At a critical moment in Sweet Briar College’s history, when they were considering opening it up for men to attend along with women, Sally Miller Gearhart, an alumnae, writes a beautiful two-part letter pleading with them to remain a gender-separated institution.
The letter to Sweet Briar begins with a rather poetic rendition of her time at the school, how it opened new doors in her consciousness, and opened her eyes to all she could be. This joyful, thankful praise of the school stands in poignant contrast to where she goes next, to the raw sorrow and rage at being shown these incredible possibilities, only to have the door slammed on her new self, to be told that she must stay in the women’s world. It is heartbreaking to read, her pain is so close to the surface of the page.
For Sally though, that pain is a tool, and she channels her whole experience into a clear, passionate defense of gender-separated education. Using her own observations and philosophy, she explains differences in classrooms and why it is so critical that Sweet Briar remains a space for women only.
While we don’t have the whole detail in the archive, or how much of a difference this letter makes, I find it worth noting that Sweet Briar is to this day an all-women’s institution.
Sally Miller Gearhart Papers, Coll 305, Special Collections & University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries, Eugene, Oregon.