History of Douglass Residential College
Douglass College through the Decades
As the second decade of the twentieth century began, the State of New Jersey offered little in the way of higher education for women. The New Jersey State Federation of Women’s Clubs, active in the women’s rights movement of the time, convinced Mabel Smith Douglass to head a committee with the goal of establishing a women’s college as part of Rutgers University. With enormous dedication, persistence, and sometimes stubbornness, Mrs. Douglass convinced the Rutgers Trustees to support the venture. Funds were raised by the Federated Women’s Clubs and secured from the Smith-Hughes Act supporting Home Economics education; two buildings were rented; and in September 1918, The New Jersey College for Women opened its doors to fifty-four students.
The New Jersey College for Women grew very rapidly during its first full decade of existence. Under the leadership of Dean Douglass, new departments were developed and five academic buildings were erected with private and state funds. Voorhees Chapel was built, and three residence campuses were opened as the focal points of an active and vibrant residence life program. The Class of 1922 established traditions and institutions including the first yearbook, newspaper, Yule Log, Sacred Path Ceremony, and the Associate Alumnae, a group that remains an important and critical support for the College today.
Under the stewardship of Dean Margaret Trumbull Corwin, The New Jersey College for Women struggled through the frugal years of the great depression. Although growth in enrollment and facilities came to a virtual standstill in those trying economic times, NJC experienced an increased diversity in its student population with its first Latina, African-American, and Asian-American graduates. During this period the College developed its first recruitment plan and saw the Associate Alumnae become a vital organization with a professional staff.
The decade opened with the College community active in the home front efforts of the Second World War; students and faculty formed relief organizations, rolled bandages and entered war production industries. With the war over, Dean Corwin led the planning for a larger institution in anticipation of significantly increased enrollments requiring new programs and facilities.
The fiftieswere a period of conservatism among students whose traditional activities could finally be focused in a long-overdue College Center on the Douglass campus. In 1955, The New Jersey College for Women officially assumed its new name, Douglass College, in honor of its founder and introduced a new Alma Mater and College Seal in celebrating the occasion. Dean Mary Ingraham Bunting moved into the Dean’s Home at 23 Nichol Avenue in the middle of the decade and established new programs for summer research internships and college re-entry for mature women—the first opportunity of its kind in the nation at a traditional college.
Dean Ruth Marie Adams oversaw the completion of the largest group of building projects in the College’s history including a library, the Neilson Campus residence and dining halls, the New Gibbons residence complex, and three new classroom buildings. She established the first honors program and first program for economically disadvantaged students at Douglass College.
As the decade closed, the social upheavals of the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War were reflected on the campus. Committees were created to deal with disruption and dissent. Graduation requirements were substantially reduced and made more flexible. Mandatory Chapel attendance ended, and formal affirmative action policies were adopted.
With Dean Margery Somers Foster at the helm, Douglass College entered the turbulent seventies. Social change was very evident as curfew was discontinued, the honors system was abolished, the Educational Opportunity Fund program was established, and a Pub was created in the College Center.
The decade saw the centralization of admissions, financial aid, registration, and scheduling. The Women’s Studies Program for Rutgers University--among the first and best in the nation--was established at Douglass College. The strong commitment of Dean Foster and the entire Douglass community resisted
substantial pressure to become co-educational and the College retained its historic mission of providing an education for women. The Douglass Scholars Program and new initiatives in student recruitment were implemented under the leadership of Dean Jewel Plummer Cobb as the College responded to co-education in the other New Brunswick colleges.
In 1981, the Faculty or Arts and Sciences in New Brunswick was established effectively ending the distinct Douglass College faculty. Under the leadership of Dean Mary S. Hartman, Douglass rose to the challenge with many new and exciting programs. The Douglass College Fellows were created and immediately moved to restore strong liberal arts graduation requirements. Douglass joined the National Public Leadership Education Network (PLEN), initiated the Douglass Project for Rutgers Women in Math and Science, began the Emerging Leaders Program, and became the home of the Blanche, Edith, and Irving Laurie New Jersey Chair in Women’s Studies.
The School of Business in New Brunswick was established, offering the first of many opportunities for Douglass College students to receive joint degrees with many Rutgers University Professional Schools.
Douglass College entered its seventy-fifth year with a very successful capital campaign. “Freshmen” became “First-Year Students” with new opportunities to pursue a Certificate in International Studies, or to live in the trailblazing Bunting-Cobb Science and Math Residence Hall, or to undertake a Mable Smith Douglass Honors thesis. Shaping a Life, a course mandated for all first-year students was introduced, and the Institute for Women’s Leadership was established. Residence Halls were wired for Internet access, and volunteer House Chairwomen were replaced with paid Resident Assistants.
Dean Barbara A. Shailor recognized the increasing importance of technology and was instrumental in strengthening relations between the College and its corporate and foundation partners. Major renovations were undertaken in two of the College’s landmark buildings—College Hall and Voorhees Chapel.
With Carmen Twillie Ambar as its ninth dean, Douglass begins the twenty-first century. Programs like Transitional Leadership for the Workforce and the teleconferencing course offered jointly with Ewha Womens University in Seoul, Korea, and an expanded Global Village of special interest houses prepared Douglass students for a technologically sophisticated, global age.
Rutgers University undertook a major transformation of undergraduate education in New Brunswick so that fall 2007 saw the first class entering the newly established and transformed Douglass Residential College providing a women’s centered educational experience for any woman undergraduate at Rutgers New Brunswick. Under the leadership of Interim Dean Harriet Davidson, the college began the process of developing new programs for women selecting the opportunity of joining Douglass.
Jacqueline Litt was installed in April 2011 as the tenth dean of Douglass and the first dean of the Douglass Residential College. Under her leadership, the college is developing new strategies and plans for enhanced programming and leadership opportunities for its enormously diverse and academically talented students.