Despite rocky start, A&M's decision to admit
women has a happy ending
Eagle Staff Writer
Photo courtesy of Texas A&M; Photographic Services and Texas
A&M; University: A Pictorial History, 1876-1996 by Henry C.
take part in Texas A&M; University's oldest tradition: the
Corps of Cadets. A federal court in 1988 instructed A&M; to
encourage participation of female cadets in traditionally
Sheppard never questioned her qualifications for admission to Texas
A&M University. She was too thrilled about the prospect of becoming
an Aggie graduate.
Her enrollment at A&M followed a 1963 movement led by Maj. Gen.
James Earl Rudder, then president of A&M, to change the school's
all-male military requirements and allow restricted admission to
women. She and some 150 other women who met admission criteria were
among the first admitted under the new policy that had been approved
by A&M's Board of Directors only months before.
When it came time for Sheppard to have her picture taken for the
yearbook, she did so without thinking twice. She was proud to be
an Aggie, and wanted to appear beside her classmates' photographs.
But she was more than surprised when she saw her picture.
Sheppard's, along with those of 12 other women who had their portraits
taken, appeared on the last page of pictures, and their photographs
were arranged unlike any others in the annual. Their pictures appeared
in the form of a question mark.
"If I had any idea my picture would not have been placed with
my classmates', I would not have had my picture made," said
Sheppard, who later became the first woman in A&M's upper administration.
"Indeed, I did not have my picture done again while I was a
student nor did I again purchase the yearbook."
Women always had a presence on campus, allowed to attend classes
as "special students" but not to pursue degrees. When
they sought degrees, the issue of coeducation became a decades-long
battle that at times proved divisive.
In the 1950s and 1960s, however, A&M's enrollment numbers were
stagnant and it was quickly losing its designation as a top college
in Texas, when university officials altered the policy to allow
women to receive diplomas. The 1963 change is credited with helping
to turn A&M into the fourth-largest university in the nation.
"The record enrollments of the following decades saved A&M
from its position as a small, floundering college and transformed
it into a world-class university," wrote historian and Aggie
Heidi Knipa in a master's thesis for the University of Texas. "The
admission of women against which Texas A&M University had battled
for so long, ultimately became its very salvation."
Less than two decades after A&M opened its doors, women were
attending classes at the small college. Steven Smith, a professor
and special collections librarian at Cushing Memorial Library, said
more than 1,800 women had taken classes there by 1930.
Coeducation was a trend that had reached Texas by the 1890s and
was something that A&M President Lawrence Sullivan Ross and
other administration and faculty members supported. In 1893, Ethel
Hudson, a professor's daughter, was the first woman to take classes
and helped edit the yearbook. She was made an honorary member of
the Class of 1895.
Six years later, Hudson's sisters, twins Sophie and Mary, took classes,
completed courses of study and were made honorary members of A&M's
Class of 1903.
"It's hard to prove, but looking at history, there really was
no premeditated plan to make this an all-male institution, it just
sort of happened," said Smith, who is preparing an exhibit
on women at A&M for the Cushing Memorial Library. "From
the beginning, only males were allowed to complete official courses
of study. Over time, it gets more entrenched. But early on, daughters
and relatives of faculty and staff took classes during regular session."
In 1911, A&M asked the Texas Legislature for permission to hold
summer school sessions, which was authorized with one condition:
women be allowed to participate.
Summer school at A&M looked like that at other coeducational
state-supported universities, Smith said.
Cadets were not required to be in uniform, and many local women
took classes and participated in intramural-type events and other
Then, fall would arrive, and the college would return to its all-male
military status, Smith said, which was something the school's Board
of Directors was stringent about maintaining. It turned down a donation
from an Austin woman that provided for the establishment of a domestic
sciences department in 1915 because board members feared it would
formalize co-education at A&M, Smith said.
The final straw for the Board of Directors came in August 1925,
when a woman, Mary Evelyn Crawford Locke, had enough credits to
graduate with a degree in English. Crawford Locke never walked across
the stage to receive her diploma. But, according to some reports,
Smith said, Crawford Locke picked up her diploma from the registrar's
"The history of the school toward coeducation is schizophrenic,"
Smith said. "Until 1925, you get the sense that it's up for
grabs. As more time passes, and by nature of the way that that's
what always had been done, it becomes ingrained. And, after Mary
Evelyn Crawford, the board reaffirmed that no more women would
The next month, the board decided that "no girls should ever
be admitted to the college," according to historian Knipa,
prohibiting women from attending during regular sessions - something
they had been allowed to do for 32 years.
The following year, the board decided that women in summer school
would maintain an unofficial status and could not pursue a degree.
They added new curriculum for summer sessions, including home economics,
"The possibility of earning a bachelor's degree from a public
college vanished, and in its place stood a curriculum, which would,
at best, make one a better wife," Knipa wrote. "Yet women
continued to embrace even limited opportunity at A&M, moving
on to other institutions with their A&M credits or simply living
life with newfound knowledge and skills."
Slowly, though, some women were granted admission.
When the Depression hit, A&M was not shielded from the impact,
and faculty and staff members saw 25 percent salary cuts. It became
more difficult for them to pay for their daughters to go away to
school, so in 1933, they asked then-president Thomas Otto Walton
about allowing women to enroll.
The board decided that no more than 20 daughters would be allowed
to enroll temporarily, during the 1933-34 school year, and they
had to live at home.
As the years passed, the question over whether to open admission
to women seemed to become more and more controversial, particularly
as more people began openly supporting women's efforts to attend.
After World War II, a lot of men came back to school married and
there were more women on campus than ever before, Smith said.
