Gender in IIT History

This semester in my Gender and Technological Change class we’ve talked a lot about how gender and technology intertwine to impact our daily lives. Throughout, the class has tried to push you to get outside of your own particular way of seeing the world in order to come to new conclusions. One of the best ways to do this is to get outside of one’s own context, so that’s what this next assignment asks you to do.

Actually, that’s only half true. Historically, you’ll be asked to range far and wide, but geographically, you’ll be right at home. For this assignment I’m asking you to say something about gender in IIT history by using the university archives that detail our institute’s past.

Most of the archives are not online, so this assignment may require you to go into Galvin Library where the paper copies are held. Old-fashioned, yes–but much more of our cultural and historical heritage is offline than online. (You can use our class time this Thursday to go in to Galvin.)

Some rich resources have been digitized, however, including all the back issues of the IIT student newspapers since their inception in 1928. This issue from 1970, for instance, is a cornucopia of gendered tension, from its articles on the in loco parentis university rules for “coeds,” to a computer program for heterosexual romance, to abortion advertisements. Indeed, the archives of Tech News could make for a very insightful essay on gender in IIT history, with some careful and strategic use of search terms.

Take a good look through the catalog, finding aids, and online exhibits that our hardworking archivists have put together before you decide what to zero in on.

A particularly jokey early-April edition of Tech News from 1945

Your blog comment should do 3 things:

1. State the research question you came up with before going into the archives or as you looked through the archives (i.e. what question were you trying to answer?).

2. Discuss change over time in some way.

3. Make a connection between something you’ve learned in the archives and something you’ve learned in class.

Make sure to cite the resources you use (ask the archivists for help if you’re not sure how). If the items you use are online, include a URL to the particular document you’re referencing.

Your comment should be at least 600 words and no longer than 1200 words. Your post is due Monday, 3/25 by 5pm. Please also bring a print-out or electronic copy to class on Tuesday, 3/26 as you will be asked to present your findings to the class.

Have fun!


Below is a gallery of some choice snippets from old issues of Tech News to get you thinking about topics and search terms:


  1. Bradley Martin

    IIT Attendance as a Function of Perceived Security

    IIT is located in the south side of Chicago, a place that has an infamous reputation as a less than safe area. In recent time this has begun to change, at least in the vicinity of the campus. In the past the housing areas around IIT were low income and had higher crime rates. In the vicinity of IIT these establishments have since been demolished and replaced with another kind of housing that doesn’t carry nearly as much crime and lower crimes rates followed. [1],[2]

    The perceived level of security by the people on campus directly relates to the number of attendees each year. This relationship affects the number of female students more so than the number of male students.

    When a student is looking at schools and sees comes to IIT they are always informed of the safety issues on campus. The majority of the information is helpful for being safe on campus and any information will help reduce the rate of incidents just by properly educating people on what the dos and don’ts for living here. Most college campuses have safety seminars and the like for incoming students but what makes it different for IIT is that since it is in the south side of Chicago the perceived threat is greater than it actually is. This perception is only solidified by the large number of public safety officers and common emergency buttons across campus. Although these factors obviously make the campus more safe, they are perceived as threatening because why would there need to more officers and emergency buttons if the school didn’t have some serious security issues. This is to say, the more visible safety measures put in place increase the threat felt by the people who are unacquainted with the campus.[1],[2]

    Traditionally, a common perception of how women were perceived in the past was that a woman could not do as well as a man could alone in a city. Particularly in a tougher area such is the south side of Chicago. This perception is not completely gone as women are giving particular attention in safety briefs. However well the intention this additional attention is having the same effect on their perception of the school as addition officers and safety buttons are to all the incoming students. The increased attention to campus security is making the campus seem less safe than it would otherwise be perceived and thus reducing the number of people willing to attend.

    [1] Hartley, Robert. “Campus Security.” Technology News 61.1 (1956): 2. IIT Archives. Web. 25 Mar. 2013.
    [2] “Security Cameras Curtail Crime.” Technology News 110.2 (1981): 1+. IIT Archives. Web. 25 Mar. 2013.

  2. Cruz

    This blog assignment was definitely challenging and interesting. I enjoyed meeting the staff of the archives as well as browsing through IIT’s archives. Another reason for my interest in this assignment is because of my partner’s brother, who is a human rights archivist at UCONN, and I was excited to report back my experience to him. When going into do my research I wanted to find out what options were available to women at Illinois Institute of Technology (previously Armour Institute of Technology and Lewis Institute). When going through the archives I found it interesting to find what the perceptions of women were and how they came to evolve as viable members to the Institute.

