Discussions of coeducation began in earnest during the Civil Rights and Women’s Liberation movements of the 1960s, which had sparked conversations about race and gender-based discrimination across the nation and on Bowdoin’s campus. In the summer of 1967, the ninth president of the College, James Stacy Coles, appointed the Study Committee on the Underclass Campus Environment, which comprised students, Governing Board members, faculty, and alumni. The committee was charged with the review of the “campus environment,” including the role of fraternities and the feasibility of coeducation. The committee explored a variety of recommendations, including the establishment of a coordinate women’s college, but ultimately concluded that Bowdoin should “abandon its long tradition as an all-male college” and introduce some form of coeducation.
In the fall of 1969, eight women arrived at Bowdoin through the Twelve College Exchange Program. The study-away program began that year among single-sex colleges – Bowdoin, Amherst, Connecticut College, Dartmouth, Mount Holyoke, Smith, Vassar, Wesleyan, Wheaton, and Williams, and it became the Twelve College Exchange with the inclusion of Trinity and Wellesley a year later. The women were the subjects of curiosity and interest for many of the 950 men students on campus. As one of the women remarked, “The best place to study at Bowdoin is in the ladies’ room in Sills Hall. No one bothers you there!” The Dean’s List for the 1970 fall semester included the names of six of the eight women, and one of the exchange students, Susan Jacobson of Connecticut College, later transferred to Bowdoin and became the first woman to graduate from the College in 1971.
On September 25, 1970, the Governing Boards elected to implement coeducation. Bowdoin planned to admit 300 women to the student body of 950 men over the course of four years to create a 3:1 ratio of men to women. The admissions process was partially motivated by Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, which stated that “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
The Class of 1975, the first coeducated class, included sixty-five first-year and transfer women students, nine of whom were women of color.