The weight of the weigh-in: How women ended a misogynistic Pomona tradition, 50 years ago

(Bella Pettengill • The Student Life)

In the years leading up to the landmark Roe v. Wade decision in January 1973, the women of the 5Cs were fighting their own battles for equality against the administration and other students — and winning. However, the recent overturning of Roe v. Wade in June 2022 may signal that our society has become in danger of regressing in gender equality and women’s rights.

The 5Cs in the early 1970s still featured several student traditions that some students had labeled as “barbaric” and misogynistic, even absent today’s standards. According to TSL archives, Pomona College’s football team had an annual, now defunct tradition known as the “weigh-in,” where incoming first-year women were forcibly rounded up to publicly weigh them and take measurements of their bodies.

After taking the women’s measurements, the men of the sophomore class would compile and distribute the data, along with phone numbers, according to one account from a fifties-era Pomona alumnus. Many women had felt as though they were “on the market” from the moment they set foot onto Pomona’s campus.

“[The weigh-in is a] traditional little atrocity,” student Jamie Dorn McMahon said in TSL’s Sept. 18, 1971 issue.

The custom was originally founded as part of a “friendly” rivalry between the first and second-year classes. TSL began reporting on the weigh-in as early as September 1956. In an article titled, “Sophs Investigate Shape of Things to Come,” TSL published quarter-page photographs of the first-year women being measured and made note of the uncomfortable “expression[s] on [their] faces.”

But despite existing complaints, many students and faculty members defended the tradition as harmless.

In a September 1967 TSL article, titled “Deans reply to four vital questions,” Pomona Dean Beverly Brice called the weigh-in a “very good thing.” 

In 1972, then-sponsor Helen Hutchison PO ’74 rallied the rest of the sponsor and RA teams — the only other people, apart from the sports teams, who would be on campus when the first years arrived — to push the football team to discontinue the weigh-in practice. They were supported in this endeavor by then-Dean of Women Jean Walton, who had previously attempted in vain to persuade the football team coaches to rein in their athletes.

Faced with pressure from the sponsor and RA teams, the football team begrudgingly agreed to back down that year. However, come the fall of 1973, they were right back at it, likely assuming that the previous year’s resistance would have dissipated by then.

Hutchison discovered the football team accosting a solitary first-year woman with the intention of taking her measurements. 

“I was irate,” Hutchinson told TSL. “They kept saying it was fun — it was all in fun — and I looked right at [the first-year woman], and I said, ‘Are you having fun?’ And she burst into tears and said no. That kind of killed [the tradition] at that point.”

After that failed attempt in 1973, there would never again be another first-year weigh-in at Pomona. Many students would later change their stance on the weigh-in and condemn the tradition. 

Not all defunct student traditions targeted gender identities. There was a long-held tradition of wearing a dink, or a beanie, to signify that one was a first-year at Pomona, dating back to the 1950s. However, for some alumni, the weigh-in’s legacy still remains. 

Nearly a decade ago, Hutchison recalled encountering another Pomona alumnus from the time, who mentioned his son — then a Pomona student-athlete — had “missed out on this great tradition” due to the death of the infamous weigh-in. 

“If people are still sore about it,” Hutchison told TSL, “they can continue to be sore about it.”

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