News Messenger Centennial Edition
December 31,1969, page J1

First Tech Coed Earned Degree in 1923

Dr. Burruss Paved Way for Women

By Lucy Lee Lancaster, Assistant Professor

Second Associate Librarian, Virginia Polytechnic Institute

In 1921, of the land-grant colleges and universities in the United States only five or six did not admit women, and three of these allowed them to attend summer schools.

Dr. Julian A. Burruss, an alumnus of Virginia Tech, came back to his alma mater to be president in 1919, after a period of 11 years at Harrisonburg State Normal School (now Madison College) as head of that woman's college. At the Jan. 13, 1921 meeting of the university's board of visitors he suggested that women be admitted to Virginia's land-grant institution and the board gave its unanimous approval.

Dr. Burruss was quoted as having said that "The interests of the state and of this college make it advisable to extend to our women citizens the full privileges of instruction offered here. The Virginia Polytechnic Institute will thus no longer discriminate against a large part of the people of the state supporting it..." He concluded with the statement that "It is clear that nothing will be left undone to provide satisfactory conditions for all earnest women who come seeking the instruction provided at this institution."

The Roanoke Times carried the news on Jan. 18, heading the article "Virginia Tech to Open All classes to Women in September."

The Virginia Tech started its Jan. 27, 1921, issue with an article headed "Women May Attend Tech Next Session," and stated that "President Burruss emphasized strongly the need of educational advantages for the women who are to enter new lines of work opened to them by the recent war." It concluded with the remark: "VPI is the only college maintained by Virginia which gave practical courses in agricultural subjects, and as the institution has received instruction in horticulture, landscape gardening, and other branches of agriculture, it is expected that by next September there will be several young women matriculated in these courses."

But the Tech reporter was wrong about what courses the expected coeds would take. There were 12 women students enrolled that first year, five were full-time students and seven were special students. The five regular students were Mary Brumfield, Carrie T. Sibold, and Lucy Lee Lancaster taking applied chemistry, and Ruth Terrett taking civil engineering.

Mary Brumfield, whose father was Dr. WA Brumfield, the college doctor, transferred from Westhampton College and entered Virginia Tech as junior. The other four entered as freshmen. All were from Blacksburg except Ruth Terrett who was from Alexandria, the only woman to enter Virginia Tech from out of town that first year.

Mary Brumfield graduated in 1923, the first woman to be awarded a degree by Virginia Tech and then she went on to win another degree, a master's. She soon married Roane Garnett, who had been a fellow student, and moved to Birmingham. They retired several years ago and returned to Blacksburg to live.

Billie Kent Kabrich gave up her college studies after two years to become Mrs. Fred Shanks. Her place was taken by Louise Jacobs who entered as a junior in the fall of 1923, as her father had come to Blacksburg as a pastor of its Methodist Church. She majored in chemistry, and kept the number of coeds in the class of 1924 at four all the way to graduation. She soon became Mrs. Meade Stull. Her granddaughter, Sarah Stull, majored in statistics at Virginia Tech, graduating with the class of 1969. Louis Jacobs Stull thus has the honor of being the first Virginia Tech alumna to have a granddaughter finish at her alma mater.

The seven special students who ventured to take classes that first session were teachers, secretaries, or faculty wives. They were Mrs. Lucy Randolph Brown (a teacher in the Blacksburg public school), Mrs. Lucy Butler Groth (whose husband was instructor in military science and tactics), Sarah Gainor Kessler (later Mrs. Herman Farley), Hattie Mays (later Mrs. CR Willey), Lena Willis McDonald, Josephine Phlegar (later Mrs. Sam Preston), and Margaret Robinson Walker (later Mrs. CC Wagoner).

The Virginia Tech was very polite in its article on enrollment in the first issue of the fall of 1921. Headlines read: "Virginia Tech now over 875. Available Space in Barracks Occupied, Three and Four Men Being Assigned to a Room. 10 Co-eds Matriculated."

The article began: "This year, for the first time in the history of the school, women are admitted to all courses of instruction, and the campus is now graced by the presence of ten co-eds."

The students individually were not impolite to the women students, but as a whole they did not like the idea of coeducation. The freshmen had been used to mixed classes in grade and high school and having girls in college classes seemed not unusual, but the upperclassmen were used to all male classed and thought that having women around spoiled the sacred traditions of Tech.

