What forces contributed to the declining power of women on campus?
As a dwindling minority, women were a low priority, and their needs were often sacrificed to the exigencies of accommodating the returning vets. For example, the university chose to house veterans in a project originally planned to house undergraduate women. Construction on what were to have been seven buildings, called the Fernwald Dormitories, was begun in 1940, but completion was delayed by the war and scaled back. An announcement as late as the spring of 1945 still stated that "Quarters for 480 women will be provided in three living units, two buildings to each unit, and a ‘commons’ will have central eating facilities. Two of the units will be completed by the opening of the Fall term October 25,  . . . caring for 360 girls" (Smyth-Fernwald Historic Structures Report, p. 9). However, the completed four buildings, the first residences ever built by Berkeley using public funds, were instead given over almost entirely to the veterans. By 1946, the Fernwald complex housed almost 400 men and only 78 women. The story is typical of the times: it was specifically the women undergraduates who lost housing to the vets, just as they had lost seats in the admissions process. Boarding houses were also increasingly renting to the larger numbers of men, and only one new women's cooperative residence, housing around 50 women, went up, in 1953. The shortage of living space discouraged women's enrollment and heightened the desirability of sororities for undergraduate women. It was a major factor in the renewed prestige and power of the Greek-letter organizations after the war (Kerr, 97-105; "Student Housing").
In the fifties, the administration made other changes that left women students in a weakened position. Early in the new decade, the formerly independent Dean of Women was subordinated to a (male) Dean of Students, ending the era when women undergraduates had a direct channel to the Chancellor. Dean of Women Katherine Towle recalled that under the new chain-of-command she was sometimes left out of the decision-making on policies affecting all students. Her effectiveness, moreover, was decreased by the necessity to communicate with the Chancellor mainly through the Dean of Students. She managed to prevent a further demotion in her status when the Dean of Students proposed that her title be changed from Dean to Advisor, but the administrative reorganization nevertheless tended to mute the voices of the women students she represented (Hartman, 109; Towle, 167-73).
Granted, in this article Didion portrayed the most traditional slice of campus life rather than the one where she eventually found her appropriate milieu and intellectual peers: the editorial offices of the Daily Californian and the literary magazine Occident (Rainey). However, another contemporary, who interviewed "the most talented and creative college women" at Berkeley in 1960, encountered surprisingly similar attitudes, especially about the primacy of matrimony in their plans for the future. Paul Heist, a researcher at Berkeley's Center for the Study of Higher Education, reported that "it was surprisingly infrequent to find a young woman genuinely committed to a discipline, a professional future, or a career . . . For those senior women interviewed, not already married, all saw marriage as a culminating goal of great if not first importance" (Heist, 1962, quoted in Fass, p. 176).
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