    One of the oldest documents I looked at was a newspaper clipping from 1934 that announced the graduating class from this year. In the write up it only mentions men graduating from the college with women having no credible roles given to them. Fast-forward a decade to 1943 and here I found mention of women being enrolled for Engineering Training Defense Program during World War II. Interestingly enough it seems like this program was separate from a degree from Armour or Lewis Institute. Within this program it also seemed like there was separation between particular men and women’s courses. Women had their own courses in: Material Inspection, Engineering Drafting, and Engineering Fundamentals (1). In the courses that were co-ed, males greatly dominated the enrollment over women.

    I also looked through early editions of Tech News and found little to no articles written by or about women’s interests. What I did find that remotely mentioned women were extremely sexist weekly photos that typically showed a woman, who was not a student at IIT, with a caption that read “I Read Tech News”. The women that were photographed for this segment were typically friends of students, secretaries, or women from the community, none of which were actual students at IIT. For one of these newspaper segments I found a caption that read, “Joan Hassett, a “friend” of a staff member, pauses from reading her Technology News to give the photographer the eye.” (2) Women are not being represented as smart or career focused students in Tech News, but instead represented for their sexual appeal and flirtatiousness towards men. Also questionable about this segment is why the Tech News editors felt they need to put the word friend in quotes.

    One interesting collection I found that seemed like it made difference for women’s empowerment was the Anita Anderson Papers. Within this collection I found the start of a women’s luncheon group that initially seemed like it was comprised of staff members. The luncheons started in 1981 and were an informal way for women to meet and network with one another. Eventually the group became larger and more organized and the women created a member directory so they could be able to reach out to the members if a certain skill set or expertise was needed. The group also started to evolve further and began to reach out to students IIT. The group also started to organize women’s empowerment discussions and health awareness talks. From what I gathered from the collection, it seemed like this group continued throughout the early to mid 1990’s.

    From looking through the archives it became apparent to me that women didn’t start making their mark at IIT until around the 1980’s. Even with the formation of the luncheon group, it seemed that the member focus of this group were employees at IIT and not students. From analyzing what I uncovered about women’s roles at IIT it made me wonder if women’s enrollment to a technical school seemed intimidating or less appealing to women because of perceptions based on mathematics, science and technology. This idea reminded me of the Eglash article were he argued that there is a perception of what people in technology fields are supposed to be. It is interesting to wonder if women were less interested to complete a degree at IIT because of these perceptions.

    1 – Illinois Institute of Technology, War Training Courses (1943), Registrar’s Records, Collection #2002.039, Illinois Institute of Technology Archives Chicago, IL

    2 – Photo reference of Joan Hassett, Vol 72. No. 15 –

    • Marie Hicks

      Great work, Cruz. If you were to push this further, what particular aspect do you think you would like to zero in on? Are there more archives related to the general questions that you raised here that might help narrow down the topic? Or maybe you could use some theory we have studied in class to narrow things down?

  3. Carla

    Having worked at the Student Phonathon for the past two academic years, calling IIT alums and speaking with them about their experiences, I noticed that many of our older female alumnae received a degree in Home Economics; few studied engineering, and those that did had very interesting experiences, to say the least. However, the sparseness of females in STEM+ fields is commonly discussed and their struggles are pretty well-known. Instead, I wanted to research the Home Economics degree’s history here at IIT and how it related to gender.

    Beginning in 1912, the Lewis Institute (the college that merged with the Armour Institute of Technology in 1940 to create the Illinois Institute of Technology) began offering a degree in Home Economics, a fairly new field of study at the time. Lewis’ purpose was to provide adult education to establish careers. It had a separate school for women to teach them about art, science, etc. While the article about the history of Lewis cites impressive foresight by a founder that women would one day need this education for work, the will that dictated the founding (and its funding) stated that it would be a polytechnic university, but that fact should have no bearing on the quality of women’s education. However, Lewis was highly regarded for its Home Economics (HE) program; the institute taught and perfected what is commonly called the “Household Management” course that later became a staple for most HE curricula. In an article written in 1939 about the coming merger between Armour and Lewis, the author highlights Lewis’ prestige in the HE department and that it will remain even through the merger.

    While these retrospective articles about the department do not specifically state its primarily female composition, one can infer from articles in Technology News that its students were mainly women. An article in the October 20, 1940 edition discusses a home mechanics course that was offered to and received well by men and women (also called “homemakers and educators”). However, the pupils are described as women. However, the course was pretty progressive, however, as women were taught the “man’s work” around the house so “she doesn’t know whether her place is in the home or under the kitchen sink.”

