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History Matters: University of Delaware's Women's College Warner Hall then and now

Megan Pauly
Delaware Public Media
Emalea Pusey Warner - known as the mother as the Women's College - has her portrait in historic Warner Hall.

Our latest two-part edition of History Matters looks at Delaware’s role in the fight for women’s rights over the years.

And in part two, Delaware Public Media’s Megan Pauly toured historic Warner Hall at the University of Delaware - part of the original Women’s College in Newark where key figures like the mother of the college Emalea Pusey Warner’s portrait hangs over a fireplace.

Anne Boylan, Professor Emerita of History at the University of Delaware, says that in the early years of the Women’s College, Warner Hall was an all-female dorm - just as it is today. But some things have changed.


“You could not have gentleman callers – to quote Tennessee Williams – except during certain hours – and they would have to stay in the parlor," Boylan said. "You would be told your gentleman caller or your male friend is here and you would come down. Women would not have had keys, there would be a matron, there would be lights out.”


Girls back then could even be locked out if they missed curfew.


“I had a student who told me that when her mother went to move into one of the dorms – probably in the 1970s or 80s something like that – her grandfather (her mother’s father) accompanied them to help them move in. And her grandmother who was with them yelled out very loudly: man on floor! Because in her day, you had to let someone know if there was a man on the floor because you might be, you know, in your dressing gown. But times have changed, we have coed dorms now," Boylan said.


But Boylan says not all women students lived on campus in its early years, often commuting via train from Wilmington.


She also says the former Women’s College at the University of Delaware’s was pioneering for the First State, but not in the larger scheme of women’s colleges opening.


"The Delaware Women’s College is kind of a latecomer to the women’s college creation," Boylan said. "The first women’s colleges that gave BA degrees were founded in 1860s and 70s. Vassar is one of the first, 1865. But then there are the seven sisters…Bryn Mawr and Smith and of course, Spelman in Atlanta…"


She says if women came from well-off families, they could attend one of the Seven Sister schools.


But for other middle class white women in Delaware, the Women’s College opened the doors to education in the First State.


The university, while an all-white school, did employ many African Americans as cooks, maids and janitors.


Boylan says the university became coed at the end of WWII.


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