Published October 19, 2021 by Rebecca Goldfine

Personal Histories: Fifty Years of Stories for Fifty Years of Women at Bowdoin

Organizers of Bowdoin's recent celebration, Leaders in All Walks of Life: Fifty Years of Women, are inviting alumnae and students from all class years to share their stories about Bowdoin on interactive online storyboards. Eventually, this digital trove will be housed in the College archives.

Jenny Wong Adu ’07 proposed Padlets as a way to gather recollections from alumnae and students. "The benefits," she said, "are that anyone can contribute and we can experience others' Bowdoin memories in various formats: text, images, video, audio, and more." When "fully utilized," Linda Nelson ’83 added, "Padlets can create a truly rich environment of story, reflection, and response."

Already, alumnae have begun sharing stories that offer glimpses into how different generations of female students experienced life at a school that had been exclusively male for its first 177 years.

Linda Nelson ’83 describes the time in 1980 when she and her friends convinced the administration to transform the house at 24 College Street into the Women's Resource Center. "We felt the Center was essential to provide a space—in what remained very much a male-dominated culture—for women to find and to develop our own authentic voices," she writes. 

That building today houses the Center for Sexuality, Women, and Gender (SWAG), "a testament," Nelson says, "to the determination of Bowdoin women to insist on the power of our unique voices over generations." 

Callie Curtis ’72, a political science major and Alumni Council member, recalls professors who were not all on board with having female students. "...So I did feel that I needed to represent women’s perspectives, intelligence, and creativity in every class. This was hard, but it prepared me for professional life in the 1970s." 

Organizers of the Fifty Years of Women celebration hope to collect many more memories like these on Bowdoin-Women Padlets set up in six categories: academics, athletics, advocacy, faculty and staff, the arts, and social life. Within these areas, sections are dedicated to Bowdoin's five decades of alumnae: the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s. Padlet is a collaborative web platform in which users can upload, organize, and share content to virtual bulletin boards.

"Padlet is...a great platform because we were able to organize the templates by decade to view the progression of women's experiences within each domain over time," Jenny Wong Adu ’07 wrote in an email. She—along with Nelson, Curtis, and four other alumnae—were the chairs who oversaw the Fifty Years of Women event. 

Linda Nelson, Callie Curtis, and Jenny Adu
Linda Nelson ’83, Callie Curtis ’72, and Jenny Adu ’07

At the event, held online September 24–25, the Padlets were introduced during "The Impact of Women on the College, and the College on Women" session.

When the session's chairs discussed how to incorporate "as wide and diverse a group of Bowdoin women's voices into the conversation as possible," they turned to the digital platforms as a way to encourage the broadest participation, Nelson said.

She encourages people to contribute to the Padlets, which will be stored in the College's Special Collections & Archives at the end of the year. The more stories shared, especially in multimedia format, she said, "the richer the archive documenting the impact of Bowdoin women on the college." 

The Padlets, too, allow the discussion to extend over the course of the yearlong anniversary/celebration of women at Bowdoin. "Women through the decades have such different, exciting experiences across the six domains, and we knew that the live conversations could really last hours," Adu said.

Even for "dinosaurs" like herself, Curtis joked, the Padlets allow time for reminiscing and remembering. "Padlets allow participants to reflect on their experiences in each of the areas (academics, athletics, advocacy, faculty and staff, the arts, and social life) when they were students and share their experiences in a thoughtful way."

Below are a few images that capture the early years of female students at the College, from Bowdoin's George J. Mitchell Special Collections & Archives.