Now in the early 1900s, past the inaugural years of women at Auburn University, gender equality would steadily progress to higher education and access to once male exclusive jobs.
Between 1894 and 1914, most female graduates pursued careers in teaching and administration. Some, however, challenged societal expectations for women in the workplace. Evans Harrell made history in 1911 when she received her degree in architecture, inching her way into a previously male dominate field.
Also keeping up with their fellows, and in some cases outperforming, “over thirty women entered API’s graduate program between 1894 and 1920,” Katrina Blair Van Tassel, author of “Co-eds,” Basketball Players, and Beauty Queens: Women at the Alabama Polytechnic Institute, 1892-1941, wrote.
Not only were they thriving academically, women were also finding their independence. In her 1932 study, Chase Going Woodhouse, an educator and Congresswoman from Connecticut, found that “nationwide, fifty-three percent of the women who attended college between 1912 and 1922 paid all or part of their expenses.”
As more graduated with higher degrees, more entered the workplace, some even finding employment at Auburn. In 1919, the university hired its first female professor, Kate Lane. Following her, Mary Katherine Holliefield was hired as an English instructor.
In 1920, Auburn had 18 female students, just under two percent of the entire student body. Nonetheless, the Roaring Twenties sparked an era of women’s empowerment.
“American women voted for the first time in the 1920 presidential election,” The Auburn Alumnews wrote in 1992, “the increase in coeds at Auburn during the 1920s was partly a result of the Jazz Age, when women were asserting their independence.”
Coeds began to participate in athletics, “playing basketball against a number of area college and high schools teams.” This would become known as the “Golden Age of Sport.”
Although the first male dormitory was built in 1912, women wouldn’t receive a place to call their own until 1921.
Prior to this, most girls lived with relatives close to campus or stayed at a board house. As times progressed, too, mothers no longer moved with their daughters to college.
The Women’s Student Government Association was established in 1922. They adopted a new constitution and set of regulations regarding women’s dormitories, which was set in place to recognize rights as an individual and as a group, Volume XLIII of the Glomerata scrawled.
The same year, Kappa Delta became the first sorority on campus. This became a new outlet for women to socialize and immerse themselves in the school.
Along with Greek life, clubs involving women were formed. The International Relations Club, sponsored by the Carnegie Endowment Fund, allowed coeds to participate. Clubs, though, were more commonly gender exclusive. In 1932, the Auburn Cardinal Key chapter, a national honor society for women, was formed. Volume XLIV of the Glomerata, published in 1940, said, “This was one of the first of such organizations to be established on American college campuses.”
A similar organization was created in 1935, called Sphinx. It recognized outstanding academic, leadership, personality, and service qualities in senior women. Sphinx also sponsored the Oracles, a freshman honor society for women.
Other strictly female clubs created in the 30s were: Dance Club, Girl’s Glee Club, and the Dana King Gatchell Club.
Despite being accepted by their fellows outside of the classroom, women still faced academic discrimination.
Ella Boyd, who graduated in 1933, recalled that “one of the doctors who taught organic chemistry said he didn’t think girls had any place at Auburn, or much sense either. I finished second in my class though.”
“I was the only girl in my advanced mathematics classes — the others were boys in Engineering” said Minnie Mann Beard ‘35. “They didn’t think a girl should be taking the advanced mathematics courses.”
Despite this, women continued resiliently and as World War II approached, their role would soon take a dramatic turn.