BLOSSOMS AMID THE DEEP VERDURE

A Century of Women at Auburn 1892-1992

By Leah Rawls Atkins

PART TWO

(Numbers in parentheses correspond to reference numbers at the end of this page.)

Although the girls had dates whenever they pleased, they were usually "study dates," for the academic work was demanding. Marion Dawson Toombs, who was a coed in 1897, recalled that girls were under pressure to make good grades "and have our names with a high rating posted on the bulletin board by the professor."(80) Despite their minority status in class, Auburn female graduates frequently went on to graduate school, and many credited the faculty with instilling in them a desire for advanced study and preparing them well for graduate school. Sometimes A.P.I. coeds stayed at Auburn for graduate study, as Kate Broun did, winning a competitive scholarship in 1894. She was the first coed to receive a graduate degree when she was awarded her Master's of Science degree the next year.(81) Other women students left for eastern universities. For example, two female graduates entered Columbia in 1925.(82)

In 1897 when Professor Charles C. Thach gave the commencement address at Auburn, he praised the "experiment in co-education" as "perfectly feasible" and technical education for women "one of the inevitable demands of the day." But he addressed the need for "a handsome home" for the "comfortable accommodation" of the girls.(83) Two decades would pass before Auburn provided its first dormitory for women. A.P.I.'s growth was somewhat controlled by the number of beds in town available for boarders, and the college encouraged homeowners to use all available space. And they did so willingly, converting attic and basement rooms, barns, and garages and raising roofs to create second-story rooms for students.

In the first two decades of the twentieth century, women who enrolled at the Alabama Polytechnic Institute tended to have an "Auburn connection." Many were like Annie Terrell, who moved to Auburn with her widowed mother, Leila, in 1900. Mrs. Terrell operated a boarding house in a large two-story rambling frame house called the "Terrell Ranch" located across from the train depot. Annie graduated in 1914 and was soon employed as a high school mathematics teacher.(84) Often a girl would be sent to A.P.I. because an older brother was in school, and the brother was given responsibility for "looking after her." Frequently girls came to board with relatives while they attended college classes, and it was not unknown for mothers to leave fathers at home and move to Auburn with teenagers so they could attend Auburn. Addie Crowder Metzger's father came over from Lanett and rented a house in Auburn for his two daughters, who arrived complete with a maid-cook chaperon in the employment of their father.

Auburn's coed enrollment rose dramatically between 1920, when 18 coeds were registered, and 1930, when 198 women were attending classes despite the Great Depression. An important reason for this increase in female students began with the movement of women in June 1910 into extension programs as home demonstration agents. This was accelerated in May 1914 after Congress passed the Smith-Lever Act, which funded extension work of land-grant colleges in agriculture and home economics and established the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service. Following World War I there were white home demonstration agents appointed to every county in Alabama.(85)

As the number of home demonstration agents increased, they were encouraged to obtain college degrees. Although A.P.I. had no home economics department, in 1914 the college started teaching home economics classes during the summer term, offering specially designed courses for school teachers.(86) In 1915 Professor Zebulon Judd began a department of education to provide teacher-training, and the School of Education was established in 1918. Judd directed the summer term courses, which were attended by many women. Most of the coeds enrolled before 1921 were in the general course and were planning to teach, "the only job they could get."(87)

The University of Alabama also held summer terms with state funds to support the programs, while A.P.I. was given "nothing," an unfair situation noted in the 1919 survey of Alabama education conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Education at the request of the legislature. The federal study made a number of suggestions, and the "most radical of its recommendations bearing on higher education" was that the Alabama Polytechnic Institute establish a "well-equipped division of home economics" and transfer "all the Smith-Lever extension work in home economics and the Smith-Hughes work in the training of home economics teachers" to Auburn. For two years A.P.I. had been transferring federal funds it received to the Girls' Technical Institute at Montevallo to train home economists because Auburn had "not developed a department of home economics."(88) The report concluded that it was better for the programs to be located on a four-year advanced-degree campus of the land-grant college than be part of a two-year technical school's program.

When the students returned in the fall of 1920, the campus newspaper, the Orange and Blue, announced a number of administrative changes, many of them adopted by the trustees as a result of the federal survey.(89) The most significant one for women was the creation of a home economics department to train female county home demonstration and extension agents. In 1921 when Dr. Spright Dowell became president, he combined the office of state home demonstration director with the head of the A.P.I. Home Economics Department. The curriculum provided a "rigorous education" that "functioned as an applied science for women" and included courses in chemistry, biology, physics, and architecture.(90) In 1924 the Home Economics faculty began significant research funded by the Purnell Act into the vitamin and mineral content of common Alabama foods.

