This article addresses the gendered assumptions about men and women's roles within collegiate culture at the University of Chicago. Specifically, it highlights how notions of men and women's physical capacities, their patterns of sociability and the physical spaces they occupied on campus manifested the mark of gender differences. Debates over the role of athletics at the University illustrate the continued belief in the different needs and roles of men and women, even within a coeducational institution. These pervasive assumptions of difference forced female students and educators to walk a fine line between providing for the 'special needs' of women, and fighting for equal status within all University programmes, including athletics, in the Progressive Era. Moreover, the spatial dimension of these debates about gender illustrated how the presence of the female body in a space often perceived as 'male' (the university campus) led to the creation of plans intended to circumscribe women's place so as not to 'overfeminize' and thereby undervalue university education. Examining collegiate culture through the lens of athletics exposes many of the assumptions about gender difference that structured the modern university. Highlighting the material culture of the university offers a useful tool in rethinking the process by which these assumptions became inscribed in the built environment, helping both to reflect and reify complex and often contradictory cultural attitudes about gender.
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