At first, Ross Franklin didn’t notice that Wellesley College women were stalking him. They would bump into him as if by accident as he came out of his classes and casually strike up conversations. Sometimes they would ask him out on study dates. Ross thought it was all just par for the course. He didn’t realize until a friend pointed it out to him that the women were actually planning these coincidences. “Anywhere else, if a girl likes you, she’ll come up to you and be very direct about it,” says Ross. “Here, the girls are so intelligent, they go about it in a different way.”
As a visiting student from Wheaton College studying at Wellesley College in Wellesley, Massachusetts, for one year, Ross enjoys the unique position of being the lone full-time male student at an all-women’s school. “I really don’t have to introduce myself too often,” he says. It’s established wisdom on campus that the “token guy” who comes to Wellesley every few years will get as much attention as he can handle. David Kent, who spent a year at Wellesley in the late Seventies, wrote about the experience for Esquire: “I became incapable of talking to a girl without thinking how much she craved me and what she’d be like in the sack.” He added that he dated three women a night and rarely slept in his own room. Neil Schiavo, a Connecticut College graduate who spent part of the 1994-95 academic year at Wellesley, says, “The first week, it took me forty minutes to get to classes because people were so friendly. I felt like in this one little area in the world, I was Tom Cruise.”
Ross won’t put a number on how many Wellesley students he’s slept with, but admits he’s been dating “a lot.” One group of students placed bets on who could sleep with Ross, and there was also an informal competition to see who could get him into bed first. “Wellesley women are different from other women,” Ross says. “They plan everything out in their heads.”
Henry Fowle Durant founded Wellesley College in 1875 to provide women with college opportunities equal to those available to men, declaring that God was “calling to womanhood to come up higher, to prepare herself for great conflicts, for vast reforms in social life, for noblest usefulness.” The women who went there were chosen not only for their intellectual competence but also for their good health, and the first women who attended were said to look “very rosy and healthy.” In the early years, exercise was strongly emphasized because of a widespread belief that rigorous study could be harmful to a woman’s health. Students were allowed only one day at home per term and could not receive young male callers under any circumstances. On Sundays, no guests were permitted at all. In 1914, the rules were relaxed to allow students to receive their fathers — but no other men — on Sundays.
Even in the early Sixties, Wellesley women weren’t expected to have their own careers. “When I went to Wellesley,” says writer-director Nora Ephron, a 1962 graduate, “it was pretty much assumed that if you were interested in medicine, you should marry a doctor.” Marnie Henretig, a social worker who graduated in 1965, says, “The only reason I picked Wellesley was because I thought it was the best location to meet the man I wanted to marry.” And the very idea of women dating other women was taboo. As Ephron told the class of 1996 at their commencement, “While I was here, Wellesley actually threw six young women out for lesbianism.”
But then came the sexual revolution. “When I arrived in ’67, men could be in the rooms just for an hour or two in the afternoon — and you had to have a box of matches in the door — and we had sit-down meals, where we had to sing hymns and get dressed up on the weekends, and have tea once a week,” recalls Kate Cornwell, a social worker. “By my senior year, ’71, men could be in the rooms twenty-four hours; there were no more sit-down dinners, no more singing of hymns, and I think they might have had tea once a month.”
Since then, Wellesley has tenaciously fought pressures to enroll male students, and the profile of the Wellesley woman has evolved as well. No longer are Wellesley women expected to marry society’s leaders; now they aim to be leaders themselves. The college is universally recognized for its academic excellence — it consistently ranks among the top five liberal-arts colleges in the country, and the school has produced a disproportionate number of CEOs. Corporate is a word that often comes up when people talk about the reputation of Wellesley grads. As one Wellesley humanities professor puts it, “The public perception is that someone from Smith is more likely to go on to head the National Organization for Women than someone from Wellesley, and that someone from Wellesley would be more likely to be the head of Citibank than someone from Smith — and the business world tends to be pretty conservative.”