NEW BRUNSWICK —Tina Gordon called her time at Douglass College in the early 1970s “life-changing.”
Like many back then, Gordon was the first member of her family to go to college. At Douglass, once the largest public women’s college in the U.S., Gordon found a supportive community dedicated to improving women’s education.
“You find that you’re in an environment where you have all kinds of things to do, and you’re surrounded by really smart women,” said Gordon, a 1972 graduate who went on to a successful public relations career with Johnson & Johnson.
“All my best friends and people I met at Douglass 40 years ago,” she added.
The campus has certainly seen changes since then. In 2007, the school was renamed Douglass Residential College and merged with other liberal arts colleges on the Rutgers-New Brunswick campus. The move ended Douglass’ nearly 90-year run as a degree-granting institution.
But both the college and its tradition of promoting women’s studies have survived. Today, Douglass serves as its own community within the Rutgers campus, offering female students at Rutgers the chance to live in same-six residence halls and participate in women-centric organizations and leadership groups. Approximately 1,800 Rutgers students are enrolled in Douglass.
On April 20, Douglass will celebrate its 95th anniversary at its annual Founder’s Day Awards Recognition Luncheon at the Douglass College Center. The event is hosted by The Associate Alumnae of Douglass College, of which Gordon is now the president.
And while much has changed since the college was founded in 1918, the sense of community that Gordon encountered 40 years ago is still very much alive.
“They get that unique experience of attending a women’s college, but also in the context as a bigger university,” Gordon said. “We think of it as the best of both worlds. … You still have a football team to cheer for.”
Dr. Francis Harper Barchi, the wife of Rutgers University President Robert Barchi, will give the keynote speech at the luncheon. The Associate Alumnae will also hand out awards to several of the schools graduates.
According to the Douglass Residential College website, Mabel Smith Douglass founded the school — originally known as The New Jersey College for Women — after convincing Rutgers trustees to support the venture. The college opened in two rented buildings with 54 students and Douglass as the founding dean.
Since then the college has produced such notable alumnae as New York Times bestselling author Janet Evanovich and New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Jaynee LaVecchia.
As a result of the 2007 merger, Douglass students today receive Rutgers degrees and are taught by Rutgers professors. But the school still maintains its own identity.
For example, Douglass offers its students the chance to live in a “Living Learning Community” with other students interested in a similar area of study.
“We have a dean, we have advisors,” Gordon said. “We have all the things that you’d expect to find at a typical college. We just don’t have a faculty.
“There’s a sense of community at Douglass that is very, very strong among the students. They love it. And they remain enthusiastic and active after they leave.”
Gordon shared the story of a 97-year-old woman who attended the college for one year almost 80 years ago. The woman became a medical researcher, and to this day still donates to Douglass scholarship funds.
Gordon hopes that spirit will continue to carry Douglass into the future.
“We hope that the next generation will celebrate 195 years,” Gordon said.
Those interested in attending the Founder’s Day luncheon can register through the Associate Alumnae of Douglass College’s website.