Founded in 1922, the Women Student Government Association (WSGA) was an alternative student government dedicated to make women feel comfortable on campus and to “keep them safe.”
Early mentions of WSGA appear in 1930s issues of The Auburn Plainsman, telling of instances where WSGA raised money for social events and guest speakers. At the head was the Dean of Women, who oversaw the living conditions and comforts of the coeds as liaison for the university.
WSGA, later referred to as Associated Women Students (AWS) in 1965, was an army of women felt in every nook and cranny of a coed’s college experience.
Consisting of executive, judicial and legislative branches, the executive branch initiated programs and social functions (such as teas and dances) within dormitories and worked closely with the Dean of Women.
The 1970 AWS Legislative Branch
The legislative branch, comprising of presidents and vice presidents of each dormitory, set the policies and “made the rules” that Auburn women followed.
The branch’s goal was to remedy in-dorm problems before meeting the judiciary council; the judiciary branch of the AWS enforced rules set by the legislative branch and administered punishments to coeds.
“If you were seen barefooted outside the dorm you had a weekend restriction,” Teresa “Terry” Rodriguez ‘69 recalls.
The 1970 AWS Judiciary Council
“We had to sign in and out of the dorm, be in by 10 o’clock. You got a weekend restriction if you left the dorm without permission. We had to sign out saying where you’re going, and when. When you brought a male in the dorm, you had to yell ‘man on the hall!’ Even if you went to places like Chewacla, you had to wear a raincoat over your pants until you got into your car.”
The WSGA both helped, and prohibited, Auburn coeds from reaching their goal of equality through the power to give and take away their privileges.
The Co-etiquette underwent a series of name changes. From WSGA Handbook followed by A Feminine Approach to the last iteration: AWS Handbook. Each quarter the cover of the Co-etiquette changed for incoming coeds.
Coeds were punished for breaking any rule— staying out past curfew, missing mandatory convocation or meetings, dressing inappropriately, leaving the dorm without signing her “in-and-out card” and other infractions of the Co-Etiquette, the administration’s guideline for how Auburn women should behave and conduct themselves on campus. The thick pamphlet consisted of warm welcomes in the first three pages, then a list of rules for the remaining 40. These punishments included curfews earlier than 8:30 p.m. for weekdays and weekends.
“You couldn’t go out on the weekends [when on restriction], you could only go to class and back to the dorm. You would think it’s imprisonment,” Rodriguez says. “When bored, all we could do was talk to friends, or if we could, go to theatre productions or whatever free concert was on campus.”
Auburn women wanted a chance at responsibility; as editorials flowed into The Auburn Plainsman from the 1950s to the 1970s, coeds requested (or demanded) the same freedoms that men already had on campus.
Those who did protest, wanted freedom from co-etiquette rules and exemption from purchasing the mandatory meal plan (coed meal tickets were good for select venues, while other options were off campus).
“You had to have a meal ticket,” says Rodriguez. “You could choose between weekdays and weekend [meal plans]. You ate in the dorm. On Sundays, you had to have on church clothes [to go eat].”
On the other hand, WSGA worked from the inside to loosen co-etiquette rules, albeit at too sluggish a pace for some coeds.
In later years, students questioned the need for such a presence on Auburn’s campus. The 1970 Glomerata stated “the value of AWS has been questioned time and again not only by male students who disliked specific rules, but also by coeds who must abide by [them].”
The Women’s Liberation Movement found its way to Auburn’s campus and led to speakers sharing ideas in the ’70s, influencing coed groups to form outside of AWS and to promote equality for women. The university president at the time was Harry Philpott, who based his success on the academic growth of Auburn’s coeds, but was met with criticism.
In 1970, the unsatisfied coeds’ opinions of living on campus were made known to the student body after The Auburn Plainsman distributed over 2,000 surveys to all coed dorms.
Of the approximately 40 percent of the surveys returned, 54 percent said they wanted all curfews abolished; 91 percent wanted to live off-campus, and 93 percent felt that the parents and the students themselves should make the decision of where students should live.
The survey also asked whether the university should regulate social conduct for women. About 69 percent of the coeds said they needed regulation, but 94 percent believed that universities should not practice in loco parentis, or being surrogate parents for students. The survey revealed that the desire for independence was strong, but not one-sided.
Within the dorms, AWS had their own system of communicating opinions and grievances through “Women Students’ Rules workshops.” The workshops were a method where coed residents went before the AWS legislative and judiciary branch, hoping to revise co-etiquette rules to become more liberal.
