Women at Hope College in the 1930's and 1940's


Our research began by thinking about the lives of women at Hope College in the 1930s and 1940s and our research took each of us down a different path in Hope’s history. We allowed our findings, subsequent questions, and the lived experience of various women preserved in the archival records to drive our research in order to discover the different stories preserved from this period. Each member of our research group felt drawn in different directions, yet we noticed many similarities and common themes that connected seemingly separate topics and gave diverse perspectives to life at Hope College. 

As a group of female Hope College students, our project aimed to understand what it would have been like to live, attend, or work at Hope college during this time. These female students experienced two devastating events in the 1900s, the Great Depression and World War II, struggled to find belonging at Hope, and strived to make their voices heard on campus. A project of this scope and depth on this topic has never been done before, thus we were uncertain about what we would find and acknowledge there are many avenues for future research to  better understand what it was like to be a woman at Hope College in the 1930s and 1940s. Our research focused solely on the experience of women, thus future research may also consider the experiences of other diverse groups on campus. Refer back to our diversity statement for more information about diversity at Hope. Hope College has progressed since the 1930s and 1940s for women, yet there is still more to be done to ensure the best experience for female students and employees. 

Our research team consulted Dr. Deb Sturtevant, a recently retired professor of sociology and social work, and Dr. Sarah Kornfield, a professor of communication with affiliations in the women’s and gender studies program, to discern areas for improvement for both female faculty and students today. There were many similarities in Dr. Sturtevant’s and Dr. Kornfield’s responses. For example, research and discussion must continue in order to remedy and identify gender discrepancies in pay, promotions, and non-tenure tracks. Additionally, faculty services and committees impact the power of male and female faculty in their roles. Dr. Kornfield explained how these committees impact changes that can be made by an individual. She stated, “There should be a review of how much service work fe/male faculty actually do. And whether that service is significantly labor-intensive or not. How early in women's careers are they saddled with big service work? AND is the service work in areas that actually have POWER?” 

Consideration must also be given to the workload of faculty. Oftentimes, majority female departments, such as dance or education, require additional accreditation causing an imbalance in the workload of the majority female departments. 

Lastly, attention must be given to daycare and maternity. The semester system creates difficulties for mothers on maternity leave as the semester system was not designed for working mothers. Then, even after a mother returns from maternity leave, access to quality, accessible, and affordable childcare is often difficult to find in the Holland area. Both Dr. Strutevant and Dr. Kornfield recommended creating a daycare on campus. For female students, Dr. Kornfield recommended better gynecological care at the campus health center and access to housing compatible with a student’s gender.

These are a few of many possible avenues for attention and improvement in the present. Furthermore, our team consulted only a couple members of the faculty, thus more insight and perspectives may highlight different or additional places for future attention in order to correct gender disparities. 

It is our hope that you received a glimpse into the women of this time and gained a better understanding of Hope’s past. Our research regarding women students and faculty in the 1930s and 1940s allows us to identify causation from the past that impacts the present and future of Hope College.

Thank Yous: 

We would like to thank our research advisor, Dr. Lauren Janes, for overseeing this project throughout the various stages, Geoffrey Reynolds from the Joint Archives of Holland for his help acquiring and understanding sources, to the John H. Dryfhout ‘64 Research Grant for so generously supporting our research, Tori Longfield for advising us through building a website, and Dr. Jeanne Petit for her help initiating this project. We would also like to thank Dr. Nella Kennedy, Dr. Don Luidens, Dr. Deb Sturevant, and Dr. Sarah Kornfield for taking the time to speak with us and providing insight into various aspects of our research. Lastly, thank you to our families and friends for their support and those who donated to the Joint Archives of Holland allowing us to delve through sources from this period. 




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