Tuesday, November 5, 2019

"Camouflaging" Mrs. Hapgood

Photograph of Elizabeth Hapgood, ca. 1916On September 27, 1918, the Dartmouth Board of Trustees officially appointed Elizabeth Hapgood instructor in Russian, making her the first woman to be appointed to the faculty. It was not a noble effort on the part of the College to diversify its faculty or a movement for gender equality. Instead it was a decision made out of desperation, fraught with worry and angst.

You see, Dartmouth wanted to start teaching Russian. World War I and the Russian Revolution demonstrated a need for government officials and business people with an understanding of the culture and ability to speak the language. Dartmouth was ready to help create these future internationalists, but they hit a problem. They couldn't find any men capable of teaching Russian.

By happenstance, there was a highly qualified, 24-year-old Russian speaker with teaching experience in Hanover at the time who was available. The only difficulty for Dartmouth was that she was a woman--and that kind of freaked them out. Louis Dow, who headed the Department of Romance Languages, and President Ernest Hopkins sent a flurry of memos back and forth lamenting that there was not a man to teach Russian, and debating the future consequences of putting a woman on the faculty. At one point, Dow exclaimed, "I wish there was some way of 'camouflaging' Mrs. Hapgood." They finally relented and made the hire, but not after some disturbing soul searching.

Close up of "'Camouflaging' Mrs. Hapgood" in Louis Dow's hand
To learn more about the hiring of Elizabeth Hapgood and the stories of other women who broke through Dartmouth's faculty gender barrier, come to the Woman on the Faculty: A Dartmouth Centennial conference this Friday, November 8th, at Occom Commons!

After that, you can learn more by asking for the Elizabeth Hapgood Affliates File, and the correspondence between Dow and Hopkins in DP-11, Box 6743, Folder 20.

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