Curfews, Dress Codes and Chaperones: Are the rules meant to be broken?

Apr 6, 2015

In 1956, female students at Iowa State College had to be back in the freshman dorms by 8:45 p.m. on weeknights with lights out at 11:00 p.m. 

Gracia Willis graduated from ISC, now Iowa State University, in 1959. She says, in those days, there were strict standards for how co-eds were to behave.

“There were rules on nearly every aspect of our life. Groups of 12-15 ladies shared a telephone. The telephone was not to be used during study time. We were not allowed to wear slacks to class.”

Sometimes the rules were nice; they saved you from a bad date. - Ruth, a caller from Mt. Vernon

During this Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe talks with Willis about attending college in Iowa in the 1950s. Nebbe also talks with Maggie Van Oel, who directed the University of Iowa Residence halls for more than three decades, about how things have changed.

“As long as there have been rules, co-eds have been finding ways around them,” she laughs. “I learned how to play pool in college, how to drink in college. I was campused a few times.”

Sarah Richardson and Maggie Van Oel in Iowa Public Radio's studios.
Credit Lindsey Moon

Students were "campused" as punishment for breaking curfews or dress codes; Van Oel says it was a lot like being grounded. She was restricted from leaving the dorm and from talking with other students.

David McCartney, an archivist at the University of Iowa, and Sarah Richardson, who attended school in the late 1960’s in California, also join the conversation. McCartney reads from "The Code for Co-eds," a rule book for students on campus at the University of Iowa that was published from the 1930s to the 1970s and remembers the controversy surrounding the Board of Regents decision to make dormitories at Iowa's state universities co-ed.

Hear Talk of Iowa weekdays at 10:00 a.m. on Iowa Public Radio.