Usually when I post about my writing here, it’s about my creative writing. I am an author, after all. But today, I want to share a different side of myself with you all.
The historian side.
Wait, that’s not an evil idea. It’s just a regular idea. Never mind.
Anyway, this post will be rather long, but it’s taken from my senior seminar project from my undergraduate days. This is the closest thing to a thesis I’ve had to do so far. This paper was the product of original research, meaning I was the first person to study the topic on an academic level. I spent two years immersed in dusty archival material in the basement of my university’s library to create this lumbering mass I’m about to share with you. I hope that if you choose to read it, you’ll enjoy it and learn a little something about the great state of Alabama, which–let’s be honest–could always use a little good press.
Beyond the Schoolhouse Door:
Progressivism, Feminism, and Alabama College, 1950-1960
Authored by: Olivia Folmar
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Ruth Truss
Undergraduate Research, April 2012
Alabama is perhaps one of the most misunderstood of the fifty United States. Outsiders often regard the Heart of Dixie as the epitome of regression, a cesspool of deep-seated bigotry against women and minorities, qualities that taint centuries of the state’s history and still affect its citizens’ reputations today. The image usually summoned when the topic of the history of higher education in Alabama arises is the dark shadow of Governor George Wallace performing his famous “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door” at the University of Alabama. This image has been immortalized in films, books, and in the personal memories of those who watched the footage of this great act of intolerance unfold before them.
Undoubtedly, there have been heinous deeds committed by both the government and the citizenry of Alabama throughout the near two hundred years in which it has enjoyed statehood. One cannot overlook the blatant racism and social elitism found in the original 1901 state constitution, which unabashedly took measures to ensure that blacks and poor whites were denied suffrage. Similarly, one cannot ignore the state’s failure to ratify the 19th amendment to the federal constitution, therefore also expressing the desire to deny women the right to vote as well.
Then, there is the issue of education, especially in regards to women. One might think that a state which so soundly voted against women’s suffrage, and which would eventually try to prevent a black woman from studying at a state-sponsored university, would not care much about educating the softer sex. However, the establishment and maintenance of the school at Montevallo, Alabama, in all its many stages, names, and forms, argues otherwise. The purpose of this paper is to showcase the progressivism present in the State of Alabama as early as the volatile Reconstruction years, using the school at Montevallo as the frame. The main period of focus will be the 1950s.
These particular years, when viewed through the lenses of popular culture and collective nostalgia, are either revered as a sacred time in the history of the United States because of the idealization of the nuclear family structure, or reviled as a decade filled with racial tension and systematic institutionalized misogyny. Both of these views exhibit the prominence of the docile housewife. Barbara Billingsley’s June Cleaver most likely comes to mind when one thinks of the women of 1950s America: trim, shapely figures adorned with perfect coiffures, starched skirts, strands of pearls, and a never-ceasing smile.
This image of the era of female repression is reinforced by social scientists such as Betty Friedan, whose well-known work The Feminine Mystique relies heavily on the premise that women of the 1950s were repressed in every fact of life: the home, the workplace, and the classroom. She writes of women who, as they “lived their lives in the image of those pretty pictures of the American suburban housewife,” fostered a troubling silent fear, an inexplicable unhappiness with the life they regarded as duty and destiny alike–“the feminine mystique.” She blames the retreat of women back into the home from their newly won positions in the workforce on a near conspiracy among men in virtually every profession. According to her, these “journalists, educators, advertisers, and social scientists” created and continued to maintain a repressive image of femininity.”
Friedan’s work has gained a good deal of credibility over the past five decades since its initial printing, but the methodology she employs within it is by no means beyond questioning. She largely uses speculative, anecdotal evidence in her argument regarding the subject of women and higher education in the chapter entitled “The Sex-Directed Educators.” Essentially, she proclaims that during the years following World War II, women attended colleges and universities with the primary objective of securing a husband, and that once this goal was obtained, education fell by the wayside. Friedan also asserts that college educators attempted the stunt the intellectual growth of the female collegiate, discouraging women from developing more than a superficial interest in academia, choosing instead to focus on the sexualized identities of wife and mother.
