Stumbling upon this cartoon as part of an assignment for an American studies course on the 1960s, I became fascinated by its playful and blithe attitude regarding the move toward female liberation in the late 1960s. On the right, Grant Wood’s American Gothic is replaced with a Timothy Leary–inspired poster, Janis Joplin replaces the Ring-Before-Spring mentality, and the student seems more interested in Bob Dylan than Dylan Thomas. The onset of the Vietnam War provided an existential backdrop on what it meant to be a young American. I spoke with illustrator Linda Weidman and then-editor-in-chief of Skidmore News Judy Allen, who made it clear that Skidmore was not exempt from experiencing the era’s rapid changes. Both women spoke of the in loco parentis doctrine, wherein colleges assumed the legal rights of parents to impose strict rules about student etiquette and housing standards, prompting long debates about the role of parietals at a women’s college. One student even wrote in to Skidmore News to suggest that the young women should not have keys to their own dormitories on the chance they would likely lose them. Allen and Weidman both remember another change they saw while at Skidmore: In 1965, wearing skirts to dinner year-round was college policy despite the oppressively cold Saratoga winters, but as the decade came to a close, so did the practice—as illustrated in the cartoon.
Coincidentally, as Skidmore students in 2020 deal with a changing world and a closed campus in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the spring 1970 semester, exactly fifty years ago, was left unresolved when classes ended early as part of a campus-wide strike against the Vietnam War. With a men’s exchange program from Colgate University came a helping aid in activism. And though the change was much needed, Weidman herself said, “It was so annoying that we yielded our power to these boys. They were the ones that really got us striking, they were the leaders.” Student-driven change was everywhere: from the monumental strike to a push for unlimited orange juice in the morning—even breakfast was successfully liberated from its status as an exercise in feminine demureness. Weidman illustrates that the changes to young womanhood were not simply aesthetic rebellion, but thoughtful societal critique as well.