Virginia Tech published in the fall of 1922 a bulletin on "Opportunities for the Education of Women." In its forward, comment was made on the rapid development of the home demonstration work of the Extension Division of the college, including the following statement:

"The needs of this work alone would justify steps being taken by the college to prepare young women suitably for undertaking it; but aside from this there seemed to be every reason for opening the college to women and no good reason for not doing so. Other than a special curriculum for the preparation of home demonstration agents, no courses have been added to those formerly offered to men and no effort whatever has been made to secure women students. Despite this, however, during the session of 1921-22 a good number of young women registered at the college and an increased number attended the summer term."

There were 20 women the following year, 1922-23, still mostly special students. The coed enrollment first passed 100 in 1923-1933, when it reached 109. No one enrolled in home economics until 1925-56. By that time some full-time home economics faculty members were appointed--Miss Martha D Dinwiddie and Miss Mary McGowan.

Others who followed were Miss Katherine Holtclaw, Miss Emma Weld, and Miss Margaret Minnis. Enrollment in home economics developed to about 30. Then came the depression and the home economics courses were suspended as a result of reduced revenues.

In 1933-34 the coed enrollment was down to 57. In 1937, when the home economic curriculum was started again, there was not much increase in women's attendance, but by 1939-40, it was back over the 100 mark, with 156 women students. It did not pass 200 until 1958-59, when 218 were enrolled. In 1962-63 there were 305 women students, in 1966-67, 639, and in 1967-68, 1168. About 1700 are expected in the fall of 1969.

The proportion of women students to total enrollment ranged from three to five per cent for most of the years until 1967-68 when it went up to about 13 per cent. Two factors entered into this increased percentage: more dormitory space was made available for women in the 1960's and more courses which appealed to women were added to the university's offering.

English and history, added in 1963-64, have proved popular with coeds as field in which to major. Percentage wise women students made their greatest impression on the student body during the World War II years. In 1944-45 just as the war was about to end, women made up 17.9 per cent of the enrollment.

Through the years the percentage of women at the graduate level has been higher than at the undergraduate level until 1967- when it was about the same. The first women to enroll for graduate work in 1923-23 comprised about three per cent of the total enrollment. This increased to a high of 40 per cent in the war year of 1943.

In the highest graduate level, that of work toward the doctorate, women have made a poor showing. Of the Ph.D. degrees awarded at Virginia Tech less that two per cent have gone to women. The first woman to get her Ph.D. from Tech was Betty Dolores Stough, who majored in parasistology and won here degree in 1953. Ph.D. degrees in statistics have gone to Irene Monahan in 1961, Jean Dickinson Gibbons in 1963, Monica Lui Chang in 1967.

Doctorates in biochemistry and nutrition were won by Vivian Yen-Ling Tsou Mah and Janet M Paulsen in 1966, and Jane Swisher Ellison in 1967. Curricula most popular with women undergraduates in 1967-68 were mathematics (115), clothing, textiles, and related art (113), English (113), biology (105), management, housing and family development (74), history (52), and home economics, education (52). All other curricula enrolled less than 50 women. Totals by colleges for the 1967-68 session were: arts and sciences, 679; home economics, 289; business, 84; agriculture, 50; engineering, 35; architecture, 27; unclassified, 4.

Women were enrolled in Ph.D. programs as follows in the same year: statistics, 7; biology, 6; chemistry, 5; mathematics, 4; biochemistry and nutrition, 3; plant pathology and physiology, 2; physics, 2; chemical engineering, 1; and horticulture, 1.

When women first studied at Virginia Tech there were no provisions made to provided college housing for them. They were to "be assigned rooms in private homes of officials and professors on the campus, and in private homes in town" and they were to board in the same homes if possible or else in a private home nearby. The first dormitory for women was a large residence in "The Grove," which had been the Chrisman's home.

It was remodeled and furnished attractively, partially with antiques, in the session of 1925-26. It may not have had an official name, but the men students quickly name it the "Skirt Barn." It later served as a home management house, and was torn down only a few years ago.

The present "Hillcrest" dormitory was opened in the fall of 1940. Thirty town girls were entertained at supper there in early November 1940, and a couple of weeks later the first dance was given there with about 200 people present.

The Woolwine House was furnished by the Virginia home demonstration clubs and opened as a graduate student cooperative resident in 1960. The auxiliary dormitory (the former extension apartment building) was occupied by women students in the fall of 1963, as an emergency measure.