Friedan supports these claims largely with results of interviews she gave at several institutions of higher learning throughout her period of research. Based on their answers, the female students with whom she spoke were apathetic toward their own education, instead lending interest to their prospect as a future homemaker, making such remarks as “a girl who got serious about anything she studied–like wanting to go on and do research–would be peculiar, unfeminine” or, in regards to extracurricular intellectual discussions, “We never waste time like that. We don’t have bull sessions about abstract things. Mostly, we talk about our dates.” The majority of the evidence Friedan presents to support her case is constructed from fragments of anonymous conversations given piecemeal, strung together end to end to create the illusion of uniformity. She gives little evidence to support her claims that faculty are the cause of this dissatisfaction with intellect.
Friedan also cites the financial hardships women’s colleges faced during the period after the Second World War, something she attributes to the growing disinterest toward academia which malignant “sex-directed educators” instilled in the women in their charge. She points out that during this period women’s schools closed and either considered becoming or actually became coeducational institutions as a result of such apathy in the female population. She concludes the chapter contemplating the fate of “the girls who never even write…term papers because of the baby’s bottle,” implying the naturally occurring process of motherhood is part of the unspoken plot to enforce female oppression. Surprisingly, she does not speculate as to why the professors and administrators at these struggling all-female institutions would intentionally sabotage their own careers by urging their entire student body to reconsider pursuing an education.
Aiming to contradict ideas supported by someone as widely known and respected as Betty Friedan might seem a presumptuous undertaking. After all, The Feminine Mystique is often considered the authoritative text in modern feminist theory and, due to the historiographical composition prevalent throughout the piece, a social history of sorts. However, this action is not unprecedented in the academic sphere. Historian Joanne Meyerowitz initially accepted the proclaimed cultural truths presented in Mystique at the start of her own research, which dealt with women, mass media, and culture during the postwar period; however, in her analysis of the non-fiction pieces published in women’s magazines during the years of 1946-1958, she uncovered more “exceptional evidence” to counter Friedan’s theories about the culture’s treatment of women than confirmation.
A similar experience occurred with this research. During the academic year of 1956-1957, Alabama College (presently, the University of Montevallo) became a coeducational institution, a move which Friedan might use to prove that the college was no longer interested in the female educational experience. A brief, superficial glance at the school’s history might encourage this opinion. Initially established in 1896 as the Alabama Girls’ Industrial School (AGIS), the college began as a technical institution which granted “diplomas of proficiency,” not degrees, in several courses of study, the most popular being “domestic sciences.” Additionally, it was the first school in the state to offer courses in home economics.
The school changed names twice before finally becoming Alabama College, State College for Women in 1923, under the administration of Dr. Thomas Waverly Palmer. With this change, the school began granting traditional college degrees. However, seemingly juvenile traditions formed during these years as well, traditions which might indicate discouragement of intellectual growth. The emergence of Crook Week, in which seniors bullied and humiliated juniors in an extreme manner akin to contemporary hazing, is an excellent example. Done in the name of initiating the “lowlies” into “Seniordom,” the tradition grows more suspicious when one learns a faculty member, a psychology instructor by the name of Katherine Vickery, helped create it.
Applying the previously discussed principles found in Mystique, one could conclude these facts indicate the school’s decision to open its cast iron gates to men was a sign of defeat; that the administration, faculty, and even the student body were no longer interested in pursuing the business of educating women. This situation seems to align perfectly with Friedan’s carefully cut stencil. However, thorough research of the institution’s history at large, as well as a close examination of the transition made from an all-female to a coeducational school, illustrates that this change was but a symptom of the school’s ongoing quest to satisfy, not suppress, the educational needs of its female students. Coeducation at Alabama College did not hinder the advancement of women, but rather supplied them with several new opportunities, both academic and social.
Women and the School at Montevallo
A close look at the school’s founding reveals that AGIS was ushered into existence by men who felt that enriching the female intellect and equipping young women with the necessary skills to provide for themselves was not only a worthy undertaking, but part of their God-given duty. After staying with a poor family whose several daughters seemed doomed to a bleak life of hard labor with no opportunities for advancement, state senatorial candidate Solomon D. Bloch started planning “a state-sponsored school to train young women to what were considered ‘suitable’ vocations–office work, dressmaking, music, and art.” He later drafted a bill, passed by the Alabama State Legislature in 1893, which provided for the creation of such a school.
