Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Stephens: A Look Back - 1945

The Stephens Look

It’s 1945 and Muriel King is hired as director of the Fine and Applied Fashion Department.

This is a big deal.

King was one of America’s first well-known fashion designers, working as an illustrator at Vogue before opening her own salon. She designed personal wardrobes for Katharine Hepburn and film clothing for Rita Hayworth and Ginger Rogers.

In the 1945 Stephensophia, we’re told: “In order to acquire the personal assurance and poise that are fast becoming a part of The Stephens Look, President Wood this year brought to campus Miss Muriel 
King, one of America’s leading fashion designers. Miss King now is the director of the Fine and Applied Fashion Department which offers a program of courses in Personal Appearance, Clothing and Fashion Design.”

Of course, this is the foundation on which our School of Fashion and Design was built. In fact, the student designer fashion show, The Collections, just celebrated its 70th anniversary Saturday (you can read a recap of the show here).

Another female pioneer, Dorothy Thompson, visited Stephens this year  “interpreting the news of the moment as she saw it.” 
Dorothy Thompson, right, talks with Paul Weaver.

For those too young to remember or not interested in journalism, Dorothy Thompson is a big deal, as well. She’s essentially the “first lady of American journalism” and was once named Time Magazine’s second most influential woman (second to Eleanor Roosevelt). Her visit was sponsored by the Foreign Relations Club.

Foreign relations is a key theme of the 1945 Stephensophia, which would have been published in the spring, meaning World War II was still raging throughout the school year.

The book is dedicated to “a spirit of fellowship, democracy and cooperation among the nations of the New World…Through fellowship among faculty and students, democracy in student leadership and religion and sincere cooperative efforts, it is our hope that Stephens students, individually and collectively, may exemplify those qualities of citizenship essential to constructive Pan-American relations and the ideals of world peace.”

W.W. Charters remains director of research this year and pens a strong letter to students. He begins by quoting a letter from the mother of a Stephens student. She wrote: “My husband and I are deeply grateful that our daughter who lived under Nazism for seven years can attend Stephens while such a tragic war is going on. She appreciates her privileges as an American in America. I hope that every Stephens woman comprehends to some extent, at least, the great blessings which she possesses.”

Charters goes on to warn Stephens women not to be selfish. He writes: “She who accepts gifts without a commitment to improve them is a parasite who accepts all and gives nothing. If Stephens women achieve the aspirations of their alma mater they will be known in their spheres of life as participants in all movements to maintain the heritage of the young of America. They will watch the efficiency of democratic processes; they will cooperate with their neighbors in improving the methods by which American ideals are realized. They will forever remember that every individual is a person of worth who must be given a democratic opportunity to develop the best of which he is capable; be the amount great or small. They will vote; they will drive for better things; they will cooperate; and they will enjoy the life which they help to build. Stephens women should be nobly characterized as those who give more than they have received.”

As in the past couple of years, Stephens seems torn between holding on to pre-War gender roles and allowing women to take advantage of new opportunities.

On one hand, President James Madison Wood is still urging women to remember that when the men return from war, they’ll return to roles of homemaker. And Henry Bowman is still stressing that being a wife and mother is a woman’s “basic role in life.”

Meanwhile, Stephens women are taking advantage of the aviation program, which includes flight training in college-owned planes, ground school training and drafting for use in aviation manufacturing plants.

We suspect the women of 1945 found their own paths, be it professional or in more traditional roles. 

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