In 1966 the university began the renovation of a former men's dormitory, Eggleston Hall, for use by women. This was followed by the remodeling of Campbell Hall. When coeds occupied the auxiliary dormitory they began going to Owens Dining Hall for their meals.

There was need for a lounge for women in the early days because so many were day students. For the first few years the coeds used to go the infirmary in vacant periods and pass the time until their next class in the sitting room of Misses Hannas and Haefeli, the campus nurses.

In 1930's a lounge room was provided in the home economics building of the period, and later one was fixed up at the library. Then when Squires Hall was finished there was a lounge for women provided in it.

The expenses of women students at Tech were estimated in the fall of 1922 to be $279 for a nine month's session. College charges were $36. Board and room in a private family would probably cost $25 a month and laundry $2 monthly, it was announced. This did not include books, travel to and from home (not many trips home were made then), or personal expenses.

Today the estimate for a session for the students is about $1,275 for the same services.

When coeducation began at Virginia Tech nearly all the men students belonged to the Corps of Cadets. Only the women and the graduate students were not in military.

The professors were acquainted with the coeds as most of the them were local people and they like to tease them. A favorite remark from them at the opening of school was "When are you going to get measured for your uniform?"

Women were not allowed to walk across the quadrangle which was surrounded by barracks. The Book Store was then housed in No. 1 Barracks, now Lane Hall. Coeds had to send for their books by a messenger.

If one did dare to set foot on this forbidden territory there would be a series of calls from the dormitories of "Woman on the Quadrangle."

There was one classroom building on one side of the quadrangle, the old Science Hall, later converted into a dormitory. Coeds had to skirt the quadrangle to get to classes held in it. One described this in her diary: "We had to go back to the barracks to some of our classes and thus see and hear most everything nice little girls shouldn't see and hear. 'N Funny thing, seemed like the boys always needed fresh air as we came by--up went the windows and down came water (in paper bags) as that seemed to be their chief indoor sport. Along with the water came squeaky voices yelling and saying silly things to us. We became exceedingly alert and quick movers, in fact we became so efficient in dodging water that we decided to extend our athletic ability even further, and as a consequence of this we had a basketball team."

But the basketball playing wasn't easy for there were not always enough players to make two teams for practice. Radford College, the Roanoke YMCA, Concord Teachers College, and Blacksburg High School supplied the opposition. Sometimes men students attended these games but they rooted for the opposing team.

In March 1929 the coeds were used as ushers at a Physical Education Exhibition. They borrowed red sashes from the cadets to complete their proper dress for the occasion. The hits of the evening was the freshmen coeds giving the Sailor's Hornpipe.

The coeds formed an organization of their own, mainly a social one, with monthly meetings, because the men students wouldn't let them belong to regular student clubs. These monthly meeting were held in homes and were usually of party nature.

By 1930 there was a Women Student's Organization and Sally Ann Linkous was president of it. Catherine Slusser was president of it. Catherine Slusser was president in 1931. By 1934 a Woman's Student Union was organized. Its last president in 1938-39 was Mrs. Louise Wilson. In November, 1939, the women students joined the Civilian Students Union; currently there is a united student government body of all men and women. Women have sometimes served as secretary of it.

In 1922 Bugle, the first issued after women started attending Virginia Tech, showed evidence that coeds were in the minds of the staff preparing it. Mention of them appears in the humorous section in the back, called "The Discords," but they were not allowed to have their picture in the yearbook.

This prohibition went on for some years and in 1925 when four women students were to graduate, including the first three to go through four years at Tech, their fellow coeds held a banquet for them in the late spring, and presented each of the four seniors with a hand done copy of a coed yearbook prepared as a take-off on The Bugle, and called The Tin Horn. It had a poem in it to the "Turkey Hen," snapshots, pen and ink drawings, and a cover made of wrapping paper. It was all done in fun and came as a surprise and delight to the senior coeds.

In 1929 another class prepared a Tin Horn, but a more serious one than the first. Francis Vernon was editor. Mary Slusher edited the 1930 Tin Horn, and Martha Rice the 1931 issue. These were all that were published.

In 1939 a picture of the Women's Student Union as a group appeared in The Bugle. The next year the coed seniors got their individual pictures in the yearbook. And so it has continued. A coed, Thora Elrath, served a business manager of the 1950 Bugle, and as managing editor of the 1951 Bugle. Ten years later, Judith Weintraub was editor of The Bugle, and again in 1966 a coed, Angi Ma, served as its editor.

