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Winter—and women—appear on campus

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By Becky Simmons, RIT archivist and Athenaeum contributing writer 

This image depicts a couple on the steps of the women’s dormitory, Kate Gleason Hall, at RIT’s downtown campus. Originally the Frontenac Apartments, the university remodeled the building in 1942 for women students. It was formally renamed Kate Gleason Hall in a dedication ceremony in 1947 as a tribute to her “initiative, courage, and generosity” to RIT. Women lived with one or two others in their own furnished and decorated apartments, a situation described by a local newspaper as an “experiment” in dorm living and a first for the country. The women would be exposed to "the life of a business girl,” with all the responsibilities and freedoms entailed. But the early literature sent to students and parents also tells us much about attitudes towards women. The first housing brochure for the dorm stated: “In these apartment-homes students live and solve homemaking problems” and “prepare for their future dual roles as career girls and home administrators.” 

Women were required to live in the residence hall if they were not living with their parents. Curfews were strictly enforced: Men could only visit at certain times in public lounge rooms, and leaving campus over night or for the weekend required a parent’s permission. In the early 1940s, most male students lived off campus, but even when a dormitory for men was opened in 1957, they did not have the same regulations and were able to come and go freely.

Still, even with the rules, recreation and good times were encouraged, and students found plenty of ways to enjoy their leisure time. In this image, the couple practically skips down the steps carrying skis and poles. Their winter attire tells us that they are likely on their way to the slopes to enjoy a day of skiing. Perhaps they were part of the Ski Club, which was very popular during this period (1950s to early 1960s). The club met throughout the academic year to watch ski films, hear lectures, attend demonstrations and make short trips to local ski areas. The highlight of the year was the annual ski weekend at a large resort, which club members worked hard to plan every fall quarter.