After the bill passed, the question of location arose. Captain Henry Clay Reynolds, a Confederate veteran and local merchant, was Montevallo’s most violent champion. His adamancy is largely why the school was placed in the small town, and he went on to serve as the school’s first president. Through name and curriculum changes over the school’s first thirty years, the various administrators continued to recognize its original purpose: to “give to the daughters of the state the same kind of training that their brothers were getting at the Alabama Polytechnic Institute in Auburn.”
This training is evident in the writings of various faculty members of the school as early as the 1930s. Dr. Minnie L. Steckel, who served as professor of psychology and student counselor at Alabama College for several years, wrote a special bulletin addressing the issue of working women in Alabama, which was published in 1939. One section of this pamphlet, “Fallacies Regarding Women in Employment,” lambasts the conventional idea that woman’s place is in the home. Steckel decried this notion, writing that such an idea “is based wholly on tradition and emotion . . . . There is implied in this assertion that there is something morally wrong, irreligious, indelicate, or abnormal in a woman’s being employed outside the home.” Steckel also ridicules the idea of woman as “the weaker sex” and rejects the assumption that women would work outside the home “only to earn pin money to increase their allowance to include fineries from which they could not have otherwise or could not legitimately ask their male supporter to buy.” Steckel’s writing, which was published by the school for distribution, elucidates her disagreement with the society of her contemporaries when Betty Friedan was merely a child, long before she wrote Mystique.
Another special bulletin prepared by the School of Home Economics directly after World War II features figures which indicate the education bestowed upon Alabama College students was not wasted during the war:
The alumnae secretary has records of 119 graduates and former students who (as of August, 1944) were serving in some branch of the armed forces or other government service directly connected with the war effort. These services include the WAC, WAVE, SPAR, WASP, Marine Corps, army staff dietician, AUS Medical Detachments, American Red Cross, and munitions inspector, while one graduate of Alabama College is with the French Women’s Auxiliary.
With former students finding their places in the workforce and the war effort alike, the College adapted the curriculum during the war years to prepare current students for their future roles. Courses like Modern History of Europe and International Relations were readily available to the entire student body in order to increase awareness of the “social and economic problems in which the war had its origins and which must be understood as a basis for permanent peace.” Students studying foreign languages who wished to use their skills for the war effort were given “special attention and guidance,” and the secretarial science program prerequisite requirements were modified, allowing students interested in seeking government employment during “the present emergency” to take shorthand and typewriting earlier than usually allowed.
The arrival of the 1950s prompts a stricter observation of the school’s attitude toward female education, as the move toward coeducation occurred in the latter half of that decade. The early years appear solid. Alabama College women continued to receive an education high in quality, as evidenced by this student-written passage:
We learned about history–how pre-historic man struggled to better his existence, until now, he may so violently struggle as to destroy himself. We read Plato–and agreed and disagreed. We listened to music–and had long debates about the comparative merits of Beethoven and Shostakovich. We entered eagerly into the wrangle about who was to be the next governor. We wrote novels, read novels, and lived novels. We learned the rules of grammar, and then learned that the rules, weren’t important after you knew them–that language changes when the common man speaks it . . . . We learned that institutions are only instituted for the convenience of the people. We lost our faith and regained it–stronger than before. We learned about family . . . cooking, philosophers, events of history, how to speak, how to write, how to paint, but–best of all–we learned about life.
These words reveal the truth about Alabama College. Over the years, the institution consistently provided a strong, multi-faceted education which prepared its students for reality by exposing them to multiple aspects of life within the classroom. Here is shown a student body interested in politics, in current international affairs, and pop culture; a student body who approaches education willingly with an eagerness to grow.
Men and Alabama College
While Alabama College was not officially coeducational until the 1956-1957 academic year, this was not the first time the school admitted male students. As early as 1916, when the school (then, Alabama Girls’ Technical Institute) first offered summer classes, men could be found on campus. The first regular male students appeared in 1942, more than a decade before the official adoption of a coeducational policy, as evidenced in this passage from the campus newspaper, The Alabamian:
Alabama College has gone military. Every citizen realized the vital need for cooperation to the utmost degree in the national defense program. With this fact in view, A.C. students feel the need of putting their college on a militaristic basis, in order to promote the outstanding defense issues. This need has resulted in the organization of the Alabama College Auxiliary Corps which is to be sponsored by the Physical Education Club.