The changes went before the Dean of Women and Philpott for final decisions. On certain occasions, all of the proposals would be passed, but topics such as curfews and meal plans would end in rejection. Plainsman editor Beverley Bradford, in an editorial, beseeched coeds to vote wisely for the upcoming AWS elections, stating that a strong AWS that supports rule changes could make the abolition of curfews move quicker, “although a flat-out curfew abolition is ‘next to nil’ when it came to Philpott and the Dean of Women.”
Although somewhat divided on coed regulation, students took a stance on campus through protest. The Quad Center protest was one of the first that took place May 1970, and was located behind the center featuring coeds against food quality.
Coeds often complained of poorly prepared food and service; in a letter to The Plainsman, several girls stated they had been served cold food, bugs in salad, stale bread, warm or watered down milk and meals running out. The protest for abolishing a compulsory meal plan included the burning of meal cards, signs and the chanting of “Alka-seltzer! Alka-seltzer!” to show disdain for the food’s taste. It was reported that Dean of Women Katherine Cater had a calm, but tense discussion about the meal plans with the group. No change took place until summer 1970.
A week later, a larger protest took place outside of Langdon Hall, with future demonstrations planned. During “Strike Day,” students marched over to the president’s lawn, protesting the purpose of coed dorm rules, social regulations and the meal plan. Over 1000 students, male and female, were in attendance, eventually moving to what was known as “Dorm J” of The Hill dormitories. Later the same week, several off-campus students, including 14 coeds, staged a camp-out on Philpott’s lawn to show sympathy for coeds against curfews.
In June 1970, several coeds found an alternative to protesting through legal action: a lawsuit against the university’s rules that discriminated against female students. The case was later dismissed.
In May 1971, an exact year from the previous camp-out, there was the meeting behind the Dean of Women’s office (now Cater Hall) where over 200 coeds came out and discussed ways of protesting for more rule changes. The group scheduled another camp-out past curfew. 94 students met at Graves Amphitheatre to form committees such as petitions, publicity, signs and platform creation.
The plan was to have coeds stay out past their curfew by 14 minutes—a minute shy of receiving a penalty. At the time, the Women’s Educational Equity Act was pending in Congress for the third time. The following week, approximately 50 coeds spent the night on the front of Social Center lawn in protest of co-etiquette, deeming it unconstitutional. Lasting from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., the number grew to 101 women. AWS president Anita Page and SGA President Jimmy Tucker were present. The protest ended with many of the coeds returning back into the dorms by curfew. Views on the demonstration were mixed.
In an article, one coed stated, “Most of these people are plastic freaks. If they were really sincere in wanting change, they would have broken the curfew.”
An unnamed male student also commented that the protest “was perfectly legal and completely useless.”
“Not everyone was opposed to it,” Rodriguez says. “I think a lot of people thought it was something not worth fighting.”
Amidst the whirl of student distaste, Philpott sent out a survey out to parents to see if the removal of curfews would be acceptable.
Philpott asked parents whether changes should be made for coed policy on campus. About 34 percent said coeds should not have a curfew when they did not have one at home.
In time, curfews started to extend and eventually drop. “Slow and steady wins the race,” would be the motto at the end of the day, for it fell to AWS executive boards and the administration to make changes for coed living.
In February 1970, Seniors received permission to live off campus and “self-regulate” their hours. The decision was viewed as an indicator for a future without co-etiquette rules. This new freedom would lead to protests later in the same year for those expecting changes to be applied to all coeds.
As the class quarters went by, AWS, in conjunction with Dean Cater and President Philpott, extended curfew time next to juniors, then to sophomores in good educational standing.
In May 1970, the consideration of self-regulating sophomores was sent to Philpott. The allowance of juniors and sophomores to make their own curfew times would take place in September of 1970.
On July 1971, The Plainsman reported that more coeds, about 1,917 of over 4,000 enrolled, were starting to live off campus than previous years.
At that time seniors 21 and older, with parental permission, could live off campus. Juniors would follow suit in 1972.
Until the freedoms reached sophomore and freshman levels, a night watchmen service was implemented on campus to eradicate the dorm check out system.
Before, if a coed wanted to leave after dorm hours, she would sign her “in-and-out card” and also check out a key to the building; coeds now had to only show their I.D card to gain entry.
When Title IX was enacted in 1972, co-etiquette rules began to vanish. The Dean of Women was no longer necessary, so the position dissolved and AWS struggled as a result.
The group, noted in the 1975 Glomerata, “worked under fire” to stay relevant by expanding its platform on women’s issue such as birth control access and anti-drug campaigns. It would not be until ’76, in the midst of Title IX making headlines nationally, that Auburn’s female government would merge with SGA to become one entity.