different attitude. “She told me, ‘Your
pregnancy is unsightly and you should
not subject your classmates and teachers to this,’” Garten recalls.
But Garten never experienced any
hostility from peers or professors.
“Students and instructors were nice
and supportive,” she says. The school
year progressed without incident and
the shock of being excluded from
graduation “happened suddenly
at the end,” she notes. Her husband,
Herbert Garten, a law student who
was in the military reserves, came
down from his post in Pennsylvania
to plead her case. “But we hit a brick
wall,” she says.
Garten and her mother later picked
up her diploma, “which was tossed
across the desk to me,” she says. “But
I didn’t dwell on any of it.”
Her first of five children was
soon born. Her husband became a
lawyer and Garten would eventually
run a jewelry store, Heirloom
Jewels, for some 35 years in three
different locations around Baltimore.
She never became a teacher.
When she recalls Towson, it is
with fondness. In fact, she and her
husband have raised money for
the university and donated
antiques to furnish its historic
During one of those recent fundraising meetings, her youngest son,
Maury Garten, brought the infamous
letter to President Caret’s attention.
And soon an old wrong was made
right when the former TU student
stood on stage at graduation. ■
Ginny Cook is the editor of Towson.
(Opposite page) On stage at the College of Education’s Commencement
in May, Susan Garten receives a standing ovation from the 2010
graduates. (Right) Susan Garten at home and in a 1951 yearbook photo.
We’ve Come a Long Way
In 1951, most drivers still used
their hands to signal a left or a right
turn—automatic turn signals were
an option in cars.
In 1951, a woman’s place was in
the home. And a pregnant woman
had no place on a graduation stage.
The letter Susan Garten ‘51 received in 1951 makes it clear that a
mother-to-be was not welcome at
commencement ceremonies. Yet a
search of the archives at Towson
University failed to unearth any
specific policies that prohibited
women from participating in
graduation if pregnant, or against
pregnant students in general.
Librarians and others speculate
that perhaps any damning correspondence or policies were purged
from the official papers of former
presidents or deans, or that procedures were implied—those who
lived during the era knew what
was expected. After all, discrimination against pregnant and married
women had existed for decades and
was not unique to Towson.
It wasn’t until 1931 that the Maryland State Board of Education ruled
“marriage alone is not sufficient
cause for the dismissal of a woman
teacher,” according to a Dec. 22,
1931 story in the Baltimore Sun.
Yet even in 1938, Clarinda Har-
riss, TU professor of English, reports
that her mother, Margery Harriss ’ 29,
“pregnant with me, was thrown out
of her public-school teaching job.”
As late as 1974, the Supreme Court
ruled (Geduldig v. Aiello) that
discrimination on the basis of
TU made positive history
in the arena of women’s
rights by opening a student
daycare center in 1972—
only the second university
daycare center in the
country that catered to
children of college students.
pregnancy in the workplace did not
violate the Constitution. In fact, it
would take four more years (1978)
until an amendment to the 1964
Civil Rights Act gave pregnant
women insurance benefits, job and
seniority protection, and other rights
on the job.
Despite banning a pregnant
woman from graduating in 1951,
TU eventually made positive history
in the arena of women’s rights and
students with children. In 1972, the
TU Student Day Care Center opened
with eight children in Newell Hall
and at the time was only the second
university day care center in the
country that catered to children of
Now in a free-standing building on
Auburn Drive, the center continues
its 38-year tradition of quality care
and on-site support for students,
faculty, staff and the community.
Ginny Cook with thanks to Felicity Knox,
library associate to the archives, for