Because of this decision to admit soldiers on a temporary basis in order to relieve “the crush at the University of Alabama and Auburn,” the idea to make this change permanent does not shock. Enrollment was dropping, with the graduating class of 1955 consisting of only 85 students (down from the class of 1950, which boasted 134). This superficially aligns with the scenario presented in Friedan’s “The Sex-Directed Educators”; however, there were several legitimate reasons for the decline of the student body at Alabama College. The other major schools in the state, the University of Alabama and Auburn University, started attracting female students through the building of new dormitories and modification of existing curricula. Additionally, other education programs in the state started catching up with Alabama College, which had once led in standards statewide.
Dr. Franz E. Lund, who became the college president in 1952, was the administrator who saw fit to resolve this issue through the regular admittance of male students. In 1955, Dr. Lund faced the Board of Trustees with a plan he felt would save the school both financially and academically: coeducation. This was not a decision he made in haste, however; in his report to the Board, he is quoted as saying
It is of paramount importance that the College should avoid the appearance of simply drifting into coeducation . . . it would be a tragic mistake simply to admit a few local boys as day students . . . or to admit men on sufferance . . . . It must be on the basis of a firm and enthusiastic agreement . . . . with the full support of public opinion, our alumnae, the Governor, and the Legislature.
Dr. Lund later presented this idea to the faculty, many of whom lent their support. One of the most notable supporters was Dr. Hallie Farmer, “who had done more for the cause of women in the State than anyone else present.” The Alumni Association also approved of the change, and just a few months later, on January 17, 1956, the State Legislature passed a bill “enabling Alabama College to admit qualified male students, and confer appropriate degrees upon them at the satisfactory completion of the required course of study.” Thus, a new era was born.
In Alabama College, 1896-1969, historian and Alabama College faculty member Lucille Griffith wrote the following words, which aptly describe this change and what it meant for the school:
A great institution is born of its time. There must be a need, a demand, that brings it forth. If that institution lasts, it must change with the times; otherwise, a changing society moves on and the institution is left to wither away, unnecessary, unwanted, unsupported. Adaptation becomes the key to life and growth.
With the end result in mind, an analysis of the academic and social lives of the female students, as well as the professionalism and effectiveness of the faculty which taught them, shall determine whether this particular institution made a decision to encourage healthy growth for all its students, including women, or if it left behind its original mission with reckless abandon.
An Analysis of Female Academia at Alabama College, 1950-1960
Unsurprisingly, home economics was one of the most common majors of graduating senior women at Alabama College in the 1950s. However, areas of study more academic or pre-professional in nature held a steady, if not quite as popular, interest. The persistency, or even increase, of this interest in courses of study which prepared female students for a specific occupation other than that of housewife is significantly perceptible. In 1950, for example, only 6.72% of female students graduated with degrees in elementary education. The same field of study jumped to 15.32% right before male students were admitted less than seven years later, which reflects a slight decrease from the 17.52% of graduating seniors in 1953.
Compared to such exponential growth in other areas of study, the home economics program actually appears stagnant. Graduating seniors with degrees in programs from the School of Home Economics (home economics, institutional home economics, retail economics, retail home economics, and vocational home economics) represented over one-fifth of the degrees obtained in 1950, at 21.64% of the graduating class. By 1956, these same degree programs represented only 17.12%.
The secretarial science degree was the unsurprising companion of home economics, sharing comparable popularity from 1950-1956. With the exception of a drastic decrease in secretarial science graduates in both 1953 and 1954, the program steadily maintained second-place status, closing out the final academic year before men were admitted to the school at 10.81% of the class of 1956.
However, contrary to the images of beautiful women silently pecking away at typewriters at the beck and call of a ubiquitous male employer Mad Men encourages us to summon, studying secretarial science did not result in a useless four-year degree in stenography and typing. After all, at this time, a degree of any kind was not necessary for basic clerical work. Gayle Folmar Austin, then Gayle Hand, proves this through with her thorough, thought-provoking account of being a working woman of the 1950s.
