Auburn Women

Home Away From Home

By July 25, 2017 No Comments
1898 Coeds of A&M College

When Auburn University was still named the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Alabama, and later as Alabama Polytechnic Institution (API), dorms on campus were exclusively for women.

When women first attended Auburn’s campus in 1892, they lived within boarding homes of relatives or stayed with their families, most within the Auburn-Opelika area.

Auburn residents would walk to class that took place in Samford Hall (“Main Hall” at the time), or if they were from Opelika, women would take the early train to Auburn.

The early 1900s brought changes nationwide to Auburn’s campus. Women could officially vote in 1920 and were taking a stand for becoming more independent such as seeking white-collar jobs like stenography and other clerical positions. More apt to leaving home, education became an increasing desire and the development of more housing became necessary.

Driving down South College Street, you can still see remnants of dorms built during the 1930s. Smith Hall O.D (named after Otis David Smith) is one of the first buildings converted to a women’s dorm in 1927. To the left of Smith Hall is Ingram Hall, once a male dwelling later converted into a female one. Both buildings serve as office space for the university today.

1938 Couple on a train

Students asleep on the train ride home.

During its time as a dormitory, Smith Hall was known affectionately as “The Zoo.”  Some 35 to 40 women were crammed into the converted building, sharing one shower area, toilet room and telephone. Other coeds had the opportunity to live in options like Pebble Hill, known as “Society Hill” for the many Kappa Delta sisters that lived there.

1930s Otis Smith Hall

Smith Hall, O.D.

For a time, 10 girls could live in Pebble Hill without heavy restrictions. Others either resided at home like previous alumnae, or in boarding houses like Cary Castle, an apartment provided by Dr. Charles A. Cary.

With The Great Depression over and The New Deal creating jobs for communities, four new dorms, the “Quadrangle” (now called “Upper Quad”) were built on Auburn’s campus in the ‘40s for women.

The city of Auburn overflowed after World War II as beneficiaries of the G.I bill made their way to enroll at API. The annual admittance in 1946 doubled from 480 to 1,575, leaving the city in a panic to house and feed the influx of students. Forced to get creative, the community made apartments out of attics, basements and spare rooms.

Camp Opelika, a POW camp, was even converted into student housing to meet the demand of incoming students, although there are no records of coeds being housed there.

“Lower Quad” dorms would be built in the ‘50s, while “The Hill” dorms in the 1960s to accommodate more women on campus and to serve as the hub for sorority living.

During the 50s, Auburn women were required to live on campus unless granted permission. This requirement would spill over into the ‘70s during President Harry Philpott’s term.

In the 1976 Glomerata, a student section titled “Adjustments” addresses how coeds encountered the same problem as those that lived in Ingram and Smith Hall: overpopulation. Freshman coeds lived in cramped quarters called “triples,” defined in the Glomerata as “a room where three girls reside in quarters designed for two.” A typical “quadrangle” coed room was 12 feet by 15 feet in size and could comfortably fit two beds maximum.

Because of the overcrowded conditions, coeds created a petition sent to the university to halt coed admission. The approval was met with Ernestine Lawhon, director of Women’s Housing, and the admittance of women in the winter quarter of 1976 was halted.

The Quadrangle 1945

A portion of the hand drawn map provided to every coed in their Co-etiquette pamphlet.

In addition to dismal living conditions, the dorms enforced behavioral rules set by the university and assembled in “Co-etiquette” rulebooks.

The 40-plus page pamphlet included do’s, but mostly don’ts, was presented by the Women Student Government Association (WSGA) to members of the Associated Women Students, which all coeds were a part of.

In dorm living, coeds had daily curfews known as “permissions.” In the years before Title IX, coeds under 21 were expected to be inside their dorm by 7:30 Monday through Thursday and 11:30 on Friday.  The “older” coeds — sophomores, juniors and seniors — were permitted an extended permission by an hour.

Failure to meet permission would lead to future restrictions (make-up curfews with earlier return times) and even complete lockdown where students could only leave the dorm to eat or go to class.

Men had few social regulations such as no curfew, the ability to leave their dorms or housing whenever they pleased and lightened consequences for breaking rules. Women, on the other hand, had rules and punishments as explained in the Co-etiquette.

WSGA Handbook
1947 Class Privileges

Coeds were also not allowed traveling freedoms. Under 21 students were required to have “blanket permissions” to go home at any time, visit around town, stay the weekend in Auburn or Opelika, go out downtown just to hang out for the day, attend away games and plenty else.

“For her own protection,” as stated in the majority of the Co-etiquette pamphlets, coeds must be signed out and specify her destination or the name of her male date when signing an “in and out” card.  Coeds who managed to get permission signed out, notified the Dean of Women of her affairs and were responsible for “observing university rules.”

On random occasions there would be events like ‘panty raids’ when male students would break in, sending the entire dorm into defensive measures. The Co-Etiquette book states that, in the case of such a “demonstration,” coeds must:

  • Close blinds
  • Close door to room
  • Sit quietly in the hall until the “demonstration is over”

Any coed who dared to participate in the raid would be turned over to Dean of Women and disciplined.

 

In bold, capitalized letters, the pamphlet shouts “AN AUBURN WOMAN IS EXPECTED TO CONDUCT HERSELF AS A LADY AT ALL TIMES.”

Failing to do so would “immediately result in a request for her resignation from college.”

Considered a double standard, vocal members of AWS and editors of The Auburn Plainsman like Beverley Bradford Crawford and Rheta Grimsley Johnson would point out its hypocrisy during the ‘Second Wave’ Feminism movement.

1947 General Conduct

Somehow, the “curfew Cinderellas”—a term coined by Crawford — managed to enjoy their time at Auburn despite the living arrangements.

Teague Hall Quad

Teague Hall (Dorm 4), present time.