In 1942, the incoming freshmen arriving at the Woman’s College were offered a simple stapled pamphlet titled Social Standards. This document, produced by the Social Standards Committee of the Woman’s College Student Government, offered advice on how to behave, dress, and act at Duke. It included regulations—including four involving
when and where it was appropriate to wear socks or stockings—and set penalties for violations. It also forbade female students from sitting on the wall around East Campus. For other behavior, the pamphlet ominously stated, “We have no intention of imposing a set penalty for indiscreet conduct, but, on the other hand, we shall make it known to you if we feel that you are not living up to our general standard of good taste in such matters.”
The Social Standards Committee was formed in the late 1920s by female students to provide codified guidance to their peers and to determine punishment for violations. The committee produced several pamphlets like the one described, one of which included sections called “Tut-Tut, Duchess!” and “Thank you, Duchess!”—illustrating do’s and don’ts for behavior. Finally, from 1954 to 1962, the committee published a serial called Design for a Duchess.
Latching onto the theme of royalty, the pamphlet was sent during the summer to incoming female freshmen. “In this little booklet,” it began, “are some hints [about] how to acquire the know-how for wearing the crown of a Duchess. With your own individuality and personality, you will wear it with an air quite your own. Yet the crown mustn’t be all askew, but as befitting a true Duchess. . . . Everything she does is in good taste and up to the highest standard.”
Design for a Duchess offered specific recommendations on what to wear, how to decorate one’s room, and what locations were appropriate for dining, dancing, and dating. Some advice was comfortingly friendly: “Fran Freshman realizes that Duke life does not demand a new, expensive, or large wardrobe. She can utilize her high school clothes . . . they’re new at Duke!”
Other advice was dauntingly specific. Two sections of the booklet outlined what a woman should and should not do. The first section, “Popularity Plus,” lauds those who (among many other virtues): always wear a skirt or coat over gym shorts when walking on campus; choose a few favorite activities, do more than is expected of them, and run for office; speak up in class—“the prof respects your opinions, and he wants to hear them—but don’t monopolize the discussion”; take a peek in their compact mirrors before coming in at night.
The second section, “Frowns Unlimited,” castigates those who: make paths on the grass in the main quad; wear trés bare sunback dresses to classes; take showers and baths in the middle of the night; do their dream-teaming on the campus and especially in front of the house at closing hours—“remember that love may be blind, but your friends aren’t!”
Again, these were just a few of many behaviors that could draw frowns (unlimited!) from one’s peers. The booklet concludes that Duke is “a way of thinking, of acting, of doing things. It’s a way of individuality and originality and freedom of choice; yet it’s also a way of conforming to standards of discrimination, courtesy, and discretion.”
The booklet remained essentially the same through 1962. During the early 1960s, however, the student body began to change its outlook on such prescriptive advice. At the end of the 1962-63 school year, O’Hara Boswell ’64, chair of the Social Standards Committee, told The Chronicle that Design for a Duchess would be “reduced in size and changed in the outdated tempo of its advice.” The new publication, It’s Not in the Handbook, was smaller, more modern looking, and had no social dictates. The concluding paragraph offers a more open-minded and inclusive vision of what a female Duke student could be:
These are only a few suggestions to help give you an idea of what your first year at Duke may be like. Do not feel, however, that you have to accept and follow all of them. There is no outlined plan which every member of the Class of 1967 must adopt. When you reach the campus, you will find that the Duke way of life is an adaptable one, and that every person responds to each new situation according to her own ideas and values. This spirit of independence and the responsibility that goes with it have long been a tradition of our University. To keep it this way, every member of the Duke community is carefully selected, and each person is thought of as someone special, someone who deserves to be called a Duchess.
No more “Tut-Tuts,” no more “Frowns Unlimited”—the 1963 Duke woman began to carve out her own social norms and expectations, rather than following codified rules. Not insignificantly, 1963 was also the year Duke desegregated its undergraduate body and began to truly broaden the definition of who belonged at Duke.