The Orient article announcing Bowdoin’s first-ever women’s sports team is a tiny blurb titled “Hockey Jockettes” tucked away on the third page of the October 15, 1971 issue. It announces the creation of the field hockey team, which was coached by Sally LaPointe—the wife of Bowdoin’s Lacrosse Coach Mortimer LaPointe—on a voluntary basis.
Celeste Johnson ’75 and Stephanie Monaghan ’75, members of Bowdoin’s first coeducational class, both played on this first field hockey team, which was as "ad hoc" as Bowdoin’s first coeducation committees.
“I think they kind of never thought about the idea that girls need uniforms, so we ended up being given the boys’ soccer uniforms,” said Johnson in a phone interview with the Orient.
Women in their class also had options for getting involved in Bowdoin’s “physical education” and “free play” programs. According to Edward Coombs, the acting director of athletics, Modern dance, tennis and swimming, were popular with women during the fall of 1971. In terms of participation in Intramural and Intercollegiate programs, he chose to “adopt a ‘wait and see’ policy,” he wrote in his annual report to Shirley Gray, Chairman of the Committee on Physical Education-Athletics.
Women were also welcome to play in the interfraternity “White Key” teams. A November 1, 1974 Orient article called “Out of the Kitchen: Females Possess the Key” reports on women participating in the interfraternity sports.
“I can’t think of anything where we got told that we were asking for too much,” said Johnson. “It would probably be Sally [LaPointe] pushing the envelope for trying to get us more.”
Bowdoin’s Athletic Department was more prepared for the arrival of women than some other areas of the college, such as health services.
The 1971 annual report of the Committee on Athletics budgeted $9,000 to providing private showers and facilities for a women’s locker room. These changes would be made in time for the incoming Class of 1975. A later request would add hairdryers to the locker room, but the College purchased salon-style over-the-head hair dryers that the women found completely inconvenient.
“There was one time when I was changing in the locker room and a male coach walked straight through the women’s locker room,” said Christa Cornell ’75, who ran recreationally at Bowdoin, in a phone interview with the Orient. “So I went to protest—I had to protest a lot of things.”
Cornell said she spoke to the head of the Athletic Department and his reply was that the coaches are used to the old locker room layout and that she should be careful in case he does it again.
Although the 1971 Report saw no need for an increase in the size of the Athletics staff, the June 1972 report of President Howell’s special Commission on Athletics did see a need.
The President’s Commission wrote that “it is evident that the present staff will not be able to meet the needs of a steadily increasing number of women students.” At the time, the Athletic Department’s female staff consisted of Sally LaPointe in a voluntary coaching position and June Vail, an instructor of modern dance and the wife of an economics professor.
The Commission also designated a $5,000 fund for women’s sports for the 1972-73 year.“The women students have been most reasonable in their requests. It is imperative that maximum flexibility be built into any programs so that the interests of the women students can guide the scope and direction of those programs as they evolve,” stated the Commission’s report.
A March 13, 1973 memo to President Howell from Coombs and Dean of the College LeRoy Greason claims that the Commission’s recommendation to add a woman to the Athletics’ staff full-time “has not yet been implemented,” citing “budgetary considerations” and “a desire to wait for a clearer sense of direction in programs of particular interest to women.”
A September 21, 1973 Orient article counts LaPointe as a new member of Bowdoin’s staff, as Coach of the Women’s Athletic Program, shifting her coaching from volunteer to a formalized position.
Later that semester, an Orient article reported on the seven Bowdoin women’s sports teams, most of which were organized informally and faced challenges such as having only a few opponents—the team would play against the Brunswick Women’s Recreational Center and Brunswick High School. Director of Admissions Dick Merserau was voluntarily coaching the women’s basketball team at the time.
In 1976, the College hired Lynn Ruddy as an Assistant Coach. During that school year, a September 17 Orient article reported that 42 percent of women were involved in athletics. In this article LaPointe cited Title IX as a reason for the growing number of female athletes at Bowdoin, since they arrived at the College with athletic training from secondary school.
It is important to note that although Title IX, part of the U.S. Education Amendments, was passed in 1972, LaPointe and Ruddy claimed it did not greatly affect the operation of the Athletics Department at Bowdoin. In an Orient article on October 8, 1976, Ruddy said this was because much of Title IX deals with athletic scholarships, which aren’t awarded at Bowdoin.
“Here, Title IX is irrelevant,” said Ruddy.
However, Monaghan saw things differently.
“Title IX had gone through, so the College was scared to death about doing something wrong,” she said, referring to the College’s eagerness to accommodate women in athletics.
At the end of that academic year, LaPointe wrote to President Howell in a 1976-77 report that “the female population has risen to over 500, we are trying to handle twelve intercollegiate programs with two full time people while there are twenty-one intercollegiate programs for men with nine full time coaches and a few part timers. I have never felt the need for increasing the help for the women as I have this year.”
In 1979, the women’s indoor track team echoed this need. Team members wrote to the Athletic Director and Deans of the College asking for a separate coach for the women’s track team who can “devote his or her time to their needs.” Today, there is still one head coach for the men’s and women’s teams. However, the team has three other assistant coaches—including Ruddy, hired in 1976, who now coaches high jump and sprint—as well as volunteer coaches.
But in the years between 1971 and today, women have helped to shape a strong athletics department. LaPointe went on to coach for 20 years at the College and died in 2007.
Now, women play 16 varsity sports and three club sports at the College. However, the legacy of an all-male institution lives on. A November 11 Orient article reports that the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) found a decreasing gap in the salaries of male and female head coaches throughout the league, although that gap still exists.
Sports for women at Bowdoin today take on a different role, in a balanced gender ratio college setting, than the early teams. For the first coeducational classes, women’s teams were an important refuge from the overwhelmingly male environment of the College.
“When we were out there playing field hockey, we were just elated to be able to have this opportunity to come together around a goal … it was just all us [women],” said Johnson. “As soon as the game was over, we were back in the world where it was the 10-1 ratio again … There was a lot of happiness and camaraderie … I think that was something that we really all cherished.”
Julia O’Rourke ’19 contributed to this report.