Among several positions held in her youth, Austin manned a secretarial position for an office shared by an attorney and an optometrist. Despite her lack of a high school diploma, she often found herself managing both offices singlehandedly thanks to the optometrist’s second job at the Sears department store and the attorney’s fondness for the bottle. She “learned how to file lawsuits, divorces, garnishments . . . mortgages, [and] deeds.” Later, she also worked with the Bessemer Credit Association, a position which gave her responsibility for gathering information about “all the divorces that had happened, and all the suits, all the garnishments . . . and . . . all of the arrests” from the courthouse on a regular basis.
This begs the question: why should any woman waste four years of her life and eight semesters of tuition money when she could enter directly into the workforce? The answer: the secretarial science degree at Alabama College, although requiring classes in typewriting and shorthand, was essentially a business degree in secretary’s clothing. Majors in the secretarial science program were required to choose from courses such as business organization, advertising, insurance, salesmanship, advanced accounting, and business law, in addition to the few courses that were strictly secretarial in nature.
A possible rebuttal to this claim lies in the creation of the business administration degree program, which evolved from the secretarial science degree after the advent of coeducation. The requirements for the business administration degree were more intensive and required the student to choose from a concentration in either accounting or general business. A side-by-side comparison of the original secretarial science degree against the two female-dominated degrees in business, secretarial administration and business education, both of which were introduced in the 1956-1957 academic year, does indeed indicate a decrease in academic rigor. However, this split in the degree offerings, while giving the appearance of misogyny, actually allowed female students interested in pursuing “executive positions” to obtain a legitimate business degree. After the advent of coeducation, the only obstacle hindering a woman from studying a male-dominated subject at Alabama College was her own desire.
The 1956-1957 academic year saw the introduction of several new scholastic opportunities for all Alabama College students. For the first time, graduate degrees “in the fields of elementary . . . and secondary education” were introduced, with possible concentrations in “art, biology, psychology, speech, health, physical education, and home economics.” Additionally, the curriculum expanded to include pre-professional programs such as “pre-dentistry, pre-law, pre-medicine, pre-engineering, business administration, and commerce” in order to prepare the students for graduate studies elsewhere.
Degrees in female-dominated fields, such as counseling and guidance, speech therapy, and speech-language pathology, were made available shortly after the effective introduction of males to the student body and awarded to graduating students a few short years later. The creation of these programs, while not a direct result of coeducation, indicates an air of academic gravity among both female students and administrators at Alabama College that, according to Mystique, should not have existed.
Marriage and Studentship, 1950-1960
The steady presence of married students who completed their four years of study belies the idea that women, once imprisoned by the institution of matrimony, abandoned their education. There was only one married student in the graduating class of 1950, and all of the women in the class of 1951 still used their maiden names; however, beginning in 1952, these numbers began to increase. Seven married women graduated that year with degrees in art, physical education, secretarial science, social work, and vocational home economics, representing 6.19% of their graduating class.
In 1953, the number of married students increased in both real numbers and percentage. That year, ten married women completed their degrees in elementary education, English, history, home economics, school music, secretarial science, and sociology, representing 10.31% of the graduating class. 1956 showed a slight decrease, with only nine married students at a diminished 8.11%; however, unlike the previous years mentioned, two of these student-wives received degrees in hard sciences, one with a double major in biology and chemistry.
Some married women undoubtedly did not cross the graduation stage at Alabama College. Some graduating classes boasted no married students, while others showed a significant decrease in graduates doubling as wives. A pessimistic view of this data might conclude this mean fewer students stayed in school after marrying. While that is certainly a valid conclusion, the numbers also indicate the possibility that more women waited to marry until after completing their education. Whichever the case, the fact that the women of Alabama College consistently balanced the roles of homemaking spouse and hardworking student puts a sizeable dent of doubt in Friedan’s claims in Mystique.
An Evaluation of the Faculty of Alabama College, 1950-1960
Yet another aspect of Alabama College which digresses from the standards set forth in “The Sex-Directed Educators” is the quality of the school’s faculty. In the 1950s, the faculty consisted of both men and women, many of whom earned their degrees at highly respected, prestigious schools. If the promotion and inspiration of excellence was not a priority for the college, it follows the administrators would have hired less endowed, credentialed members of faculty. Additionally, were the college not known for its academic rigor, one must assume such bright educators would have found other venues for their professional talents.