    The HE program grew at IIT throughout the 1940s. Between 1940 and 1948, the program had 15 mentions in Tech News; their presence was well-known throughout the campus. Some highlights of the program’s success include that in 1944, the Home Economics Club initiated twenty four new members, a pretty impressive volume of student involvement, even by today’s standards. The article lists these new initiates; all of them were women. A year later, the department had two articles published in the January 29 edition of the paper, one about their big project that was on display and one about hosting a talk with a renowned nutritionist. Another article from 1946 highlights the election and installment of new officers for the HE Club, all of them women.

    A really impressive article was written about the HE department for the November 12, 1948 edition of Tech News. A male engineering student toured the department and discussed how modern the equipment was and how hard at work these Techwomen were. As he was observing, he “remarked aloud but unwittingly what fine and cultured prospective housewives the department was producing,” but was soon informed otherwise. While the subjects the Home Economics students were studying remained domestic in nature, the professor informed the engineering student that these women were being trained for professional service, not just to become housewives and mothers.

    Unfortunately, after this article, there appeared to be quite a decline in popularity of the HE department. In the ten years following, there was only one publication about HE and it was a photo about the department’s contribution to the Open House. The next two articles about Home Economics was in 1959 and they described how, in two years after the seven current HE students graduated, the major would no longer be offered by IIT. Most distinctive was the opening line of one of the articles, stating that the “jokes about home economic majors” would come to an end as the program did. To me, this revealed that despite the positive remarks and publications about the department, it was obviously not taken seriously by other students.

    From these publications, we can trace the rise and fall of the Home Economics department here at IIT. At its peak, the department was home to nearly 100 undergraduate and graduate students, primarily. Much of this department was dependent on the development of technology, often in the form of appliances, similar to the way that Cowan discussed technology’s role in housewifery in the early 20th century. However, it is apparent that the goals of the department were misaligned with the perceptions of it. Outsiders assumed that its purpose was to turn girls into “marry-able” women. However, the department’s program was aimed at developing professional careers. While they were within the realm of what is considered “women’s work,” they were preparing for employment outside the home. Obviously, their work was not taken seriously based on the “jokes” told about them and the eventual closure of the department.

    It seems as though this “feminine” realm of study had no place at a technical university. Evidently, the students in HE were not taken seriously, which could have contributed to the decline in prestige associated with the department. However, articles also indicate that interest in receiving an HE degree dwindled in its final years—having only 7 students enrolled and few applications coming in. Perhaps this is an indicator that the previous prospective HE majors were becoming interested in other fields—perhaps more technical ones.


    Home Economics Class Displays First Project (1945, January 29). Technology News. pp. 5. Retrieved March 21, 2013

    Home Economics Club Initiates Twenty-four (1944, 3 April). Technology News. pp. 4. Retrieved March 20, 2013

    Home Economics Club Will Hear Nutritionist (1945, January 29). Technology News. pp. 5. Retrieved March 21, 2013

    Home Economics Department Ends Curriculum Soon (1959, May 8). Technology News. pp. 1. Retrieved March 22, 2013

    Lewis Experts Active in Home Economics Talk (1940, October 29). Technology News. pp. 3. Retrieved March 21, 2013

    Mazur, A. (1959, May 15). Home Economics Department Fades Out of Curriculum. Technology News. pp. 5. Retrieved March 22, 2013

    Michelle, E. (1948, November 12). Engineer tours HE domain. Technology News. pp. 3. Retrieved March 21, 2013

  4. Crystal

    The number of male students here at IIT has always outnumbered the female population. More housing provided for males students, on campus activities frequented by male students outnumber female students, and a male dominated culture. Despite this, it has gotten better than in previous years. The archived school newspapers is the perfect example to display how much more male students dominated the student body.

    The archives of Tech News physically showed how gender at IIT was perceived. Many of the ads were geared toward male students. For example, an ad for a company hiring read: “Our Future is in the Hands of Men Not Yet Hired!”. Furthermore, any publication that had to do with architecture, science or engineering were written specifically for the male population. They used words such as “he” instead of speaking to the person(s) reading in a general manner. This can be argued that during that time, it wasnt socially accepted for women to be engineers but it wasn’t to clear from the publications that it was accepted for female students to study such material here at the school. In articles talking about activities on campus, it was mostly male associated. For example, photos of students at the bog showed well dressed male students in a meeting of some sort. When reporting on Greek life on campus, the events of the Fraternities were widely covered before even mentioning a sorority. In heavy contrast from today, the sport section of Tech News in the 1960s were reports on all male sports. (Though, there was no proof if there was any female sport teams during that time.)

