BABES IN BOYLAND by Gina Barreca


A Personal History of Co-Education in the Ivy League
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An engaging chronicle of Barreca’s ups and downs as one of the first female students at Dartmouth.

Women faced plenty of trials in the just-barely-coed-Ivy-League of the mid-1970s, writes Barreca (English Literature and Feminist Theory/Univ. of Connecticut). Male students leeringly asked if she was a lesbian (“you learned to answer, ‘Are you my alternative?’ ”) and cluelessly mocked Fear of Flying when a daring female prof assigned it. Barreca also had to contend with class issues. At ultra-preppy Dartmouth, she was the only student whose last name ended in a vowel. She wore cowboy boots, while the other coeds opted for Talbots and Laura Ashley. Her blue-collar relatives back home wondered whether she’d really gone to New Hampshire for college—or just snuck off to have an illegitimate baby. Fans of Barreca’s work (Perfect Husbands, and Other Fairy Tales, 1993, etc.), which ranges from scholarly to pop but always includes humor, will expect hilarity here, and from the alliterative, cheeky title to almost the very end, she does not disappoint. (The last few pages, where she recounts the end of college and her first trip back to Dartmouth 12 years later, veer toward the maudlin.) Emulating the delightful miscellany of a 19th-century scrapbook, Barreca includes extracts from the diary she kept as an undergrad, photographs, and copies of a few report cards and other official college communiqués. This approach has its limitations. Subtitle notwithstanding, her latest is less “personal history” and more straight autobiography. Had Barreca made more of an effort to contextualize her experience—a few pages on the history of women’s higher education in America, say, or even a broader treatment of the Ivies going coed—the result would have been stronger. And her habit of referring to herself in third person (“She arrives in Hanover to discover there is more to learn about the college and its traditions . . . than she ever could have imagined”) is an annoying distraction.

Amusing and eye-opening, if flawed.

Pub Date: April 29th, 2005
ISBN: 1-58465-299-3
Page count: 168pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2005