Solely by surveying various Montages, Alabama College’s annual, one can appreciate the outstanding quality of the school’s faculty during the 1950s. Dr. M.L. Orr, head of the education department for several years as well as a prominent member of the Montevallo community, received his Ph.D. from Peabody College. Dr. Orr was responsible for the creation of the state’s first Progressive Education Demonstration School. Dr. Katherine Vickery of the psychology department (and of Crook Week fame) also held her doctorate from Peabody, and the description of her professional work found below exemplifies her dedication to the college:
Dr. Vickery, the Head of the Psychology Department, is undoubtedly one of the busiest persons on campus. It seems that almost every week she is flying to Chicago, Atlanta, Washington, or New York for some important meeting. Her students never tire of listening to her relate amusing anecdotes she experienced or observed on one of her trips, and, of course, she can still fascinate us with details of her trip to Europe this summer. Her classes are not only fun, though, but are intellectual and thought provoking as well. Dr. Vickery, as one of the South’s most prominent educators, is very concerned with maintaining a high quality of learning in the secondary schools and colleges in the U.S. and is fearful lest a degree from college become so easily obtained that it is relatively valueless.
Additional faculty members with immeasurable influence on the school include Dr. Hallie Farmer, a political scientist with a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin. Dr. Farmer not only was an educator, but also an activist, participating in dialogues regarding controversial issues such as the abolition of the poll tax and advocacy of penal reform. She was one of the first inductees in the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame. Dr. Lorraine Peterson also greatly contributed to the school during her tenure there. In addition to her Ph.D., which she earned from the University of Illinois, Dr. Peterson also held a diploma from the University of Dijon in France. She served as personal counselor and advisor to all the school’s foreign exchange students.
Even the instructors who did not have doctoral or otherwise terminal degrees in their field demonstrated remarkable intelligence and dedication to their profession. Mr. Harrison D. Lebaron, one of the school’s music instructors, graduated from the New England Conservatory and served as the director of the School of Music after it received its first accreditation from the National Association of Schools of Music. Another music instructor, Mr. Miecislaw Ziokowski, studied both at the Stern Conservatory in Berlin and privately under the prominent musician Paderewski.
Several department heads during this time lacked doctorates. The highest degree held by Mr. W.M. Kennerly, who served as the head of the Department of Chemistry and Physics for several years, was a master’s degree from Emory. Ms. Lelah Brownfield, who served as the last head of the secretarial science program and the first director of business administration, held only a master’s degree as well. This clearly indicates Alabama College administrators did not feel instructors lacking terminal degrees were less bright or capable of providing a solid education or fostering a healthy academic environment compared to their fellows with doctorates. These were not the “sex-directed educators” against whom Friedan railed, but instead quite the opposite. These men and women worked diligently to ensure their students, regardless of sex, received the best education possible.
This attitude was not limited to the instructors, but also extended to the administrative faculty. Dr. John Tyler Caldwell, a political scientist with a doctorate from Princeton, served as president of the College from 1947 until 1951. He took great efforts “to expand the students [sic] outlook on international affairs, thus causing them to become more world minded citizens.” During his short time presiding over the school, he established the Honors Scholarship program and the World Culture Series, which exposed students to “the arts, history, and customs of a country for a year.” He also focused on ensuring the quality of teaching, personally observing classes and instituting student evaluations for a short time.
Social Effects of Coeducation at Alabama College
Although the effects coeducation had on the female academic experience are irrefutably important, it would be remiss to ignore the obvious social consequences this change effected. After reading through Mystique, one might assume that with the introduction of men to a student body consisting of only women, female students would quickly couple with one of their new male counterparts or submit and become silent, relinquishing campus control to the invading forces.
Initially, superficial evidence from the years prior to coeducation supports this idea. An extracurricular group dubbed the Social Committee’s stated purpose was not only “to plan socials such as after-dinner coffees, formal and informal dinners, and dormitory parties” but also to arrange meetings and social gatherings for the Alabama College girls with men, namely the “Pensacola Cadets.” The students’ desires to socialize with men is neither surprising nor abnormal. However, the existence of such a committee does not change much with the institution of male students:
We girls at Alabama College may not have the advantage of the well-known ratio at Auburn where the boys exceedingly outnumber the girls, but we do have a Social Committee that is tops in making arrangements for boys to come to Alabama College for our formal dances.
