Class of 1959 Returns to the Hilltop
The first full-time female students came to SFS in 1955. Among the ten classes that returned to the hilltop this summer for reunion weekend was the class of 1959, the first to graduate women. In their honor, a special panel was arranged entitled “Looking Back at Foreign Service: Female Perspectives from the Last 50 Years”. Participants included two members of the class of ’59, Helene Gettler Mallett and Gloria Roces, as well as alumnae Katie Solon (’79) and Kathy Crewe (’99).
Prior to 1955, women at SFS were only permitted to take courses in the night school. The first few years for female students on campus were difficult, as even the most basic services and activities for women were insufficient or nonexistent. “The most challenging year was probably 1955-56. I wish I could say that all of the women in my class made it to graduation, but for many reasons, a number of them dropped out,” remembers Helene Gettler Mallett (’59).
In 1956, female students created the Foreign Service Women’s Association (FSWA) and took on projects to improve the undergraduate experience for women. They produced an orientation handbook for incoming female students, created a women’s sports program, designed a mentoring system, arranged events with prominent women from the DC area, and set out to establish on-campus housing for female students, as there was none available at the time—with the exception of whatever open spots could be found in the nurse’s dorm.
At the end of the 1958-59 academic year, there were approximately 100 female students on campus, and the University hired a Director of Women’s Activities for the Schools of Foreign Service and business and the Institute of Languages and Linguistics.
This director took on the responsibilities of the FSWA, which then disbanded. Today, women compose over half the undergraduate student body at SFS.