Girls of the Big Ten

The first of the now-famous collegiate “Girls of..” series… published in September of 1977.

What happened in September of 1977?  Fonzie jumped the shark, Voyager 1 was launched, the US Food Stamp program began, Ted Turner and Courageous won the America’s Cup, and Ludacris was born.

The high-flying Hawkeyes shown above are Lisa Van Slyke (left) and Laura Dunscombe (right).  Besides a mutual interest in cheerleading, the two friends like dancing, acting, water-skiing and athletic men.


Janice Grider who attends Michigan State, is down to earth.  She sky-dives.


Gorgeous Gopher Anita Kirchner likes “men with romantic eyes, and being a little kinky.”


Grace Packard (above) is a zoology student who fights to save whales, if not wolverines, at Michigan. “I hate plastic,” she says. “When future archaeologists uncover our culture, they’ll think Ronald McDonald was a god.”

Over the years, PB has presented pictorials such as The Girls of the New South, The Girls of Washington, The Girls of New York.  It’s all part of our never-ending search for Truth, Beauty and The American Way.  It’s a tough job, but we don’t complain.  For the most part, neither do our readers.  (Never mind the few civic-minded chaps who occasionally feel that we’ve slighted their cities.  Would you believe The Girls of Oshkosh?)  So, we were totally unprepared for the reaction Photographer David Chan encountered when he toured the Midwest to recruit Girls of the Big Ten.

Betsy Beutler is the Boilermaker on the bike.  A lab assistant in Purdue’s entomology department, she likes jogging, weight lifting and tennis.


University of Michigan’s Caprice Wolfer hopes to become a lawyer.  She lived on a farm for 20 years, where she raised Arabian horses and had dogs, cats, mice and birds for pets.

Northwestern’s Melissa Ann Rudel and Iowa’s Kathryn Sue Benson are equestriennes par excellence.  Melissa has worked as an exercise girl for thoroughbreds raced at Belmont.  Kathryn is a jumper and wants to join the U.S. Equestrian Team.  These cowgirls don’t get the blues.

A group of women’s libbers picketed his motel in West Lafayette, Indiana, bearing signs that read: RAISE OUR SALARIES, NOT OUR SKIRTS.  BITE THE HAND THAT FEELS US.  CHAN, CHAN, IS A DIRTY OLD MAN.  HE AND HIS PICTURES BELONG IN A CAN.  (We’ve known David for the 12 years he’s been taking pictures for us and we can attest that his bathing habits are immaculate.  So is his eye for beauty.)  The protestors claimed that they represented the women of Indiana and that if Chan did not leave town immediately, they would return in force the next day.  (One would almost assume that we’d sent him there to rape, pillage, plunder and burn.)  The next day, Chan met 200 women.  Two were protestors, the rest were candidates for Girls of the Big Ten.


Cynthia Benedict studies interior design at the University of Illinois.  A self-described sensualist, the part-time model also likes motorcycles and modern dance.


Buckeye Sandy Bires is into C.B. radio, driving (she’s visited 43 states) and ESP (in case the C.B. radio goes on the blink).  She plans to sell real estate.


Hoosier Kathy Ball has great moves.  She is a cheerleader, a dancer (ballet and jazz) and a gymnast.  She also likes playing tennis, meeting other people and modeling.


Indiana’s Ariele Shirley has an eye for detail and a head for figures.  Her hobbies include photography and sewing.  She plans a career in accounting and she likes men who are “intelligent and assertive.”


Caroline Csuri is a student at Ohio State University.  She spends most of her time singing, writing, playing the guitar and/or speaking her mind.  A sample: “I like being outdoors, animals, pizza, old movies, performing and staying up late.  I dislike inflexible people, vegetables, religious fanatics and smoke.”

The pattern was repeated on several campuses.  Self-appointed spokespersons whote letters to school papers, urging “Keep your skirts on, girls.”  A sample of the rhetoric:  “Their approach is … subtle, but no less degrading and insulting.  The planned Big Ten Special with its ironic juxtaposition of cheesecake photos against a university background is a coy denial of women’s intellectuality.”  (The writer obviously can caught in the old trap of the Cartesian moind-body duality; i.e., a women is one or the other, but never both.  It’s nothing that Philosophy 201 wouldn’t cure.)  Another concerned soul said, “Photographing women for the titillation of men helps perpetuate cultural myths and imposes an undesirable stereotype for women to live up to.”  The girls who turned out for the interviews with Chan (and they turned out in droves) did not fit any one stereotype.  They were musicians, gymnasts, equestriennes, law and premed students, would-be television broadcasters and even a producer of an X-rated movie.  And, as you can see for yourself, they are far from undesirable.


When she’s not working as a part-time legal secretary, Susan Morton is a student in communications at Purdue.  Her primary passion: “Skiing.”


Sylvia Jean Hogan hopes that her A- average at Indiana will get her into medical school.  The future doctor balances her studies by running, playing piano and practicing karate.


Iowa’s Mary Schnack has already earned awards for her feature writing in local papers.  She wants to be a reported for a city daily.


Tobi Lee is a grad student at the University of Illinois.  She plans to teach speech, drama and English at a junior college.

To find out what kind of girl wanted to pose, many of the school newspapers sent women reporters to cover the story.  Some of these ladies lost their objectivity and became models themselves.  Iowan Mary Schnack looked on when classmate Sue Johnson interviewed with Chan and, later, when she shot with photographer Nicholas DeSciose.  Johnson explained why she was doing it:  “It’s a goal you set for yourself and accomplish.  Just to say that I was in the magazine would be enough for me.”


Iowa’s Susan Johnson works in an emergency room.  Her sports: swimming, riding.


Spartan Gail Palmer is a student film maker who wrote, produced and directed an X-rated movie.


Britt Nielsen has an M.A. in theater from the University of Iowa.  her aspiration?  “To play Desdemona in a Zeffirelli production of Othello.”

Schnack’s article began with the following paragraph: “It’s an ego trip.  It’s publicity.  It’s answering a dare . . . It’s posing for a famous photographer.”  The reporter was impressed by what she saw; we responded in kind.  Schnack became a model (per picture is presented here).  She is as engaging as her prose.


Yet another Hoosier: Pamela Jean Bryant is majoring in telecommunications and film production at Indiana University.  She’ll be out in time to cover the 1980 Olympics – that is, if she’s not participating. (Her favorite sport happens to be gymnastics.)


Karla Potts can sometimes be found on the campus of the University of Iowa.  More often, she’s out backpacking in the wild green yonder.  “I’m really the outdoors type.  Sleeping in a warm sleeping bag on a cold night is an absolute turn-on.”  Her activities include rafting, scuba diving and dancing till five a.m.


Vicky Witt works as a salesclerk in the daytime so that she can attend evening classes at Michigan State.  Later in the night, you might find her singing – by herself or for friends.  Give me a G.

Chan did note one trend among the ladies he interviewed and later photographed.  Most were upperclasspersons.  Freshmen who had just left home evidently had a problem in facing both our camera and their parents.  Older girls were free to act on their own.  For many, posing was a declaration of independence.  Said one girl: “My parents would be outraged, but it’s my life and my decision.  I can hear my mother now. ‘You’ll never see your grandmother’s silver.'”  So why do it?  “It’s something to show my own grandchildren. ‘Look, kids, see what your granny did.'”

We rest our case.

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2 Responses to Girls of the Big Ten

  1. Janine says:

    I love that you put this up! The African American woman is my mother. She will die when she see this! Thanks again:)

  2. Gary says:

    What lovely ladies of Big Ten’s past, these are very nice spread, thanks for sharing, it was throughly enjoyable.

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