The Kennedy assasination, the Vietnam War, the March on Washington, the Moon Landing, and Bonnie and Clyde. The 1960’s were an era of social change, technological innovation, and the Summer of Love. In Philadelphia, trolleys rolled over cobblestone streets throughout the city and notorious police chief Frank Rizzo was on the rise. In 1960, a year at Penn cost $1,250. By 1969 it was $1,950. Undergraduate women and men were educated separately, with women attending the College of Liberal Arts for Women.

Avrom Doft (W ’60), Barbara Russo (CW ’68), and Sidney Rodbell (W ’68) talk back-to-school 50 seasons ago. Avrom Doft (W ‘60) “When my parents brought me down to Philly, I had never seen the campus. They dropped me off on a Sunday, and later that night at 1:30 in the morning, a few of the guys in my dorm picked up and went to a nightclub to see the Will Mastin Trio, starring Sammy Davis Jr. He was an entertainer who hung around with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. He was great. He went on at 1:30 and stayed on stage for two hours. I’ll never forget, that was my first night at Penn.

We still were a college for women, we had a Dean of women and we even had a women’s lounge at the top of Bennett Hall because in the forties and early fifties women couldn’t go to Houston Hall. By the time I came, of course, that was different.”

“[Freshman Camp] was the biggest new student orientation. A couple hundred women and a couple hundred men went to a camp up in the Poconos over labor day weekend. For me, it was really helpful because I was going to be living at home so I really networked with the women. We were in different houses, almost barracks, on the camp and each barrack had to make up a song. So we had a women’s cheer, as well as the men’s cheer, that was made up at Freshman Camp. Ours was, ‘68’s the great, we don’t even need a cheer, 68’s the greatest year.’ The men had something very male, something like, ‘First in class, first in field, 68 will never yield.’

“We had weekly coffee hours. Everybody, the whole university, had no classes on Tuesdays at 11. So every Tuesday at 11, there was an all university coffee hour at Houston Hall. That was a great place to go and mingle. We also used to go to pretend to study in the library and that was also a good place to mingle.”

“But you know, the university changed. Things changed so much while we were there. When I got there in 1964 it was really a lot more like the 50s. We had to wear skirts to the library and to breakfast and dinner. There were no pants allowed by women in dining areas. Of course, we dined separately from men. The women dined in their dorm and the men dined in the freshman commons, which was in Houston Hall where the Hall of Flags is. It was really like the 50s in the early 60s when I got there. But things were already changing, Vietnam was starting, protests were starting.”

“I remember walking onto campus. I had flown up from Atlanta. I arrived on my own, I remember walking into this dorm in the Quad and there was the crew team and they had a booth and they were trying to recruit people. They told me they started at 5:30 in the morning and I decided that was not going to be something I was going to be able to take part in. I was tall, so they wanted to talk to me, but it was a short conversation.”

As Billy Joel once famously sang, “Watergate, punk rock / Begin, Reagan, Palestine, terror on the airline.” The 1970s at Penn stood out distinctly from the buttoned-up early-60s. Students in bootcut jeans, long hair, and platform shoes walked up and down Locust as Penn’s campus rapidly expanded further into the neighborhood. “All in the Family” and “Happy Days” were the hottest shows on the air and Fleetwood Mac and Elton John ruled the radio waves. The environmental movement and women’s rights grew, as well as the anti-war movement throughout the decade. Eileen O’Brien (C ‘76) remembers her first move in and the excitement of being at Penn in the fall of 1973.

“I arrived as a sophomore, I spent my freshman year at a different college. A high school friend drove me down and in a very friendly but fast-moving way - because everything was so new to me - dropped me off and helped me get things upstairs. I was on the fourth floor of what they used to call High Rise East. That was my first move-in. It was a little bit hectic but not bad. It was the fall of 1973, which may sound like 1873 now.” “I knew it would be a big change. I transferred specifically to get the big school experience and I could tell right away I was at a big school. I was there to go to school in a big city and meet a lot of people. It was not much of a party school, but I didn’t go there to get that or to get away from that, so it was kind of a non-factor.” “I was in one of those four person suites and somewhere over the first weekend I met my suite-mates as well as the four suite-mates across the hall. Two of the people who lived across the hall worked for the Daily Pennsylvanian, and that’s how I decided to go over. I would have gone over anyway but at least I could go over dropping names.”