A women student, Doris Tomcyak, a senior in industrial physics, was editor of the Virginia Tech Engineer in 1949-50.

In 1968-69, Lucy L. Minogue was editor of the Virginia Tech, and her sister Jennifer Minogue served as editor of Maelstrom, the literary magazine which made its first appearance in the spring of 1966 to 1968.

In the 1920's and 30's the coeds formed some special clubs of their own; science, chemistry, business and biology clubs, a glee club, a dramatic club, but at the present time they join in with the men students in most of their organization work. The Home Economics Club is still an all-girl organization.

The coeds in 1966 formed a woman's honorary society called The Garnet and Gold, and in 1967 a sorority called Chi Delta Alpha was organized to provide a channel through which women students at Virginia Tech could serve their school. It was the first service and leadership organization for coeds at Tech.

For a period, there was a YWCA organization on the campus, but it entered into activities with the YMCA so often that the two organizations combined about 1965 and have known since was the YMCA. A coed, Susie Shertzer, was elected president in 1967-68 certainly a history-making event.

It is not unusual for coeds to serve as officers in various clubs. They did this especially often in the World War II period when the male upperclassmen went into the armed services. Then they headed up many campus campaigns and took on added responsibilities. Several years ago (about 1964) when the Horticultural Club elected officers two of its leaders were women, Mary Anna Minogue (one of the well-known Minogue sisters) was made president, and Sarah Ann Hale, secretary. The coed Dramatics Club was probably organized in 1930, with Helen Holdaway as its president. The play it gave that year was Polly With a Past. In 1931, when Clara Carr Chrisman was president, the play given was Adam and Eva. Prof. Mrs. LJ Bray directed this production. A rehearsal was given before the men's dramatic group. In the latter the cadets were playing the women's roles and finally the two organizations got together. Tech Players was organized in the 1935-36 session with 48 members, 17 of whom were coeds. Jane Kessler and Margaret Schoene served on its executive committee.

In 1938 this group changed its name to the Maroon Mask. Women students have been taking a leading part in play production on the campus every since. Some of the actresses who will be remembered by former students were: Sylvia Staves, Kitty Nutter, Louise Wilson, Jeanne Robb, Elizabeth Holden, June McDonald, Mary Helen Tate, Dorothy Lee Heavener, the Gates sister, Grace McConnell, and many more. Cynthia Furtsch played often with the Maroon Mask and served as its president. She did a turn in summer stock in 1962.

The YMCA held a May Day Festival its first, in 1964. Cornelia Nye was crowned May Queen at eight in the evening in the amphitheater by Dr. Burrus. There was a Maypole dance, a Highland fling, a Mexican dance, and musical solos. In 1945 Grace Holmes was crowned queen by Dean CP Miles. The cadet band furnished music. The theme was "World Friendship." In 1946 Lynn Patton was crowned queen by Dean HL Price. She wore the dress she was later to be married in. Folk dancing was featured.

Queens have since become a familiar custom on the campus, not for May Day but for many other occasions such as football games. Probably the practice of naming queens was given an assist by the Dairy Club, later the Virginia Tech chapter of the American Dairy Science Association. This club organized in 1921, held its first show five years later. In 1938 the program was reorganized and a milking contest featuring Virginia Tech coeds and girls from neighboring colleges was initiated. The first "Queen of the Milky Way" was chosen in 1941 with six princesses as her attendants. That year the queen was Evelyn Walden, a senior in home economics. She wore white and was seated on an orange and maroon milk bottle throne. In 1950 the queen of Dairy Day was Martha Greear; in 1951, Elizabeth Ann Jones (who was secretary of the student chapter of the American Dairy Science Association); in 1952, June Maile; in 1953, Irene Stoneman. Dairy Day merged into the Agricultural Exposition in 1954. In 1963 the latter merged into the Tech Festival. The queens have continued to be named, and all the attention paid them is in sharp contrast to the attitude on campus to the girl students of the 1920's.

But the early women students did win certain honors, if not in the beauty and popularity categories. These were in the realm of scholastic merit. The first woman graduate, Mary Brumfield, finished with "honors," and was the first coed to be elected to the honor society of Phi Kappa Phi. In the next class of women to graduate, half were elected to Phi Kappa Phi.