President Dowell also supported the conversion of Smith Hall into the first dormitory for women and appointed the first dean of women, Minnie B. Fisher, who was dean at Louisiana State Normal School.(91) In 1920 women alumnae, most of them living in the Auburn area, helped organize one of the first female clubs, the Co-ed Club, composed of all present and past A.P.I. coeds. Primarily a social club, the group was also concerned with the welfare of Auburn women, and one of its first projects was refurbishing the coed study room on the second floor of Samford Hall.(92) In 1922 Lilian Sharpley and Annie Creel founded a Y.W.C.A. to help bring coeds together "in a spiritual and social way." The group, which met on alternate Sunday afternoons, had spend-the-night parties, teas, and picnics and became noted for its Coed Minstrel Show.(93)

In the fall of 1922, 65 women were included in an enrollment of 1,295.(94) Several were enrolled in Agricultural Science and Engineering, reflecting the post-World War I demand by women "for professional training in the Sciences and in the Applied Sciences."(95) The appearance of the first sorority on campus came in 1922 when a chapter of Kappa Delta was founded. Other sororities followed KD to the campus, and the administration created the position of social director and appointed Zoe Dobbs. In 1923 Agnes Ellen Harris became dean of women.

The increase in female enrollment at Auburn coincided with the Jazz Age, the Roaring Twenties, when American women across the nation were asserting their independence. Women invaded the urban job market during World War I, and although they were confined to low-paying retail sales and secretarial positions, they did not leave when the men came marching home again. Women voted in the presidential election of 1920 for the first time, and a National Women's Party began agitating for equal rights for females. Once-modest maidens became "flappers," rouged their cheeks, began smoking in public, bobbed their hair, raised the hemlines of their skirts to shocking heights, and wore daring one-piece bathing suits. Even the conservative Alabama Polytechnic Institute roared in sync with the Twenties.

The Auburn cadets, along with all the young men in Montgomery, were totally smitten with Zelda Sayre, who personified the liberated female. She drank gin, rode down Dexter Avenue in a flesh-colored bathing suit with her legs draped over the back of the rumble seat, and in 1920 was the sponsor for the A.P.I. Regimental Adjutant Cadet Corps. Five Auburn football players organized a special society with an initiation that required "a successful pilgrimage to Montgomery and a date with Zelda." They called it Zeta Sigma. Part of the ritual was a "pledge of devotion to her."(96) An Auburn legend tells that one summer she "danced naked in the Pi K.A. lily pond."(97) When Zelda married F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1920, she may have broken the hearts of a hundred A.P.I. cadets, but there were a hundred Auburn women who toasted the wedding.

John Weld, who became a writer and a stuntman in Hollywood, attended A.P.I. in 1921 and recalled the twice-a-year "fandangos when girls from all over came to spend the weekends" in Auburn. He did not remember any coeds, probably because he was romancing a "wayward girl" from Montgomery, a friend of Zelda Sayre, who introduced him to "necking and corn whiskey." The train fare to Montgomery was $1.50, more than he could afford, so he "hoboed, riding between the coal and baggage cars."(98)

The 1920s was the "Golden Decade of Sport" and reflected the Progressive era's belief that exercise for women was "a means of achieving their 'natural beauty.'" A Women's Athletic Association was organized on campus, and a coed basketball team began playing an intercollegiate schedule.(99) Auburn's male sports writers for the Orange and Blue outdid themselves in describing the court play of Margaret "Cutie" Brown, who was "the main cog in the Auburn machine," along with Annie Creel.(100) Caroline Elizabeth Drake remembered Cutie, a teammate of her sister Rosa, as a popular girl and a great point shooter. The team did well the winter of 1921, playing a number of area college and high school teams, but the spotlight at A.P.I. was not on women's athletic endeavors but men's, especially football, a sport that began at Auburn the same year women arrived.

Although there was no connection between women and football, in 1893 the Tuscaloosa Gazette had urged the ladies of the University to come out to "encourage our boys and enjoy a victory over Auburn" since the "boys play better when the ladies are looking."(101) Perhaps the same was true for Auburn lads, for within a few years female sponsors attended the games in decorated carriages to cheer for A.P.I.