The 80s were the decade of Madonna, MTV, and John Hughes movies. The hair was big, the clothes were neon, and the world was quickly entering into the new era of computer technology. Ronald Reagan occupied the Oval Office for most of the decade and Americans watched the news as the Communist Bloc began to disintegrate and the AIDs crisis tore through the country. In 1985, the Philadelphia Police Department bombed the headquarters of MOVE, a Black liberation group, just blocks from Penn’s campus. Flora Stewart (E ’84) and Robin Briggs (C ’89) remember University City back in the days of neon and Cyndi Lauper.

Flora Stewart (E ‘84)

“I remember move in because I was the first in my family to leave for college. It was hot in Hill House and there weren’t any elevators. Once I moved in, three doors down there was a girl who also moved in that I had met like a month before coming on campus at a luncheon and it was weird that we were on the same floor. We ended up being lifelong friends. My parents left and I just remember standing in the lobby of Hill House watching people come in. In fact, the four lifelong friends that I have, I met that first day in the lobby of Hill House.”

“I met an upperclassmen sometime during that first fall semester where I was kind of feeling down about classes in the engineering school, and he gave me advice in regards to ice cream. At Hill House, you got your own food and there was always ice cream, and he said, ‘No matter how bad you feel, ice cream is a feel good food. So whenever you feel down, eat ice cream.’ And that has been a lifelong bit of advice.”

Robin Briggs (C ‘89)

“I lived in lower quad my freshman year. Move in was sort of, you pulled up on the outside of the Quad on Spruce Street and somehow people pulled up with golf carts and pulled your stuff around to the other side. I lived on the fifth floor in Coxe with no elevators. It was just chaos, but it was kind of a fun chaos and there were certainly people around to help.”

“We went to Chinatown and explored Philadelphia. I remember convocation, which was really fun. It was very meaningful and kind of like, ‘Oh, wow, this is the start of a big thing.’”

Although they might feel like yesterday, the 90s are now 20 years behind us. As the Cold War was coming to a close and Tamagotchis were hitting the market, Penn students were listening to Tupac and Missy Eliot in the Quad. In 1993, Judith Rodin was elected President and Chief Executive of Penn, the first woman to serve as President of an Ivy League institution. Big hair and “Saved by the Bell” era pastels were popular, alongside jelly sandals and chunky Fila’s. Rebecca Fein Luks (C ‘97) and Asima Berkett (C ‘98) remember move in at 1990s Penn.

“Coming from Texas, [Penn] was an opportunity to really meet a lot of different kinds of people with different backgrounds and interests. Programs like Pennquest…I think really fostered that and got people from the outset of the college experience meeting people whose paths they may not have otherwise crossed.”

“For really the whole first semester, it was all about navigating what I was interested in, what clicked for me, finding the courses I was interested in, finding the people I wanted to spend my time with, the activities I wanted to be involved in. That first semester was really about just trying things on and seeing what worked.”

“Coming from Texas where it’s hot and humid into the fall, I was just absolutely captivated by falling leaves and the crisp air and the signs that real fall and winter were coming. I’d never been to a big football game on a college campus before. I remember just loving the traditions on Franklin Field and throwing toast while making a toast to Dear Old Penn. I loved the school spirit and again, I loved meeting people from other regions of the country and the world. It was a really exciting time.”

“I met a lot of friends through new student transfer orientation, people who I’m still very close friends with to this day.”

“I remember my first day there was a lunch, in that area between the three high rises and that was really where I first started really meeting people once I moved in.”

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