The surreptitious visitors, Jane McNamara Kelly ’79, Janice L. Pelletier ’79, Carol M. Imm ’80, Mary Anne Z. Kocur ’81 and four unidentified others, arrived sporting tuxedos and three-piece suits, invited by D.U. members R. Stewart Shofner ’79 and Stephen A. Kowal ’79.
With his Instamatic camera, Kowal snapped pictures of the women as they arrived at the club door.
“I think final clubs have been personally insulting women for the last 100 years. Hopefully people two years from now will take my actions further and admit women to the club,” Shofner told The Crimson in 1978, explaining why he decided to enter the women into punch, the process of admittance to final clubs.
Kowal added, “I think women will be admitted soon, and when they are, it will be an excellent thing.”
Kowal’s prediction, 25 years later, has proved to be wrong. While the D.U. Club has changed, merging with the The Fly Club in the late 1980’s, final clubs as a whole have remained relatively the same: all-male and exclusive.
In recalling that October night in the fall semester of their senior year, the parties involved in the prank share divergent stories. But while their accounts of responsibility for the prank differ, they agree the joke had a serious edge.
“We didn’t do it completely to goose people,” Kowal now says, but rather to “lampoon the old, foolish ways. We wanted to have a good laugh, while still making a serious point.”
FOOT IN THE DOOR
After joining the club as a sophomore, Shofner says he had the unpleasant experience of “finding out my colleagues were a little more sexist than I’d hoped.”
The club, he says, had a reputation for being more liberal than other final clubs such as the Porcellian or the Spee Club, accepting African-American and Hispanic members at a time when no other clubs were doing so.
But Shofner recalls an incident at his sophomore initiation dinner during which all the punches to the club had to stand up and tell racist and sexist jokes. Shofner says he felt “disappointed” that young men were being trained to make sexist jokes in front of women who were present as servers at the dinner.
In planning the 1978 prank, Shofner says he was inspired by a stunt pulled by a older club member, who dressed in drag at a D.U. senior event and by doing so, angered the alumni present.
While Shofner characterizes himself as the sole architect of the prank, Kowal says he was also involved in the planning.
At the time, Kowal says he thought that out of all the final clubs, the D.U. Club, which he describes as “run-down, beat-up and about to go bankrupt,” was “the place where we could get away with [punching women into the club].”
Kowal likens the club atmosphere to that of Revenge of the Nerds.
“We were all outcasts,” he says.
In almost every way other than gender, he says, such as race, ethnicity or social class, the club was diverse.
For the fall punch of 1978, Shofner and Kowal assembled eight of their friends from Lowell House—“all young, attractive females,” Shofner notes—and proceeded to wangle them invitations to the punch dinner by entering them under male aliases in the club book. Mary Anne Kocur, for example, went as Martin, Janice Pelletier as James. Some of the other women were identified by initials so as not to arouse suspicion. Invitations in hand, the women waited at the door.
“The buffet is all out, and the beer is all out, and hors d’oeuvres are ready to be passed out,” Kowal says of the scene when the women arrived.
The club steward, Louis Lacroix, who Shofner describes as “a 65-year-old retired military man,” was so angry about the female intrusion that he ran upstairs and locked himself in a room with all the food. A graduate of the club had to talk him into coming out, remembers Shofner.
“There was a group of D.U. people that couldn’t give a shit,” Kowal says. “But another group was asking,” he says taking on a mock English accent, “‘What is this?’”
John A. “Kras” Krasznekewicz ’79, the club’s president, came down the stairs, Kowal recalls, “really pissed off.”
“I thought you were my friend,” Kowal remembers him saying to Shofner. “How could you betray me like this?”
But Krasznekewicz told The Crimson in 1978 that he was only upset because the club members defied punch rules. He said if punched properly—and with the approval of club members—women could join the D.U. Club.
But Shofner told The Crimson that while two women were punched two years prior to his prank, they were refused membership when several influential alumni withdrew their financial support because of the incident.
Krasznekewicz did not return phone calls made by The Crimson last week.
Kelly, one of the women who participated in that year’s punch, remembers thinking, “It was just a spoof on them to show how silly it was...I was pretty astounded [at the reaction].”
Shofner says he then ordered pizza from Obie’s for the remaining revelers, while Kowal continued to take pictures of the night.
“The next morning, we’re on the front page of the Boston Globe,” Shofner recalls, adding that his friends in California heard the story on the radio, and that his father in Tennessee was even contacted by reporters. He attributes the national interest in the prank to surprise that a supposedly liberal university “still had its conservative niche.”
Others involved downplay the publicity the event received. Kelly claims that Shofner went down to the Globe’s offices himself. “He wanted to drum up publicity,” she says. The whole thing was, she claims, “more of a publicity stunt for Stewart to get attention”.
According to Kowal, “There was an article in the Boston Globe, and Stewart was excited about that, and then nothing really ever happened.”
“Maybe it was a little bit radical. But it was pretty benign. It’s not like we took over the administration building,” Kowal adds.
THE LAST DOMINO
Shofner, now a laser eye surgeon in Nashville, Tenn., says he occasionally stops by The Fly for drinks around reunion time. For the most part, however, he says he is “too busy making people see” to reflect much on the incident, laughing, “I guess I can’t get ’em to see the way I want ’em to.”
Kelly says she considers the incident as “something to tell my children.”
“I thought it would probably wake them up,” reflects Kelly, who is now a secondary school teacher in Massachusetts, later adding “but it didn’t seem to have much of an effect.”
Kowal says he had thought that by now, the all-male final clubs of his time would have female members.
“I would have thought what I was after, what Stewart was after back then, would have happened now.”
In his mind, he says they were just “knocking down another domino that should have been knocked down a long time ago. The bizarre thing is, there it is still.”
—Yailett Fernandez contributed to the reporting of this story.
—Staff writer Véronique E. Hyland can be reached at email@example.com.