Women were among the first faculty and comprised 25% of the entering class at Stanford. They either lived in small units on campus or off-campus. There was no structure for the leaders of the various activity groups to get together to exchange ideas or to become better acquainted.
Four women students approached three members of the faculty and suggested organizing a group of ten to twelve leaders from the junior and senior classes. Thus was Cap and Gown formed, with the mortar board as its pin and logo. National women’s organizations (Prytenean and Mortar Board) from other college campuses soon asked Cap and Gown to become part of their network, but Cap and Gown declined because their rules did not allow for membership by honoraries (women members of the staff and faculty whose work had had a positive influence on women students), and the organization has always felt it important to be able to recognize honoraries. Subsequent offers from these outside groups have also been declined.
Members of Cap and Gown led the campaign to build a women’s club house to create a center for activities for all campus women. The club house is still in continuous use today, although not strictly restricted to women’s activities.
Cap and Gown established its first scholarship and created a loan fund to assist foreign students. We now have five additional scholarships, four created in honor of Cap and Gown members (Margaret Barr, honorary; Sandra Day O’Connor ’50; Rosamond Clarke Bacon ’30; and Bettye Bailey ’43). The fifth, the Cap and Gown Centennial Scholarship, was created in honor of Cap and Gown’s 100 years of continuous service to Stanford and its women. Over 150 women have received aid from these scholarships, which have a current market value of almost $5,000,000.
Cap and Gown created the first Stanford desk calendar featuring campus scenes, for the purpose of raising money for the scholarships. These calendars were created yearly until 1983, when the competition became overwhelming and the return on investment of time and resources too small. Cap and Gown currently raises funds for its scholarships through the generous donations of its members and friends.
Over the years the relationship between the “actives” (undergraduates) and the alumnae was very close, but there was no formal structure for the organization. In 1952 Cap and Gown decided to form an Alumnae Board to act as an advisory group to the actives, to manage the funds, and to create a means by which our alumnae (now worldwide) could be kept in contact. The actives continue to select their own members and to have their own board that plans their activities in addition to the organization-wide ones.
The first newsletter was created, and the campus upheavals of those troubled years brought a different consciousness about the selection process for new members. The women questioned the current relevance of the organization and were critical of the process by which new members were chosen, based primarily on who was known by members of the current actives. They felt that method was not democratic and that many women who were qualified were unaware of the existence of Cap and Gown. There was a real danger of disbanding. This self-examination led to a formal written application process that has worked extremely well since that time. The number of Cap and Gown members increased rapidly and today about 30-50 juniors and seniors are selected yearly.
The first written Cap and Gown history was published in 1984. This booklet recorded that in the early years, the selection of new members occurred by what was called “tapping.” A parade of actives in black robes would go from dorm to dorm at the dinner hour, weaving their way through the dining hall, stopping behind the chosen woman, tapping her shoulder, and giving her a flower. After all of the new actives had been tapped, they would go up to Stanford’s president’s home for a celebration. With the advent of changes in dining protocol and the institution of the application process, tapping was no longer practical, but a Tapping Event is held in Fall Quarter to welcome the new members. In addition, for many decades there has been a Spring Luncheon for actives and alumnae with speakers often representing various decades. Other activities started during this time period include a “Life After Stanford” night in Winter Quarter, where alumnae from various professions spend an evening with the actives, and then in June each year there is an open house for graduating seniors and their families.
Cap and Gown has always looked for ways to become involved in the larger Stanford arena. Both the Alumnae Board and the Students Board continually seek Stanford and community projects to aid. After years of planning, on March 5, 2005, Cap and Gown held a Centennial Celebration honoring Cap and Gown’s first 100 years. This day-long event featured presentations about the history of women at Stanford, a major research project conducted about Cap and Gown women’s lives and goals, and the life stories of several prominent Cap and Gown women, including keynote speaker, former Supreme Court Justice, Sandra Day O’Connor.
Beginning in January 2006, Cap and Gown has furthered its mission by holding a new annual networking event, the Women Winter Welcome, which reaches out to all incoming women at Stanford.
From 1905 to today, Cap and Gown has operated continuously, the only student organization so to do, and we have grown stronger throughout the decades. The energy and enthusiasm is astonishing, a result of our needing and wanting to change to remain relevant with the times and for Stanford.