The Deans' Bible: Five Purdue Women and Their Quest for Equality
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Like pearls threaded one-by-one to form a necklace, five women successively nurtured students on the Purdue University campus in America’s heartland during the 1930s to 1990s. Individually, each became a legendary dean of women or dean of students. Collectively, they wove a sisterhood of mutual support in their common—sometimes thwarted—pursuit of shared human rights and equality for all.
Dorothy C. Stratton, Helen B. Schleman, M. Beverley Stone, Barbara I. Cook, and Betty M. Nelson opened new avenues for women and became conduits for change, fostering opportunities for all people. They were loved by students and revered by colleagues. The women also were respected throughout the United States as founding leaders of the Coast Guard Women’s Reserve (SPARs), frontrunners in the National Association of Women Deans and Counselors, and pivotal members of presidential committees in the Kennedy and Nixon administrations.
While it is focused on changing attitudes on one college campus, The Deans’ Bible sheds light on cultural change in America as a whole, exploring how each of the deans participated nationally in the quest for equality. The story rolls through the “picture-perfect,” suppressive 1950s; explores the awakening 1960s of women’s liberation; describes the challenging 1980s, with AIDS and alcohol epidemics; and sails into the twenty-first century as a United States Coast Guard cutter is named after Dorothy Stratton and commissioned by First Lady Michelle Obama.
As each woman succeeded the other, forming a five-dean friendship, they knitted their bond with a secret symbol—a Bible. Originally possessed by Purdue’s first part-time Dean of Women Carolyn Shoemaker, the Bible was handed down from dean to dean with favorite passages marked. The lowercase word “bible” is often used in connection with reference works or “guidebooks.” The Deans’ Bible is just that, brimming with stories of courageous women who led by example and lived their convictions.