Ann Ellis Raynolds earned a bachelor’s degree from Cornell in 1950 and a doctorate in psychology in 1982. She was a clinical instructor in psychiatry on the Harvard Medical Faculty at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston, and an associate professor of child psychiatry and development at Boston University Medical School. She maintains a psychology practice in Queechee, Vermont. In this excerpt from Postwar Cornell, Ann remembers the mandatory curfew on women students and what happened when she tried to change it.
The social rules at Cornell were mainstream for the United States, but I grew up in New York City and my parents gave me a lot of freedom. So when I was faced with the curfew and other rules, I just broke them, knowingly. Many of the returning veterans lived off-campus, so if I was visiting them, I might spend the night rather than risk being late for the curfew. The curfew didn’t give me a choice.
Two things gave me leeway. I started in the architecture program, where there were only a few women, and architects had special permission to stay out until 2:00 or 3:00 a.m. After I switched to an English major I worked at the Cornell Daily Sun, where editors were allowed to stay out until we put the paper to bed, which could be midnight or 1:00 a.m. And I actually would have gone back to my room if it weren’t for the stupid rule. I would have preferred to sleep in my own bed but when I missed the curfew, I couldn’t go back.
My attitudes came from my background. My father was a liberal Republican from Vermont. He was a lawyer who handled some high-profile divorces. He saw how women were not treated equally, how they were totally dependent on their husbands because they had no way to make a living themselves. He told me that he wanted to make sure I had enough money so I would never be forced to stay with a man I didn’t love.
I never joined a sorority, and I was totally opposed to the whole idea from the beginning. I saw girls going through rushing, and I saw the pain it caused to the ones who weren’t chosen, and the exclusivity of it was appalling to me. I was rebelling against everything, and so I ran for president of the Women’s Self-Government Association (WSGA). I was going to reform all these rules. I was spouting the whole feminist liturgy. I’m proud now that I was ahead of my time, but I also remember praying that I would not be elected. And when I was elected in the spring of 1949, I was shocked to realize that not everyone agreed with me.
A lot of women actually supported the rules. My proposals went over like a lead balloon. And I also had to stick to the curfew, of course, because suddenly I was the Queen of the Curfew. That was hard. All these great guys, and suddenly I had to cut my visits short. It seemed quite strange to me because I had been traveling all over Europe alone in the summer of 1949.
I thought about resigning, but my father advised me not to. He said it would be a good opportunity for me to have the experience of leadership. But it was the Dean of Women, Lucile Allen, who really got to me. She told me that not everyone had enjoyed as many opportunities as I had, and a lot of people resented me for my liberal ideas. She made me feel like crawling into a hole, so I went through with it.
All of this made being head of the WSGA Judiciary Committee very interesting. The other women on the committee supported the rules, but they also understood my position. We only saw the worst of the worst cases, the ones the dorms referred to us, and we dismissed them whenever we could. I tried not to be punitive. We tried to be helpful in the letters we wrote, although I’m not sure we were successful. I remember encouraging one younger student to speak out, if she disagreed with these rules, and help change them. But most of the women we saw didn’t want to take any responsibility for self-government.
I eventually realized that they weren’t our rules, anyway. If I had succeeded in organizing women to change the curfew, the administration would have taken our proposal to the Board of Trustees, and they would have squashed it. I was shocked when I realized that. But really, the whole idea of student government back then was almost always a farce.
The boys did something really wild to the WSGA at the end of our senior year. It was the last big meeting, and I was making my speech, and some boys put pepper in the air ducts. The women in the audience started getting restless, and then they started running out of the room. I was wondering why, because I had carefully edited my remarks to keep anyone from getting upset. It was actually the perfect way to end the year.
But this was really just a small part of my experience. Overall, I thought Cornell was fabulous. I had only gone to girls’ schools and then, suddenly, everything was wide open. There were only 350 freshmen women and all of these veterans in 1946. The veterans were very serious about their educations, and they also played hard. I had a ball.