July 11, 2008

July 1918: The New Dean of Women

Sometime during the summer months of 1918, President Lyon G. Tyler chose Caroline Tupper to be the first Dean of Women at the College of William and Mary. Unfortunately, there is not a great deal of information known about Dean Tupper. What is known has come from Laura Parrish's thesis. Parrish uncovered that Tupper was from Charleston, South Carolina and received her BA, MA, and Ph.D. in English from Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Prior to coming to the College, the thesis explains that Tupper "had previously taught high school and college English. She was in Virginia in 1918 working as a housing and employment secretary, helping wives of servicemen find homes and jobs near their husbands' military camps."

Tyler explained in a June 4, 1918 letter to Dr. Walter Montgomery that he wanted a woman who "the young ladies might look for example" to be the Dean of Women, and it appears that Tupper fit that description. From the recollections of Janet Coleman Kimbrough, one of those first women students, it appears that Tupper "was quite liberal for the period," who wanted the women to do things through "tradition" rather than create rules. Tupper's liberalness was fine under the Tyler administration, but when President Julian Alvin Carroll Chandler became president in 1919, it was less acceptable. It appears from the student recollections that halfway through the 1919-1920 school year, Tupper resigned from the College of William and Mary.

Though Tupper was not the Dean of Women for very long, she made an impact during the first year of co-education. From what little information there is about Tupper, it appears as though she was a forward thinker who refused to create and enforce rules for women just because they were women.

Information about Tupper in the Special Collections Research Center includes photographs, collected information in the University Archives Faculty-Alumni File Collection, and the memories of Janet Coleman Kimbrough in the University Archives Oral History Collection. For more information on Caroline Tupper, you may wish to contact Harvard University's Radcliffe Institute for Advance Study's Schlesinger Library, which currently holds the former Radcliffe College archives.

This post was composed by Jordan Ecker.

For additional information about the first women students at the College of William and Mary see: When Mary Entered with her Brother William: Women at the College of William and Mary, 1918-1945 by Laura F. Parrish; "The Petticoat Invasion": Women at the College of William and Mary, 1918-1945; The Martha Barksdale Papers; and the Women at the College of William and Mary page on the Special Collections Research Center Wiki.

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