Of all the symbols of the increasing prominence of women on the A.P.I. campus during the early 1920s, three stand out. In 1922 the Auburn Women's Student Government Association was organized.(102) In 1923 its president, Maria Rogan Whitson of Talladega, received her degree in electrical engineering, the first female to graduate in an engineering curriculum.(103) And after almost 30 years of women being ignored by male speakers on campus who continually addressed their talks to "men," on May 21, 1921, an orator announced, "It is the business of a college to develop manhood and womanhood."(104)

Part of the development of "womanhood" went on outside the classroom but not beyond the scrutiny of Social Director Dobbs. She lived, along with Dean of Women Harris, on the first floor of Smith Hall, which the coeds affectionately called "the Zoo." Thirty-five to 40 girls lived on the second floor, with one shower area, one toilet room, and one telephone. Hazel Arant Goodman survived in Smith Hall between 1925-1929 and recalled having to be in her room on weekends by 10:30 p.m. and on weeknights by 7:30 p.m., unless she was "studying in the library," which was a very popular place for "studying."

With so few girls on campus, Director Dobbs and Dean Harris knew each one by name. Dean Harris taught a course called "Freshman Problems" to help young students adjust to college life, usually teaching all the women students in one class. Dobbs ran the dorm with a gentle and loving spirit and took a personal interest in each girl. But she ruled with an iron hand. She had timed to the second how long it took to walk from Alumni Gym to Smith Hall, and she began her stopwatch at the minute the dance was over. Woe to those couples who were late arriving at the door of Smith Hall. Dobbs was always present to wish the boys a "good evening" and to greet the girls on their return-on time.

Smith Hall could not house all the coeds, so most of the women still lived in private residences. Favorite places to board were Dr. Charles A. Cary's apartment house, known as the Cary Castle, which was next door to his house on North College Street; Dr. Cecil Yarbrough's house (Pebble Hill), which the students called "Society Hill," perhaps because so many KDs lived there; and Mrs. C. E. Lowe's house on South Gay Street where the Chi Omegas boarded. Emma Heck Cary took pride in her coeds' accomplishments and watched over them like a mother hen. Mary Yarbrough boarded ten girls, fed them all their meals, and gave them iron pills if they looked anemic. Mollie Brasfield Sarver appreciated the opportunity to live in a family atmosphere with Yarbrough children running around the house. Ann Argo Dudley remembered that Mrs. Yarbrough drove the girls to class when it rained, picked them up at Toomer's Corner at noon, and allowed them to borrow her car to go to the movies in Opelika on Saturdays. Mrs. Yarbrough had only two rules for her girls: "Be a lady and have all your coat hangers hooked in the same direction."

Girls, with fewer employment opportunities than the boys, had a difficult time working their way through college, but they managed to find jobs. They washed dishes for Smith Hall Dining Room, waited on tables at the Grille, worked in the university labs, were student instructors for special courses, or set hair for other girls. Berta Wood Waldron earned money for college by making salads at a boarding house, babysitting for Dr. Paul Irvine, and cleaning Miss Glanton's apartment. Irma Spears Lee "managed to glean a job at the Stodgill House cleaning halls and bathrooms, helping clean the nursery school, checking laundry, and baby sitting," and she found "no competition from men in these jobs."

Although scholarships were unusual in the early years, the Auburn Women's Club had a $25-a-month interest-free loan scholarship that helped Elta Majors Boyd and others obtain their degrees. Many coeds worked in the library for the university librarian, Miss Mary Martin, who was the self-appointed campus censor: she placed any book with profane language on a back shelf in the closed stacks. It was inaccessible unless a student worker retrieved it, and those girls who worked in the library had many friends. To save their money, students opened accounts with the Bank of Auburn (later Auburn National Bank), which was located across the street from Toomer's Corner, or later with the First National Bank of Auburn.

Auburn was a friendly campus, with passersby greeting one another with a smile and "hey." The football players lived in Alumni Hall, right next door to the girls' dorm, but their smiles and "Hup! Hup!" as the girls passed by caused many a coed to cross the street at Smith and walk in front of Samford Hall to reach town. The players ate at Cora Hardy's boarding house around the corner from Alumni Hall, and they would gather before meals at Toomer's Corner to ogle the girls and josh each other. Coeds stayed away if they could avoid passing at mealtime.

Students had no automobiles, and everybody walked everywhere. The three most essential items for a coed's wardrobe were an umbrella, a raincoat, and galoshes. With only ten minutes between classes, it was a fast-paced walk from Vet Hill past Ag Hollow to Comer Hall or to classes scheduled at the Lee County High School building on Samford Avenue. In 1934 girls' physical education classes were held in the old high school building on Opelika Road, which the college had converted to a girl's gymnasium, and a hike there and back could leave a girl exhausted.(105) Flirting between classes was impossible.

