College Widow

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Jump to navigation Jump to search
You know it was once a prominent trope when it was used as a brand name for cigars.

In my day a college widow stood for something... in fact, she stood for plenty!

Groucho Marx in Horse Feathers

A character type dating to at least the early 20th century (there was a 1904 Broadway production entitled The College Widow), but now a Forgotten Trope: a single woman living in a college town who attracts, encourages and enjoys the attention of the young men from the local school. Often she is the younger wife of a deceased faculty member or college president, but in any case she is barely older than the students she courts. As a genuine widow, she came upon a healthy taste (and talent) for sexual relations legitimately, but her youth left her with her wifely desires still burning hot; she thus turns to the school's handy supply of strapping young men to fill them. Her house, just off the campus, is usually the home to at least one Wild Teen Party a week if not more, and during Prohibition it's all but a speakeasy.

In an era when most colleges and universities were male-only, she was usually the only outlet for a healthy young man's sexual urges short of the nearest brothel, and often far less expensive. Naturally, other local citizens viewed her as being a singlehanded danger to the moral rectitude of hundreds if not thousands of impressionable young men. Usually seen as a Femme Fatale if not The Vamp, although she normally serves no master but her own libido.

A Forgotten Trope since at least the 1960s, if not decades earlier. With the advent of co-education, this character type died a quick death as accusations of sexual iniquity quickly shifted to female college students (then, subsequently, male college students, as well).

Examples of College Widow include:


  • As evidenced by the page image, "College Widow" was the brand name for a line of cigars. Judging by it, the lady in question graced Harvard with her favors.


  • Thelma "Hot Toddy" Todd (Connie Bailey) in the 1932 Marx Brothers movie Horse Feathers.
  • Horse Feathers was in fact mostly a spoof of a 1927 film called simply The College Widow featuring Delores Costello as the title character, Jane Witherspoon. The daughter of a professor, Jane was technically a bit young to be considered a true college widow but filled the role anyway. This itself was a remake of a 1915 silent film of the same name, in which Jane was played by Ethel Clayton.
  • Possibly playing on the 1915 film was a 1916 production called Dad's College Widow, but little is known about the story.
  • Vivien Leigh plays a variation on the college widow in A Yank at Oxford, the variation being that she's not really a widow, just the neglected wife of a much older husband.
  • The coach's wife in Tea and Sympathy wasn't exactly a widow, although her husband didn't pay much attention to her, which is why she turned her attention to the young man whom his more 'hearty' classmates thought was gay, although he wasn't.
  • The wife of the dean in Animal House. Although her husband is still living, he doesn't pay too much attention to her (preferring instead to use her as arm candy), and she finds him stuffy and boring. So she turns to the frat boys and their Wacky Fratboy Hijinks...successfully.


  • Hilda "Sharpie" Corners from Robert A. Heinlein's novel The Number of the Beast is explicitly described as a college widow (although she protests that all of her paramours were age-appropriate). Given Heinlein's history of creating retro-flavored futures, this may be an instance of a deliberate use of an outdated trope to indicate that the book does not, as it initially seems, start Twenty Minutes Into the Future of our universe.


  • The Unoffical [sic] College Songbook, believed to have been compiled at the University of Wisconsin during the 1950s, includes a ditty entitled "Mimi, The College Widow", which starts:

Mimi the college widow, Queen of the University,
Mimi the college widow, taught all the boys anatomy, wow, wow-
Mimi the college widow, to know her is to love her, that is sure.
She really is a honey, but she will cost you money,
That's Mimi the college lure.



  • The 1904 play College Widow by George Ade, which may have been the ultimate inspiration for several of the early film scripts mentioned above.
  • Leave It to Jane was a two-act musical based on Ade's play, co-written by P. G. Wodehouse of all people; it reached Broadway in 1917.
  • Beulah in Rodgers and Hammerstein's Allegro is something like this.

Video Games

  • In Spellcasting 201: The Sorcerer's Appliance, Hillary Tickingclock becomes one when her husband dies. This status ends when her husband is brought back from the dead at the end of the story. Of course, she had been regularly screwing the students (and anyone else who dropped by) before the professor died, and continued doing so after he came back to life.


  • The yearbook of the all-female Christian College of Columbia, Missouri (now the co-educational Columbia College) was called The College Widow for decades, at least as recently as 1958 and probably all the way until it went co-ed and renamed itself in 1970.