There was only one comment to yesterday’s post about the door to the Chem Lecture Hall but it was a great one, from loyal reader Doug Williams, who has won my heart with his attention to trivial detail:
Melissa, have you ever run across any information about the lowest step leading up to Chem Lec? In the 1980s, the first step was concrete. More recently, I’ve noticed that it has been replaced with a stone step matching the others. Whatever was there at the time of this photo is just outside of the shot.
The story I was told was that originally there was no step there. The early chemistry department wanted to discourage women from taking their classes. The missing first step required women to lift their skirts to reach the beginning of the stairs. Since they had to expose their ankles, no real lady would ever take chemistry.
It has to just be a good story, but I’ve never seen an early picture of Chem Lec where I could tell if there’s a first step or not.
I really love crazy stories like this. They don’t come from nowhere—there were in fact some early reservations about female students. They evaporated quickly, though, as women such as Alice Dean proved to be among the very best students on campus during the first years of the Institute. It was also the case that it could be tricky to get women students lab time in an era when they couldn’t be unchaperoned. However, there was always a bottom step as we can see in this 1925 photograph:
Many thanks for the great question, Doug.
Bonus: Things can get strange right before commencement. I saw these guys right around lunch time:
I thought they might be jumping the gun a wee bit but it turned out they had just had their pictures taken in the RMC:
Extra Bonus: Rolling robes.