Does college turn young women into communists?

Back in the 1930s families were concerned about whether they should send their young daughters off to college, fearing they might come home infected with communism. So in 1934, psychologist Stephen M. Corey set out to determine whether such fears were justified.

Corey administered the Thurstone Attitude Scale to 234 female freshmen at the University of Wisconsin, examining their attitudes with respect to six topics: Reality of God, War, Patriotism, Communism, Evolution, and Church. A year later he retested 100 of these students when they were sophomores.

Godless communists?

When he presented his findings at the Midwestern Psychological Association convention in May 1940, he assured everyone that it was safe to send young women to college, saying, "There was no great difference in the girls' attitudes. The average co-ed apparently would rather mix with stag lines than picket lines."

He also emphasized that the young women lost none of their feminine habits at college. A United Press reporter paraphrased his words:

He found that in general college did little to upset or change a co-ed's home training but that she might learn to apply her makeup better, dress better and talk better. "But she won't talk about Communism — college offers too many other diversions."

However, if you look at his 1940 article in the Journal of Social Psychology*, in which he published the results of his study, you find somewhat different information. There he revealed that after a year at college the attitudes of the young women did change slightly, but consistently, in the direction of liberalism — which is to say that they showed less sympathy for god, war, patriotism, and the church, and more sympathy for communism and evolution.

Corey wrote in that article, "The opinions of the students appeared to have undergone at least a degree of liberalization during their one year of attendance at a University."

I guess he wasn't actually lying to the folks at the Midwestern Psychological Association. It's all how you choose to spin the data.

San Bernardino County Sun - May 5, 1940

* Corey, S.M. (1940). "Changes in the opinions of female students after one year at university." The Journal of Social Psychology, 11: 341-351.
     First Posted: Mar 2017
     Reposted By: Alex - Wed Aug 17, 2022
     Category: Psychology | 1930s | Women | Universities, Colleges, Private Schools and Academia

The error bars are much larger than the change in attitudes.
Posted by RobK on 03/13/17 at 10:48 AM
I wonder if the survey was repeated thirty years later? Considering the climate of the late 1960's, I wouldn't be surprised if the conclusions showed a reversal in attitudes.

Then again, remember the old saw about lies and statistics: lies, damned lies, and statistics
Posted by KDP on 03/13/17 at 11:14 AM
University of Wisconsin? He should have done more than one college. Certainly today, different colleges tend to affect their students' politics in different ways. One would suspect that if he'd done his research at a Bible college, he'd get different results.
Posted by ges on 03/13/17 at 11:56 AM
RobK: that's the crucial thing. But don't expect a journalist to understand such trivialities as proper statistics.
Posted by Richard Bos on 03/15/17 at 08:23 PM
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