    Twenty six to one was the ratio of males to females in 1961 at IIT. For the very limited population of female students, the Tech News publications gave them their light but it seemed to always be in the shadows of the male. Most directors, heads, administrators, etc. reported were male. Female counterparts never seemed to get a full article about them without the male presence. For example, an article on a former admissions director who had stepped down from his position and the person below him, Miss Dawson (Assistant to the Director, Counselor of Women) was appointed as only an acting Director of Admissions while someone who met the “qualifications” was found and appointed. Another example was a repetitive section in Tech News called “How to Spot a Woman” with the implications that woman can sometime be mistaken for a man. Besides, these few examples and few mentions when it comes to homecoming and coverage on Greek life on the quad, gender at IIT during this time was an one sided issue.

    It can be argued that the gender issue at IIT had largely to do with the low enrollment of female students. The female population seemed to do activities as a whole and not much coverage in Tech News seemed to be of any importance. Despite the higher ratio of male students to female students today at IIT, Being a female student here, I can pick up an issue of Tech News today and not feel so left out. I’ve learned in class how gender biases play out in today’s society still and how it was very apparent going through archived issues of Tech News. Not always directly stated, it was clear that men did the engineering and women worked as secretaries. That’s how it was supposed to be. From the low ratio of female students, you could also bring in the fact it was thought that men went to work and women stayed at home, explaining the larger number of male graduates to female graduates. This issue ties right into many issues talked about in class already.

    • Marie Hicks

      Crystal, this is a good start. You need to have specific references to back up your points. Try to make this less general, and really focus on a specific topic.

  5. AnthonyL

    As I was browsing the archives I found plenty of material *about* women. It seemed that IIT and its predecessors, the Lewis and Armour institutes were quite proud of their girls’ accomplishments. I wanted to find works by women about the university so my focus fell upon two columns in Technology News: Women Only and The Woman’s Angle. They were both short lived columns, spanning less than a year in sum total.

    Women Only was published almost weekly from October 8, 1940 to December 17, 1940 then less frequently until April 15, 1941. The columnist Viodes, wrote all of the entries save one (12/10/1940) which was produced by “A Man,” and the column generally addresses the topics of fashion and social graces. The first entry notes that “The girls can help the athletics of IIT (by coming to the matches) and cheering” and then advises the women of IIT on what to wear so they can find dates. [1] The next gives tips on living and dressing “the American Way.” [2] In broad strokes the column makes it appear as though women were kept around as window dressing, a captive audience for courting, or at times imports from the outside world to teach (male) engineering & science students manners and socialization.

    The column is at times quite progressive, “There is a real field and a great need for women’s clothes created with some thought for actual feminine figures” [11]. At other times the column is downright subservient, “Another new note . . . the three in one lipsticks that are now out . . . (three different shades in a small packet) You can change quickly to suit the mood of your boy friend.” [5] or “What characteristic was it that attracted your (boy) friend? Have you made improvements on it? What are his likes and dislikes? Do you act accordingly?” [10] The column seems contemporary and references women’s suffrage [8], and might have hinted at sexual liberation “to the vivacious college coed full of fun and peppy enthusiasm plus a little bit of devil-may-care-attitude, thumbs down (to conservative behavior) is the attitude most likely to be taken.” [13] Another entry relates that shops are displaying leather boxing gloves for women and that “Some girls use them for warmth – others for protection. (Perhaps I’m giving away too many feminine secrets).” [5]

    One entry in particular that I want to call out is the one that was written by “A Man.” [8] Any work that the prior and subsequent works do to make women welcome on campus is simply undone by remarks like “It occurred to us the other day, during one of our periodic shopping tours, that women are beginning to exhibit artistic taste in their clothes.” [8] when prior entries had all referenced taste in clothes, color, matching styles or fabrics, and accessories. Another comment belittles the entire women’s suffrage movement, “Ever since women were giving the privilege of voting, they have conducted themselves in a rather flighty manner.” [8] It is a wonder that the editor or regular author allowed the column to be published when this entry is barely on topic and serves only to berate its audience.