On weekends students would take long walks to the grove of pine trees south of Comer Hall to search for violets and wild flowers, an area a later generation of students called the "forestry plot" and frequented in cars, although they were not looking for wild flowers. Bicycle paths went out Gay Street to Wright's Mill, a favorite site for picnics and wiener roasts. Students took their dates to the picture show at Langdon Hall and later at the Tiger Theater. The loud comments of cadets from the audience were often more entertaining than the movie. Coeds never saw the late-night show because of curfew, but the risqué asides were legendary.

President Spright Dowell left Auburn in 1928 to become president of Mercer University. His administration at A.P.I. had been rocky, but he was committed to coeducation and extension, and his correspondence study programs helped many Auburn females complete degrees. He certainly improved the conditions of women on campus. Bradford Knapp was president for a short time (1928-1932), then a triumvirate of faculty ran the university for three years before Luther N. Duncan assumed the presidency in 1935. President Duncan, an Auburn agricultural graduate of the class of 1900, also directed the Extension Service from 1920 to 1937.

These were trying times for the college, the students, and the village because the crash of the New York Stock Market in 1929 made it difficult for young people to continue their education. When President Franklin D. Roosevelt closed the banks, student Nettie Patillo Woodyard "ate peanut butter and crackers" for "three meals a day for a week" before she got her check cashed. The depression made it impossible for the state to pay its obligations to Auburn, but President Duncan understood the politics of Montgomery and Washington, and he began to exert his efforts to improve the legislative appropriations to A.P.I. and to take advantage of every New Deal program to aid the college. He inherited a one-million-dollar debt, but it was paid before his death in 1947.(106)

While the students were away for Thanksgiving holidays in 1933, Smith Hall was damaged by fire, and some coeds were "assigned to a college-owned house on Mell Street" under the supervision of Dobbs and her collie dog, Bruce. Other coeds were housed in private homes and hotels until the dorm could be remodeled. Among the Public Works Administration projects President Duncan obtained for the campus were four new women's dorms known as "the Quad" and a new president's mansion. When Dr. Duncan moved out of the old president's home, it became known as Social Center (later Katharine Cooper Cater Hall).

The director of women students (1939-41), Dr. Rosa Lee Walston, was instrumental in influencing the location of the dorms and perfecting the architectural details. To fill the dorms, Walston toured the state recruiting coeds. But two weeks before classes began the buildings were unfinished, and Walston had to find rooms for 400 girls "in a town where everyone who wished to rent had already taken boys!" She called almost everyone in the telephone book, begging and cajoling beds for coeds. She placed all the girls.(107)

The opening of the new women's dorms in 1940 was the occasion of great celebration for the coeds, for having private baths between two rooms was a great improvement over one shared bath on the hall at Smith. Moving day was planned to the last detail and was accomplished despite an early snow. But as night fell, Walston discovered that the "mirrors had not been delivered. Four hundred women and not a looking glass among them. Hilarity on campus!"(108)

Dedication-day ceremonies included a luncheon for 400, visits by parents and alumni, and press coverage that focused on the art collection hung on the public walls of the dorms-"representative of the best modern and classical art."(109) The telephone situation, one pay phone per floor, was still as grim as it was in Smith, and both boys and girls complained about the difficulty of making dates.

Sororities were an important part of the college experience for many coeds. Panhellenic Council began in 1923, and by 1925 there were four sororities on campus-Kappa Delta, Chi Omega, Sigma Rho, and Phi Delta Rho. Before sorority rooms were assigned in the new Quad, the girls rented sorority rooms in houses on campus or nearby. The expense of sororities kept many girls from pledging. In 1934 when Eileen Pilgrim Cole joined Phi Omega Pi her pledge fee of $5 was paid by a generous aunt in Detroit.

For those Auburn coeds enrolled in Home Economics, classes under Louise Glanton and Dana King Gatchell and the term in the Home Management House were important experiences. Carlton Tompkins Price knew Glanton as "a Southern lady of the old school but very modern in her thinking." Eventually there were two "practice houses," one on Mell Street where the girls had a low income household budget (30 cents a day in 1938), and the Georgian House (now named for Glanton and located on Haley Center mall) where the coeds had a high income budget (60 cents a day). The girls were required to invite special guests for dinner and were graded on food preparation and proper service. When Bennett Sellers Steere married her roommate's brother on graduation day, May 25, 1936, Gatchell designed the church decorations, the wedding cake was baked in the foods lab, and the reception was held on the front lawn of the Home Management House on Mell Street.

