My place at Case
What it was like to be a ‘Casey Coed’ when coeds were rare
By Claire Lohr ’68
At freshman orientation in 1964, each of us was given a class tie. It was a men’s tie, of course. I wore mine—and actually still have it.
There were no dorms for women, so we were mixed into the Western Reserve women’s dorms. That made for a bit of a walk to the CIT buildings—especially for an 8 a.m. engineering drawing class, carrying that big wooden drawing board. And good luck finding a women’s bathroom.
Welcome to Case Institute of Technology for the other half in the 1960s. Those of us who were “Casey Coeds” knew a different kind of college. It was just as rigorous and demanding as what the men experienced, but with fewer options, more slights and, I smile to recall, wonderful sisterhood. We were a chosen few.
Getting admitted was the first hurdle. There was a rumor among the girls that the board of directors limited female admission to 10 percent of a class, as girls would only work until they had children, anyway. Any kind of discrimination was legal then. It didn’t matter, because not too many women applied. I was one of 13 girls in a class of 839 students in 1964. (Nine of us walked at graduation in 1968.) I applied early decision and was accepted with the badly needed scholarships and loans.
Women in the classes before mine had organized. They knew what we needed. I was assigned a “big sister” who wrote to me in the summer before I started. She provided a map of where women’s bathrooms could be found. Each classroom building usually had one somewhere, for the secretaries.
We enjoyed some perks, too. All ladies’ bathrooms then had a sofa. This worked really well for snagging a nap between classes, or spending the night at the computing center, as I feared walking home alone.
There was some blatant discrimination. One department chair was said to have vowed that no girl would ever graduate from his department. I didn’t want to take any of his classes, anyway. The student newspaper ran a cartoon character named Gretchen Grossbod, an ugly woman in work boots who was supposed to represent the women at Case. If hiring managers for summer jobs or at graduation did not want to hire women, they made that VERY clear. One interviewer asked me what I would do for him if he hired me. Not getting what was going on, I answered “work.” No job was offered.
I struggled at first with poor study habits and undiagnosed learning disabilities. The other women rallied around me. One dropped by to see me and taught me step-by-step what I needed to do to study. Another got her graduate student boyfriend to tutor me in physics, which I was barely passing.
When the time came for me to use the machine shop for an engineering lab, I was in trouble. I had never touched one of those machines before. Girls were not allowed to take shop in my high school. The professor who ran the shop was delighted to have a girl in there, and he patiently taught me how to safely operate each one.
Extracurricular activities were few for women. There were not enough of us for a sorority. But I enjoyed being a cheerleader for Case Tech. I was a student member of the IEEE and now am a life member (free after 50 years!).
In the end, I got a great education at Case, and at the right time. It launched me into an awesome career. I am still working and participating in the development of standards for software and systems engineering (elected to a position with the IEEE Computer Society).
Now, let’s all go out and encourage all children—girls and boys—to participate in STEM classes, to prepare them for the future needs of American industry!
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