Love is in the purple air: Alumni couples reminisce

The College in 1969 wasn’t quite the College we recognize today. The Log was a social hub every weekend, Bryant House hosted nude relay races and the Frosh Quad still had fireplaces. However, even more shocking than the fact that freshman were trusted with fireplaces was the overall lack of female presence on campus. The College officially became a co-ed institution in 1970, and up until then the entirety of the student population was male. Thus, when women were first admitted to the College, the progressives on campus were pleased to see a substantial increase in diversity, but the general male population was even more pleased to finally see females within a two-mile radius. Along with the addition of greater diversity to the campus, the introduction of women to the College also gave way to the longstanding tradition of Williams couples. This phenomenon is ubiquitous on campus, as College couples are everywhere: holding hands on the way to class, sharing a pizza in the ’82 Grill and cuddling in common rooms. Forty years ago, the dating scene was very much the same – the only difference is that these couples weren’t your peers, they were probably your parents.


While many current Williams students are traumatized by the statistics pointing to a high number of Williams marriages, the first few co-ed classes produced quite a few relationships that are still going strong today. Some couples like Jim Kingston ’75 and his wife, Jessie Kingston (née Potter) ’75, describe their relationship as “love at first sight.” Married by June of their sophomore year, Jim and Jessie met rather fatefully the second week of freshman year. Jim’s dog, Country, played the part of wingman in this particular romance. “Jessie and I are both animal lovers, and she was playing with Country when I first introduced myself,” said Jim. “I will be forever thankful that at that time one could have their dog on campus if one were creative.”


Other couples like Harry Sheehy ’75 and Connie Sheehy (née Durrell) ’75 took a slower approach to their relationship. Though the two met early on at a campus wine and cheese function, they did not seriously begin dating until later on, after Connie had even been on a few other dates. “In Lehman, our guys had plans for any upperclassmen who attempted to connect with us for dates at the dorm,” she said. “One sophomore who gallantly came to pick me for a party met up with a garbage can full of water, launched from the second-floor landing, when he opened the entry door. Same treatment on date number two … For date number three, he told me if I was still interested, I could just meet him at Carter House!”


With these initial dating experiences at the College, it is no surprise that Connie did not initially have the best of impressions of the campus courtship scene. “Quite a few of the upperclassmen sported t-shirts that fall said ‘Coeds Go Home’ … It didn’t exactly build your expectations for dates among that group,” she said. “Most of the men road tripped to Skidmore, Smith and Mt. Holyoke on weekends and invited ‘dates’ from those schools to Williams for big weekends here.”


Despite the unfavorable odds of the dating scene, however, Connie and Harry did eventually find each other. “He intrigued me early on, but I fell in love with him officially during Winter Study,” Connie said. “ I wasn’t looking for him, but I was certainly glad I found him.”


Taking a very different approach to courtship, Jimmy Lee ’75 decided to find his way into the heart of Elizabeth Brownell ’75, now his wife, in a bit of a roundabout way. He dated her friend. Jimmy now admits that this may have made things a bit awkward at the beginning, especially given his lack of experience in the dating department. “Dating was all new to me as I had gone to an all boys boarding school – I was a rookie,” he said. Currently, the couple is happily married with three daughters, each of whom share the same enthusiasm for the College. “We both love everything about the greatest school in America. It is a fundamentally important part of our family – many of our relatives had gone here, and all three of our children have gone here,” Elizabeth said.


The College is such an important part of the Lee couple’s lives that many of their close friends, particularly other couples, remain affiliated with Williams in some way. “It has been nice to keep a strong friendship with other Williams couples like Harry and Connie Sheehy and John and Kathy Harris. We all shared something special in the evolution of the College,” Elizabeth said.


It’s been 40 years since women were first introduced to the College, but the dating scene has surprising remained quite constant throughout these decades. Complaints about the lack of dating culture at the College abound, but these stories of alumni couples demonstrate that, despite the awkwardness of courtship on campus, something must be in the crisp, clear air of the Purple Valley that generates those startling statistics of Williams marriages.

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