Traveling to Auburn and returning home was always a problem for coeds since most of them did not come from privileged backgrounds. The train was expensive and cars were few. Those girls who came by train in September brought Saratoga trunks and only went home at Christmas. Elizabeth Gotcher Buntin arrived in Auburn at two o'clock in the morning with not a light on in town and only two tiny bulbs burning in the depot. But help soon arrived. Because there was no taxi in town, the police met the night trains and delivered students to dorms or boarding houses.

On weekends the cadets had a well-developed tradition of hitchhiking, standing with their overnight satchels and their thumb stuck out at street corners. Birmingham- and north Alabama-bound boys gathered at the railroad tracks on North College, and on Saturday afternoons the "Opelika corner" stretched from West Magnolia down Gay to the railroad tracks. When a female driver approached in a car later than a 1931 model, the Auburn "student lifts his War hat respectfully, puts one foot directly in the path of the approaching vehicle and sighs with an air of anticipated pleasure . . .'Anywhere?'" (110)

The Plainsman periodically published editorials on "hitchhiking etiquette," especially for the freshmen.(111) There was a tip paid for a ride to cover the gasoline, and a schedule of amounts and towns, although never printed, was held to with honor as though written in concrete. Coeds never resorted to hitchhiking but were able to "catch rides" by prearrangement. A car of students rarely left Auburn going anywhere with an empty seat.

Living on tight budgets, Auburn coeds had to find ways to entertain themselves without spending money. Smith Hall had "dating parlors," but they were not popular with either coeds or cadets. Fraternities and sororities thought up creative ideas for parties. Scavenger hunts were fashionable, and Nancye Thompson Barrett remembered being told to get Dr. George Petrie's autograph. When she called at the history professor's house and made the request, he wrote on her envelope: "This is to certify that I never give autographs. George Petrie." The Chi Omegas sent invitations to young men, telling each one when and where he would be "picked up by his date," as a way to begin a blind date.

The more serious educational atmosphere of the early decades had shifted; going to college was no longer an odd thing for a woman, but a desirable stage before marriage, and social events increased. Small house dances or dinner dances crowded fraternity houses. Coeds and their dates swayed to the music of the Auburn Knights or the Collegians. There were three major sets of dances during the year: the Sophomore Hop in late September (called the Opening Dances) which began with a tea dance on Friday afternoon, a Friday night dance, a Saturday morning dance, a Saturday afternoon dance, and the grand affair on Saturday night; the January mid term Junior Prom dances, which began on Thursday evening and included seven dances during the weekend; and the May Senior Dances, or Final Dances, that began on Friday and included five separate events.

During the Big Band era the nation's finest played for the big Saturday night A.P.I. dances. Hal Kemp, Wayne King, Guy Lombardo, and Kay Kayser all performed in Auburn-which was almost half-way between engagements in Washington and New Orleans. Alumni Gymnasium or the Graves Center dining hall was decorated with crepe paper, painted backdrops, ferns, or blinking lights designed to carry out the party theme. Bids to fraternity dances were not difficult to obtain, and partygoers could make the rounds of the weekend offerings.

Girls from all over the South, coeds at other colleges and girls from home, arrived in town for the big dance weekends because A.P.I.'s small female enrollment did not provide enough dancing partners for all the cadets. Many women who were never enrolled at Auburn have the fondest memories of dances or football weekends on campus. Boys vacated their rooms and doubled up to provide proper accommodations for their dates. On the occasion of major fraternity dances, the boys moved out of the house and turned it over to the girls, who were properly chaperoned, sometimes by Dobbs.

The big dances, plus the Military Ball and the Beaux Arts Ball, sent mothers to sewing machines to produce for their daughters grand evening dresses that rivaled those of Hollywood stars. Ruth Lowe Brittin, a freshman in 1936, reminisced that the boys called days ahead to reserve the "no breaks," and dance cards were always filled. Lib Steere Hill remembers crying after Auburn dances because her feet hurt so badly since "we never got to sit down, there were so many boys and so few girls."(112)

Horseback riding was a favorite pastime for Auburn coeds. The Army kept horses to teach advanced military students how to ride-an important skill for an officer. The ROTC instructors also taught riding to girls and allowed advanced students "Privileged Riding" on Saturdays and Sundays. There were miles of trails around town. Scabbard and Blade, the ROTC honorary, held picnics at Chewacla with transportation by horseback. Knowing how to ride made Auburn coeds popular dates for these parties.