    The Women’s Angle in contrast lasted only 6 installments between March 26, 1946 and June 18, 1946 and was written by Carol Moses. The column served primarily to condense the activities of women’s groups on campus, and bring attention to attempts to improve the campus for women students. One column mentioned that “Final arrangements for swimming for women at Valentine pool have been nearly completed and the pool is now open for regular uses.” [16] and the next remarked that “The physical education department is very much disgruntled about the poor enthusiasm shown, and threatens to discontinue classes if the girls to not cooperate to a greater extent” [17] because only a small handful of women were actually attending the classes. The woman’s place on campus was also documented by “the new Women’s Social Room downtown” and “the kitchen adjoining the practice dining room” [15] It is unfortunate then, that the author only started to use her soapbox to ask hard questions “Hearing about all these honorary fraternities makes me wonder whether an honorary sorority taking in women students of all fields couldn’t be founded here. Most colleges have them, why not ours?” [18] and make bold statements “this semester, we showed the boys that we were here to stay.” [19] in the final installments.

    A constant theme in both of the columns is that there were two distinct campuses, “I hear some of the boys at the other campus…” [4], “while boys at the other campus wear black for an entirely different reason” [5], “Its round up time at Lewis” [14], and when they finally merged: “This year marked the beginning of a new era for IIT- the combining, on one site of the two colleges” [19] This understated recognition of two separate spheres of influence reminds me of the Amartya Sen articles. The Women Only column written by “A Man” [8] stands as a concise statement positioning men above women politically and socially. The odd teasing “Of course, this doesn’t pertain to the trained man, if you know what I mean.” [9] or “It’s common knowledge that the male gender are worse gossips than the femmes are reputed to be.” [12] hardly stands in any significant way against the suggestion that the right to vote is a privilege. The social and educational classification of women separately and lower than men no doubt contributed to both the lower enrollment of women and the acceptance of those women in their fields of study echoes Sen’s thesis that economic status or development is related to women’s mortality. Analysis of works written by women for women clearly documents their experiences and how they contrast with the accolades hoisted on them by a school that welcomed females and took pride in their achievement.

    [1] Viodes. Women Only (10/8/1940). Technology News. pp. 4. Retrieved March 27, 2013

    [2] Viodes. Women Only (10/15/1940). Technology News. pp. 4. Retrieved March 27, 2013

    [3] Viodes. Women Only (10/22/1940). Technology News. pp. 5. Retrieved March 27, 2013

    [4] Viodes. Women Only (11/5/1940). Technology News. pp. 5. Retrieved March 27, 2013

    [5] Viodes. Women Only (11/12/1940). Technology News. pp. 5. Retrieved March 27, 2013

    [6] Viodes. Women Only (11/19/1940). Technology News. pp. 5. Retrieved March 27, 2013

    [7] Viodes. Women Only (12/2/1940). Technology News. pp. 5. Retrieved March 27, 2013
    [8] A Man. Women Only (12/10/1940). Technology News. pp. 5. Retrieved March 27, 2013

    [9] Viodes. Women Only (12/17/1940). Technology News. pp. 5. Retrieved March 27, 2013

    [10] Viodes. Women Only (1/21/1941). Technology News. pp. 4. Retrieved March 27, 2013

    [11] Viodes. Women Only (2/18/1941). Technology News. pp. 4. Retrieved March 27, 2013

    [12] Viodes. Women Only (3/4/1941). Technology News. pp. 6. Retrieved March 27, 2013

    [13] Viodes. Women Only (3/19/1941). Technology News. pp. 5. Retrieved March 27, 2013

    [14] Viodes. Women Only (4/15/1941). Technology News. pp. 5. Retrieved March 27, 2013

    [15] Moses, C. The Women’s Angle (3/26/1946). Technology News. pp. 5. Retrieved March 27, 2013

    [16] Moses, C. The Women’s Angle (4/16/1946). Technology News. pp. 2. Retrieved March 27, 2013

    [17] Moses, C. The Women’s Angle (5/21/1946). Technology News. pp. 3. Retrieved March 27, 2013

    [18] Moses, C. The Women’s Angle (4/16/1946). Technology News. pp. 3. Retrieved March 27, 2013

    [19] Moses, C. The Women’s Angle (6/18/1946). Technology News. pp. 2. Retrieved March 27, 2013

    • Marie Hicks

      Nice job, Anthony! Great use of sources and I like the quotes you picked out–some are quite hilarious (though I suppose they mightn’t have seemed so at the time). Can you articulate more clearly the exact topic you’re addressing here, other than just gender relations on campus? OR what your specific research question is? You sort of get to it in the conclusion, but I would like to see it more clearly stated and put right near the beginning of the essay.

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