October 8, 2008

Student Groups for Women, 1918-1919

Participating in campus activities was a challenge for the first class of women at the College of William and Mary. Women were not allowed in most of the activities or clubs that played a large role in campus life. Fraternities, literary societies, athletic teams, and the student newspaper, The Flat Hat, were closed to female membership. In its first year, coeducation was not expected to extend much further than the classroom.

Prohibited from joining many of the established campus organizations, women created their own groups in which they could participate and socialize. The Women's Student Council, initially presided over by Florence Harris and later by Martha Barksdale, was one such group. According to The Colonial Echo, "the purpose of the organization is to represent and to further the best interests of the women student body, to regulate the conduct of the women under authority of the college, and to promote responsibility, loyalty, and self-control."

The Alpha Club was a multi-faceted organization. Headed by Celeste Ross its first year, the group sought to "develop departments of Music, Dramatics, Literary Activities, and other interests, all united in name and general purpose in the original Club."

Members of the Alpha Club. From The Colonial Echo.

More mysterious is a group called the "P.P." Club. Catherine Dennis' scrapbook contains several photos of the club's officers (she was vice president; Alice Burke was president and Martha Barksdale served as secretary), but no mention of its purpose or interest. The club may not have been an official organization as it does not appear in the yearbook, either. The "P.P." Club: (l-r) Martha Barksdale, Alice Burke, Catherine Dennis. From Catherine Dennis' scrapbook.

Still, men and women were not completely separated in their activities. Ruth Conkey was an assistant editor on The Colonial Echo for 1919, both sexes were encouraged to participate in the "Cercle Francais" French club, and everyone could attend events such as the literary society debates, films, dances, and sporting events. Full integration into campus life would take time, but the first class of women made a good start of it.

The Flat Hat is available online; editions of The Colonial Echo and Catherine Dennis' scrapbook are available in the Special Collections Research Center.

This post was composed by Kate Hill.

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 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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