The University’s first female undergraduates were few in number but strong in spirit, and they made their presence felt in ways that set them apart from the “imports” — the weekend dates — who once embodied femininity at Princeton. Not only did they excel in a largely male environment, they also challenged its mores.
One of the most dramatic statements made by “coeds” in this era targeted a magazine that in 1968 claimed 2 million male collegiate readers: Playboy. That year even the University Library subscribed to it, placing one copy in general circulation and one under lock and key, University Librarian William S. Dix observing that Playboy’s “more lurid aspects ... make it particularly vulnerable to loss and mutilation.”
Dix could not have foreseen that three years later, on March 13, 1971, undergraduates M. Christine Stansell ’71 (later a Princeton history professor) and Susan Petty ’73 would invade the room of a fellow Wilson College student and shred his large collection of Playboy pinups. The sleeping senior did not take kindly to the destruction of his property, telling The Daily Princetonian that his pinups “glorified the beauty of the female figure.” But for Stansell and Petty, the images symbolized oppression. As Stansell put it, if the pinups’ owner “had had pictures of blacks to throw darts at, people would have been outraged. But because they were women, no one can understand why anybody would get upset.”
Following an open meeting — at their insistence — of the Faculty-Student Committee on Discipline, Stansell and Petty were placed on disciplinary probation for the remainder of the semester. While recognizing their intent was “to provoke public discussion of a subject worthy of such debate,” the committee concluded “the action undertaken in this particular case constituted a serious infringement of important personal rights.” But the pair had made their point; indeed, as PAW’s Andrew Wilson ’72 reported with at least a grain of truth, “no Playboy subscriber is sleeping soundly on campus tonight.”
John S. Weeren is founding director of Princeton Writes and a former assistant University archivist.