From the Archives

History, documents, and photos

Coeducation: Part 1

Written By: information_management - Mar• 07•08

Last month, I devoted several posts to the story of
desegregation at the college. Desegregation
was the first in a series of significant changes between 1964 and 1976 that had
a lot to do with making Wofford what it is today. The second of these changes was the liberalization
of student life and curricular change, and the third was coeducation. We’ll hold off on the changes in student life
and the curriculum for now and talk for the next few days about
coeducation.

Several weeks ago, I posted an entry and some pictures of
Wofford’s first women students, who attended the college between 1897 and
1904. It’s important to remember that
nothing in Ben Wofford’s will, nothing in the charter, and nothing but
tradition and practice had made Wofford an all-male institution. As the college approached admitting women as
full-time regular students in the late 1960s, plenty of precedent existed for enrolling
women. After Marie Tarboux and Olive
Setzler took their bachelor’s degrees and Carrie Skelton her master’s degree in
1904, women were not enrolled as regular students again for some years. From evidence in President Henry Nelson
Snyder’s papers, and from references in the college’s coeducation study, women,
particularly teachers, enrolled in summer courses from the beginning of summer
school in the 1920s. Between 1930 and
1950, twenty-five women earned Wofford Master of Arts degrees.

Still, most in the community viewed women as regular
students at Wofford as something of an oddity. When some of the earliest eight women came to homecoming in 1928 and got
in line to march in an alumni procession, they were politely but firmly told
that the line was for alumni only and they should remove themselves. Mrs. Puella Littlejohn True, the first woman
graduate, just as politely and firmly replied that she was an alumna. After some discussion and rebuttal, according
to a later news story, the women were allowed to remain in the line.

Cdwells
Women enrolled as undergraduates during this period as
well. Caroline DuPre Wells, the daughter
of Dean A. Mason DuPre, graduated in 1934, attending classes that were
otherwise all male. Considering her
father was the chief disciplinarian on campus, it’s unlikely she had any
trouble with disrespectful classmates.

One woman took a bachelor’s degree in 1948, and in the very
large, GI-generation class of 1949, two women took bachelor’s degrees. Mrs. Mary Fulton Terrell of the class of 1949
was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, becoming the first woman to earn membership in
the Beta of South Carolina Chapter. According
to her citation, she attended the summer session for ten years to earn enough
credits to graduate, all while working. Many
women who earned degrees in the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s did so as
summer students, or because they transferred hours from other colleges but
completed their degrees at Wofford. Most
years in the 1950s saw at least one woman graduate from the college.

The largest group of women on the campus in the 1950s was
nurses in the Spartanburg General Hospital’s nursing school. These women took science and social science
courses at Wofford. In 1955, President Pendleton
Gaines reported to the trustees that 58 nurses were taking courses on
campus.

Occasional talk about admitting women as full-time students
during the school year brought generally negative reaction from students. In the 1955 Old Gold and Black, one student commented “I wouldn’t want them in
class. I think Converse serves the
purpose for girls around here.” Another
opposed because “Girls would certainly be a distracting influence as far as
studying is concerned.” Several of the
comments revolved around changes that would have to happen in classes –
generally unspecified, but some thought that “you couldn’t have the frankness
you have in classes” with women students. Other students acknowledged advantages to coeducation, suggesting it was
a more natural environment and would promote better understanding between men
and women. The newspaper’s editorial a
week later, however, carried the headline “Girls as Dates, not Classmates,”
summarizing the arguments against coeducation that were already being
made.

Next time: the college investigates and moves to admitting
women as day students.

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