Feminine ideal

The mural depicts, from left, a scholar holding the lamp of knowledge; a smiling, blond belle extending her hand in welcome; and an athlete in tennis clothes. (Courtesy of the Irving K. Pond’s “The Architect’s Conception,” Souvenir Issue, Michigan Alumnus, 5/25/1929)

Alumna Marian Van Tuyl is “perhaps the only Michigan student ever depicted in a permanent piece of campus architecture.” Van Tuyl is illustrated in a prominent mural in what was originally a females-only lounge in the Michigan League. She is represented as a scholar, a belle and an athlete, perhaps directly referencing early arguments against women’s college enrollment — that women weren’t smart enough, that study would masculinize them and that they were physically too weak. She later embodied the scholar, the belle and the athlete with a successful career in professional dance and choreography and dance education, founding and directing the first dance department in the United States at Mills College from 1938 to 1970.

— Adapted from “Feminine ideal” by James Tobin in Michigan Today


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