This passage, besides showcasing the desire of these young women to find companionship with the opposite sex, indicates that the women of Alabama College were aware that their chances of realizing this desire would have been elevated had they chosen to attend a different school. Keeping this in mind, the conclusion that these women chose Alabama College with the quality of the education as a top priority, not the availability of prospective future husbands, is not at all far-fetched.
The reaction of the student government to coeducation is an additional surprising element. At the time, the organization was comprised of only females, as this passage indicates:
This has been an important year for the Executive Council because it has been the task of those students to adjust our government so that boys, a newly added attraction at A.C., can be included in Student Government affairs. These girls have spent many wrangling hours in the S. G. A. office in Reynolds, attempting to decide what offices men students could hold, regulations to be placed on them, and the best possible means of giving the male students a fair chance to participate in Student Government without inviting them to predominate.
The sense of elitism that the female students have for the incoming males demonstrated in this passage is astounding. The attitude of the writer, without question a female student, seems to trivialize the men’s presence by referring to them as “boys” and even as an “attraction.” Additionally, that the student government would even hold meetings about such a thing sends a clear message. The women involved in the organization took their positions seriously, and they did not want to lose the privileges they had earned because of the introduction of male students. It also seems that they wanted true equality of the sexes in the new student body.
Much of the rhetoric found in the 1958 and 1959 Montages does not read much differently than that before coeducation. The Montage published at the end of the 1959-1960 school year, however, focuses heavily on the fact that the graduating class was the first to feature male students who attended Alabama College for the full four years. By viewing this from Friedan’s perspective, this could be misconstrued as male worship of some sort; however, a paragraph in the introductory section of the yearbook better explains the excitement over the presence of male students:
Coeducation here has led to growth in many ways. It has meant increased enrollment, additional and more modern housing facilities, an improved Student Government, the introduction of intercollegiate sports, and a more active social life. The men have quickly become an integral part of our campus activities. They are SGA leaders, sports figures, College Night actors, and classroom intellects. Prodded by the impetus of such intensive competition, the women have been incited to exert greater efforts in all fields.
This passage, again most likely written by a female student, blatantly addresses the benefits received by the women and not the school’s financial success, proving that the evidence found to contradict Friedan’s theoretical assumptions is not empty nor misconstrued. Several similar passages found throughout that particular year’s Montage reaffirm the mutual advantages attained through coeducation, such as this:
In common pursuit of knowledge, men and women now join together. Side by side we endeavor to increase our mental proficiency and progress toward intellectual maturity. Socially we meet on the tennis court, golf course, and dance floor. We share many mutual interests, aspirations, and ideals. Together we grow through coeducation.
These words clearly illustrate that, at least at Alabama College, education was important for humanity, with no distinction between the sexes.
As for the childlike traditions previously discussed, namely Crook Week, began to dissipate shortly after the men arrived. According to Mary Frances Tipton, who was actually a student during the time of coeducation, “few of the female juniors in 1956-57 wanted to participate (probably because of the indignities they foresaw before the men who were now in school).” This shows that male presence in the Alabama College student body encouraged the female students, whether directly or with subtlety, to mature and treat their college years with more seriousness.
Betty Friedan unarguably presents several valid points in The Feminine Mystique. One cannot dispute the fact that at one point the home economics department had a collection of laboratories at their disposal that rivaled those of the science departments, or the existence of upper-level classes devoted to home furnishing and problems in home and family life. However, many of Friedan’s assertions fall flat when applied to Alabama College. Instead of women playing at school until they were lucky enough to find a mate, we find intelligent young students working toward the possibilities of graduate studies and careers, sometimes in addition to their wifely duties. Instead of finding educators striving to transform eager female students into bundles of apathy wholly consumed with sexual identity, we find a highly educated faculty striving to enrich the scholastic opportunities of the students placed in their care. Instead of resignation and defeat when men were eventually introduced into the student body, we find fiery, independent women clinging to leadership roles and responsibility; women who compete with the men on an academic level and socially interact with their “newly added attraction.” Friedan’s words may very well have had substance at other colleges and universities across the United States during the dynamic 1950s, but the women students of Alabama College were too busy preparing for their bright futures to become despondent victims of the feminine mystique.