Many coeds commuted from Opelika and used the student center in the basement of Langdon Hall as a gathering place. Luella Botsford Henderson recalled Mrs. Hoyt Jolly, the hostess who presided over the center, as popular and kind and always willing to assist students. There were comfortable sofas, magazines to read, and usually a serious bridge game in progress. Day student Jane Dickson Lanier of Opelika whiled away her time between classes at the student center or at the library, where everyone spoke in whispers lest Miss Mary Martin shout, "Hush Up."

Women students were active in the Auburn Players. Patty McCoy Horton will never forget the girls "dressing in Macbeth costumes in Smith Hall, and then having to enter back stage at the Y Hut by climbing a ladder to go through a window! The Y Hut had no dressing room, no restrooms, and no back entrance."

Social functions still revolved around the dances-casual sock hops to the Glomerata Beauty Ball. And there was Sadie Hawkins Day, started in 1939 and sponsored by the Plainsman, and the ODK Cake Race, 10 years old in 1940 and well on its way to becoming an Auburn tradition complete with pretty coeds to kiss the winners. The first Religious Emphasis Week was scheduled in 1939 and brought outstanding speakers of various religious faiths and denominations to campus. And of course there was that "other religion" of Auburn-football-which dominated every fall. General admission tickets to Homecoming were $1.50, and a coed's train ticket to Atlanta for the Tech game cost $2.90 round trip.

Students had their favorite professors, but the one who made the greatest impression on A.P.I. coeds-if for no other reason than his longevity-was Dr. George Petrie, the dynamic professor of history who taught at Auburn from 1887 to 1942 except for the two years he was away in a doctoral program at Johns Hopkins University.(113) Students held him in awe, and tales of him are legendary. One often told is about the coed who was rushing to a tea wearing a new dress with a flounce at the hem when she noticed the seam was unraveling and the ruffle was trailing behind her. She burst into tears just as Professor Petrie walked by her in front of Langdon Hall. He calmly helped her to the steps, disappeared and returned with a handful of straight pins and gem clips. He carefully re-attached the flounces, and she was soon on her way again.

But not all the A.P.I. professors were so tolerant of coeds. Some frankly refused to teach them, and deans and department heads quietly adjusted girls' schedules accordingly. Elta Boyd recalled an organic chemistry professor in the early 1930s who "didn't think girls had any place at Auburn or much sense either." Boyd, the only girl in her class, finished second. Ruth Smyth Marrs graduated in the "demanding curriculum of pre-med in 1937," completed her work in lab technology at the University of Tennessee, and spent the next 52 years working in medical technology research. When Maryline Cauthen Westenhaver entered Auburn in 1925, she was one of the first coeds in architecture. She spent many grueling hours at a drawing board, her five-foot-three-inch frame stretched over equipment designed for a six-foot-tall man. Coeds found that full skirts around dangerous equipment could cause problems; when Mildred Sanders Williamson's skirt got caught in a dynamo and was completely cut off, Dr. Charles Isbell calmly tied two aprons around her and sent her back to her room.

When war came in 1941, Auburn students were prepared, for many had taken Dr. Petrie's current events class, offered every Monday night in Langdon Hall and attended by townspeople as well as students. The historian detailed the growing power of Mussolini in Italy and the Nazi Party in Germany. As he analyzed the international events of the late 1930s, Petrie warned his Auburn audience that hostilities were coming. After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the management of the Tiger Theater stopped the film to announce to a house packed full of students that America had been attacked.

On Monday, December 8, President Duncan called an Executive Council meeting to determine A.P.I.'s role in the war effort and to stress the need for calm among students and faculty, who along with alumni were prepared to make significant contributions.(114) Auburn men, thanks to ROTC training and commissioning services, were officers in leadership positions in the armed forces or in reserve units. Auburn engineers would be available for building roads, bridges, bases, and airfields. Auburn agriculturalists accepted the challenge to produce adequate food and cotton for the needs of the troops, while A.P.I. faculty were engaged in research projects from atomic theory to military hardware.

Auburn women with experiences in extension work and education were well prepared to move into the women's corps as WAVES or WACS, to direct food services or social canteens, or to administer USO operations. For example, Izola Williams Chesser and Ruth Lowe Brittin worked with the American Red Cross. Chesser was a social worker in a military hospital and Brittin was stationed in the Middle East. Once when she was taking up tickets from soldiers, Brittin noticed a slip of paper with war eagle! written on it and later met an officer whom she had known at Auburn. Juanita Johnston McVay joined the Women's Army Corps and was stationed at Fort Dix, New Jersey.

