate of the History Program, with minors in English and Film Studies. She worked as a student intern at the University of Dayton Archives and Special Collections.

Previous Post

How COVID-19 Impacted Senior Goodbyes

As a senior at the University of Dayton, Maggie Cadman reflects on her last semester at UD as well as her experience participating in human rights projects and initiatives.
Read More
Next Post

A Triple Bottom Line: Developing Environmental, Social, and Economic Sustainability in Student Business Practices

The Human Rights Center and Hanley Sustainability Institute have collaborated with Flyer Enterprises, UD’s student run business, to develop business practices centered around human rights and sustainability.
Read More