- The Deans’ Bible: Five Purdue Women and Their Quest for Equality by Angie Klink
West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press, 2014, 427pages, $29.95 (hardcover)
As Dorothy Stratton, the newly appointed dean of women at Purdue University, unpacked her office in August 1933, she discovered a leather Bible in an otherwise empty desk drawer. It had belonged to her predecessor Carolyn Shoemaker, the university’s first dean of women who had unexpectedly died the previous March. From then on, the Bible would continue to be passed down, with the resigning dean inscribing a favorite scripture. In 1947, Stratton gave the book to Helen Schleman, who served as Purdue’s dean of women for over two decades. She handed the Bible to Beverly Stone in 1968. Stone served 6 years as dean of women and then 6 years as dean of students, becoming one of few women in the nation promoted when the Office of the Dean of Men and the Office of the Dean of Women merged (she reported to a male vice president for student services, however). Stone passed the Bible on to her roommate and successor Barbara Cook in 1980. Seven years later, Cook presented the book to Betty Nelson, who served as dean of students until retiring in 1995. This Bible, now deposited in the archives at Purdue, serves as a framing device for Angie Klink’s biography of these women, The Deans’ Bible: Five Purdue Women and Their Quest for Equality. “The book,” according to Klink, “remained tucked in the acting dean’s desk drawer where it emitted a quiet, formidable reminder that when the dean on duty met with obstacles, injustice, or good fortune, the deans were always there for one another in presence and spirit” (p. xii).
The Deans’ Bible proceeds chronologically, from the first dean to the last, covering each woman’s early life and education, path to the Purdue deanship, responsibilities and accomplishments on campus, and retirement. For example, chapters 25 and 26 detail Betty Nelson’s early life, college years, and professional career before arriving at Purdue; chapter 27 focuses on the older women’s work at Purdue in the 1960s; and chapter 28 centers on Dean Schleman’s decision to retire in 1968. The book’s 49 chapter titles—such as “If Walls Could Talk ” and “In Sheep’s Clothing,” — only make sense after reading the individual chapter, an approach more common in popular nonfiction than in academic writing.
Klink’s book enters a growing body of scholarship related to the history of student affairs, much of which has employed a biographical focus, especially on the deans of women (e.g., Bashaw, 1999; Miller & Pruitt Logan, 2012; Nidiffer, 2000; Sartorius, 2014). Not surprisingly, The Deans’ Bible provides additional examples of the struggles facing deans of women well documented in the literature, including: male administrators’ concern with coeducation and their indifference toward college women; the difficulty of securing funding for women’s spaces on campuses, such as their housing; and the deans’ efforts to mitigate the pervasive sexism college women found on campus and would later experience in their career.
But as the book progresses well past 1950, into years less documented by historical scholarship, it explores emerging roles and responsibilities of student affairs administrators. I found Klink’s discussion of how [End Page 333] student affairs professionals came to serve students with disabilities particularly compelling. Klink devotes an entire chapter to how, over a decade before she became dean of students, then Assistant Dean of Women Betty Nelson led the implementation of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 at Purdue. Klink captured the challenge facing Nelson:
There were no appropriations to accompany the legislation that demanded a college campus be accessible to all people, which translated to the addition of lifts, elevators, automatic doors, curb cuts, ramps, left-handed desks, handicapped-accessible restrooms, and parking for every building. (p. 341, emphasis in the original)
Those who controlled the purse strings were reluctant to spend the necessary money to improve Purdue, so Nelson invited the facilities staff and campus architect to also attend the meetings...