On December 12, 1941, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed the nation, coeds were among the 2,000 students gathered in front of Langdon Hall to listen. The A.P.I. campus was significantly affected by the war. In June 1942 the administration adopted the quarter system to enable students to complete their education in three years. Quizzes were scheduled for Saturdays, and class attendance was mandatory. The campus had a transient atmosphere as male students volunteered or were drafted out of classrooms and many of the younger faculty joined them. Football was suspended in 1943 because players and coaches were off fighting. The ROTC slogan was "It won't always be like this . . . tomorrow it will be worse."

Enrollment by civilians dropped drastically from almost 4,000 students in September 1940 to 1,709 in 1943. In the fall quarter of 1944, there were for the first time at Auburn more women (904) than men (864) enrolled, although the addition of some 3,152 males participating in the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP) and the Naval Radio and Aviation Training kept the ratio of men on campus high. To make room for the men and provide a more controlled environment, the college agreed to house them in the new women's dorms. The girls had hardly settled into the Quad before the college moved them out and into a few vacant fraternity houses. Patty McCoy Horton lamented that the showers in her frat house did not even have partitions between them.

Both the ASTP boys housed in the Quad and the Naval cadets in Alumni Hall lived under military discipline. They did have time to date coeds, but the Plainsman warned the military men that when Auburn girls said "hey," it was a friendly custom and not to be interpreted as an introduction or a come-on.(115) Many Auburn girls had their first opportunity to meet boys from other parts of the country.

In 1940 a Plainsman columnist observed, "it is so very, very rare that one meets a woman in Auburn who has even the scrap of an independent intellect," but "Pop always said that women weren't made to think anyway."(116) However, with the males gone, the girls took over the student leadership positions and belied the prevalent stereotypical ideas of coeds. Shirley Smith became the first female editor of the Plainsman when the male editor was conscripted, and in 1946 Mildred Jean Woodham was the first coed to edit the Glomerata.(117) In 1944 "Tutter" Thrasher became the first woman president of a senior class.

In the spring of 1942, the war in the Pacific was heating up, but it was not the main topic of conversation on campus. In an act remarkable for its courage, Dean of Women Rosa Lee Walston resigned after a dispute over a disciplinary action involving an Auburn coed accused of a serious offense. Walston's entire staff of eight, all her dormitory heads and her secretary, resigned in her support. Even the president of the Women's Student Government Association resigned. The campus was in an uproar with the girls supporting Walston and the boys siding with the president. There were inferences that Duncan had been pressured from political forces outside the college. Coming from a traditional "good-ole-boy" network, the president did not look kindly on a female administrator's public stand upon what she considered a matter of principle to protect the integrity of the rules of discipline. Duncan moved quickly, appointing Home Economics dean Marion Spidle dean of women and announcing acting head residents.(118)

During the war years, tradition holds that the only males at A.P.I. were under 18, over 50, or 4-Fs; however, enrollment statistics show no more than 50 men with the draft classification of 4-F.(119) During wartime dances were fewer, ROTC drills more frequent, and weekends were spent in town. In 1943 the students were assembled in the stadium to learn that the ROTC and enlisted reserves were called to active duty.

The coeds who remained in school enjoyed toasted poundcake and hot chocolate at Benson's, milkshakes at the Doll House, foot-long hotdogs at Markle's, and lemonade at Toomer's. The special at the Kurtecy Sandwich Shop was a hot roast beef sandwich and chocolate pie, and if the letter just received from a beau was not a happy one, the aroma and the taste of fresh-baked cinnamon rolls or chocolate-chip cookies from Pauline Wilkins' tiny bake shop just might cheer up a girl. A coed walked almost daily to the post office to mail letters to favorite boys stationed overseas and along the way would window shop at Polly-Tek or Jockish Jewelers, "dreaming about the day her man would come home."

The end of the war brought even greater changes to A.P.I. The congressional G.I. Bill of Rights that included educational benefits for veterans sent millions of men and women to college, exploding the student population. For the next five years, the older, mature, and goal-oriented student dominated the campus. Housing for students and faculty was crucial. Prefabricated housing was used for apartments and for classrooms, and the German prisoner-of-war camp in Opelika was converted to student housing. Townspeople squeezed apartments and bedrooms into every attic, garage, and basement, and Magnolia Dorm was completed in 1948 to house 431 male students.

Enrollment for winter quarter 1946 was expected to double from 480, however, a shocked registrar reported 1,575 students enrolled. Dean Marion Spidle struggled with the exploding enrollment.(120) Class size increased, and retired professors were drafted to return to teaching. Faculty wives and former high school teachers were pressed into college classrooms, which represented the first large influx of female faculty teaching outside of Home Economics. During this period Annie Terrell Basore began teaching math, Alva Current-Garcia sociology, and Frances Reynolds McLeod and Ruth Faulk taught English, all examples of the appearance of female academic role models for coeds. The Newcomers Club was organized in 1946 to acquaint these new women faculty and faculty wives with the community and the university.