Beginning with the session of 1922-23 and continuing for 20 years, the honor scholarships to students who led their respective classes in the freshman, sophomore, and junior year. Our of the more than 60 scholarships awarded in this time (more than 60 because a few times there were ties), six went to women. That is a little less than 10 per cent, and during this period women's enrollment never went over five per cent of total enrollment.

It should be of interest to mention some of the scholastic achievements of coeds in the 48 years they have been on the Tech campus. Frances Rosamond Alrich led the senior class of 226 in 1932. She was a chemistry major. Jane Kehoe, majoring in chemical engineering, led the senior class in 1960. Pres. Walter S. Newman announced to both sections of the commencement exercises that the senior with the highest average that year had married the senior with the highest average from the class of 1959, and had become Mrs. CD Cullum, Jr.

This coed in her junior year was awarded a $500 scholarship from the Society of Women Engineers, a scholarship named for Lillian M. Gilbreth and given to the outstanding Canadian or American woman student working for a engineering degree.

Elsie Harper graduated in 1959 as first in the class of chemical engineering majors.

Mary Virginia Jones, the third coed to enroll in mechanical engineering (The other two were Margaret Emily Booton, class of 1954, and Ann Margaret Huether, class of 1957), was presented Pi Tau Sigma's annual slide rule award as the outstanding sophomore in mechanical engineering. She was also recipient of the Carol M. Newman scholarship, made each year by the German Club, based on high scholastic rating, loyalty and devotion to Virginia Tech moral character, and integrity.

After graduation Mary Virginia Jones went to work in Alexandria for Atlantic Research Corporation and about 1964 joined the Virginia Society of Professional Engineers as its "first lady engineering" member.

Some of the women students at Virginia Tech have had interests in flying. In late 1937, a coed named Carmen Venegas flew her own 40-horsepower airplane in a national cub convoy to Miami, Fla. She kept her plane in Lynchburg and flew it from there to Washington where she joined the convoy, being the only Virginia-based aviatrix in the group of about 100 flyers. They were on their way to air races in Miami. She had been invited by the National Intercollegiate Flying Club to join the flight. At that time she was a senior, taking electrical engineering. She had come to Virginia Tech on one of two scholarships awarded annually by the Costa Rican government.

A pretty junior in home economics the late Fannie Leslie Oakey, was the first coed (and perhaps the only one) to win a private pilot's license in the federally sponsored student training program at the Virginia Tech airport in 1940.

The university now has a chapter of Angel Flight, "an honorary organization of dedicated college women who have the interests of the United States Air Force, the Arnold Air Society, and their university at heart."

Some special training courses in engineering for women were given at Virginia Tech after the United States entered World War II. These started in 1944 and each lasted 13 weeks. Glenn L. Martin Co., of Baltimore established scholarships for the courses and offered the students employment as soon as they were trained.

Tech has had one woman ROTC student. She was Patricia Miller, preparing to be an army dietitian. She got her second lieutenant's commission in the Army Medical Specialist Corps at the commissioning ceremony held as part of the 1959 commencement. She retired from the army later to become the wife of another lieutenant.

It would be interesting to follow the individual histories of the women who have attended Virginia Tech. Its first woman graduate to become a member of its faculty was Ella Russell, the stepdaughter of "Pop" Owens (for whom Owens Hall is named). She entered Tech the second year it was open to women, graduated in 1926, took her MS degree in 1928 and joined the chemistry department where she taught until her death in 1949.

Clarice Slusher (now Mrs HL Pritchard) was another graduate of the early days, class of 1927 (MS 1936) who served her alma mater long and faithfully, first as assistant registrar and then for about 29 years as register until she retired in 1966. A residential hall to be completed in 1970 is to be named Slusher Hall in her honor.

The member of the class of 1925 of coeds who is best known to all former students of Virginia Tech is Carrie T Sibold, who helped run the office of the university's Alumni Association from 1922, when she started working there as a student, until she retired in 1966. Her hospitable greetings and smiling face meant much to returning Techmen and Techwomen during the span of years. Former coeds and others who attended her retirement party at the University Club in April 1966 will long remember that pleasant affair.

The alumnae of Virginia Tech organized a Woman's Chapter as part of the general Alumni Association in 1955 with the aid and blessing of the late secretary, Henry B. Redd. It holds annual meetings so that former coeds can keep in touch. Its activities would make up another bit of Virginia Tech's story.