 

REFERENCE NOTES

80. Clipping from Montgomery Advertiser, June 2, 1955, AU series-Women, file #708.

81. Mell Scrapbooks, #8: 46.

82. Glomerata, 1925, 29.

83. Charles C. Thach, "Historical Sketch of the College and Its Relations to the State," Commencement Address, Montgomery Advertiser, June 22, 1897, in Mell Scrapbooks #5: 14.

84. Elizabeth D. Schafer, "'The Bride's Book': Annie Elizabeth Terrell Basore's 1920 Wedding Album," Trails in History 23 (March 1991) and 23 (June 1991).

85. Elizabeth Lynne Anderson, "Improving Rural Life in Alabama: The Home Demonstration Program, 1911-1972," (Master's thesis, Auburn University, 1984), 172 73.

86. Anderson, "Improving Rural Life in Alabama," 15, 24-25.

87. Quote from Annie Terrell Basore, clipping, AU Series, Women, file #708, AU Archives.

88. Bureau of Education, Department of the Interior, An Educational Study of Alabama, Bulletin, 1919, No. 41

(Washington: Government Printing Office, 1919), 408, 417-18.

89. Orange and Blue, September 30, 1920.

90. Susan B. Youngblood, "An Example of Coeducation in the South: A Study of the First Decade of Home Economics at Alabama Polytechnic Institute," 2, 6, AU Archives.

91. Orange and Blue, April 15, 1921; R. G. Millman, The Auburn University Walking Tour Guide (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1991), 18-19.

92. Orange and Blue, October 9, 1920.

93. Glomerata, 1923, 290.

94. The Plainsman, November 18, 1922.

95. Ralph B. Draughon to Walter S. Newman, December 16, 1952, 4- A, Historical Data, AU­s.

96. Glomerata, 1920, 136; Wayne Flynt, Montgomery: An Illustrated History (Woodland Hills, California: Windsor Publications, 1980), 87; Mickey Logue and Jack Simms, Auburn: A Pictorial History of the Loveliest Village (Norfork: Donning Company, 1981), 81.

97. Recounted by Ruth Lowe Brittin '40, who notes it was "before my day, of course." A Century of Women at Auburn Collection, AU Archives. Unless otherwise noted all references to Auburn coeds' reminiscences come from this collection and are filed by last name.

98. John Weld, Fly Away Home: Memoirs of a Hollywood Stunt Man (Santa Barbara, California: Mission Publications, 1991), 30-31.

99. Katrina Van Tassel, "The Development of Women's Athletics at Alabama Polytechnic Institute, 1892-1935," 4-8, AU Archives.

100. Orange and Blue, January 29, 1921, February 5, 1921, and others.

101. Tuscaloosa Gazette, October 12, 1893.

102. Catalog of the Alabama Polytechnic Institute, 1922-23, 21.

103. Glomerata, 1923, 85, 297.

104. Orange and Blue, May 21, 1921.

105. Sparks, "Handbook of A.P.I.," 226.

106. McMillan, Presidents of Auburn.

107. Rosa Lee Walston folder, A Century of Women at Auburn Collection, AU Archives.

108. Ibid.

109. The Auburn Forum, April 1940, 4.

110. Plainsman, February 18, 1941.

111. For instance, Plainsman, October 15, 1940.

112. Columbus Enquirer, March 17, 1992.

113. Robert R. Rea, History at Auburn: The First One Hundred Years of the Auburn University History Department (Auburn: 1991), 3-8.

114. David E. Alsobrook, "Auburn in 'The Good War,'" The Auburn Alumnews, July-August 1991, 6.

115. Troy Teel, "The Busiest Village on the Plains: Alabama Polytechnic Institute during World War II" (1991), unpublished manuscript in possession of author.

116. Plainsman, September 17, 1940.

117. Glomerata, 1946.

118. Editorial and front page, Lee County Bulletin, April 30, 1942; Plainsman, May 8, 1942; Birminqham News, April 28, 1942; Columbus Enquirer, April 30, 1942.

119. Alsobrook, "Auburn in 'The Good War,'" 7.

120. David E. Alsobrook, "Boomtown on the Plains," The Auburn Alumnews, September 1991, 10-11.

Blossoms, part 1

Blossoms, part 3