"The 1950s is when it really gets ugly because it was challenged
as it never had been before," he said. "More opposition
is inevitable because the pressure's on, and it's going to have
to change sooner or later. In the 1950s, A&M was the fifth largest
in the state. For A&M to survive, it had to change."
State Sen. William T. Moore, a Bryan native and A&M graduate,
championed coeducation. During a day of routine legislative business,
he submitted a resolution forcing A&M to admit women. It passed
without debate, according to Knipa's research.
When others realized what had occurred, Moore's bill ignited heated
debate about the issue, and two days later, it ultimately was defeated.
In 1958, the editorial staff of A&M's newspaper, The Battalion,
openly supported co-education. The student senate called for the
immediate resignation of the editor-in-chief, according to Knipa.
That same year, a campus referendum on the issue of opening A&M's
doors to women was defeated by a 2-1 margin. Half of the student
body at the time, or 3,716 students, voted in the election.
Then, in July 1959, Gen. Rudder began his tenure as president of
the college. He took over at a time when A&M was experiencing
slow growth compared to other public schools such as the University
of Texas and Texas Tech University, and he advocated co-education,
In April 1963, the Board of Directors, led by then-president Sterling
C. Evans, decided to allow qualified women to participate in all
graduate programs and in the school's veterinary medicine program.
The wives and daughters of faculty, staff and students as well as
women staff members were allowed to participate in undergraduate
programs beginning in June.
That announcement reignited the flame of opposition.
A&M student body president Sheldon Best opposed the board's
decision, and Rudder, who was revered on campus, was shouted down
by the student body during a meeting in the student auditorium.
He told them the board's decision was final.
Much of the opposition came from former students and members of
the Aggie Moms Clubs, according to historian John Adams.
"The mothers clubs argued that there were nine other schools
in Texas, so why did women need to go to A&M?" Adams said.
"Rudder spoke to mothers clubs across the state, saying A&M
is in a new era.
"A&M couldn't survive only as a Corps," he added.
Knipa wrote that racial integration, which occurred at the same
time as the admission of women, was not viewed as something that
would endanger A&M's reputation as a distinguished military
"The presence of women in the eyes of traditionalists, however,
would destroy the masculine military spirit in Aggieland,"
By 1965, 321 women were enrolled at A&M, up from 183 in the
fall of 1963. Sheppard said she did not experience anything negative
once she was enrolled at A&M, with the exception of the 1964
yearbook. She said fellow students and faculty always were courteous
"I think that most of the opposition to females came from the
former students who wrote letters to the editors of both The Batt
and The Eagle voicing their outrage," she said. "I know
that President Rudder also received many, too. I believe that some
members of the Corps also were quite upset but I remember a very
nice Corps guy who was my lab partner in chemistry who shared access
to quiz files with me. So, it was not true that all Corps members
were opposed to women students."
Lowell Conder and Jack Fraim, both members of the Class of '61,
said they remember opposing the name change to Texas A&M University
and the admission of women.
But, 40 years later, both said their opinions have changed.
"We both now feel that those were mistakes," Conder said.
"I think women have been good for the Corps and A&M."
A student poll in 1965 showed that the debate lingered, but slightly
more students supported the admission of women.
The board in 1966 allowed admission to women who intended to pursue
a course of study or use facilities not offered at any other state
school or who were seeking an academic goal that for any reason
could be best achieved at A&M. The same year, Rudder was authorized
to review female applications on an individual basis, and reportedly
ordered that women be admitted on an equal basis with men, according
to Knipa's research.
Smith said the board's rules did everything but openly admit the
school had become co-educational. It wasn't until 1970 that the
term was used in a student catalog in reference to A&M and on-campus
housing. Krueger Residence Hall was constructed to accommodate A&M's
new influx of students.
But it wasn't necessarily easy for women at A&M, Smith said.
"There were other hard times for women after 1963," he
said. "There were a list of questions that the school confronted
after women got in, such as: Are they allowed in the Corps? How
much can they participate? What about Bonfire or the Aggie Band?"
The issue made national headlines in 1979 when a female cadet, Melanie
Zentgraf, led a class-action suit against the university. She said
the exclusion of women from numerous student organizations, such
as the band, was discriminatory.
"The case languished in the courts for five years, during which
Zentgraf was ostracized by even the highest levels of administration,"
Knipa wrote. "A&M President Jarvis Miller refused to shake
Zentgraf's hand as she received her diploma at her 1980 graduation
In the end, it was Zentgraf who prevailed. A federal court in 1988
instructed A&M to actively encourage participation of female
cadets in traditionally male activities.
That same year, the Ross Volunteer company of A&M's Corps of
Cadets accepted its first two women members: Nancy Hedgecock and
Mandy Schubert Scott said recently that joining the Corps made sense
Raised an Aggie by her father, who was head drum major of the Aggie
Band, Scott said she was impressed with the mission and goals of
"I found A&M welcoming to women, and I even found A&M
welcoming to women in the Corps," the Georgia resident said.
"That is not to say that there weren't those that would have
preferred not having women in the Corps ... I won't lie and say
that every male cadet treated us kindly and with respect, but those
who did made up for those who didn't."
Applying for the Ross Volunteers, who serve as the governor's official
honor guard, seemed a natural extension.
"I felt confident that the upperclassmen RVs would select qualified
individuals - it just so happened that two were women in the fall
of 1985," Scott said.
She remembers reading a magazine article about an Aggie family with
two sons and a daughter. The mother commented that her daughter
would probably attend the University of Texas but she was pleased
her sons had chosen to go to A&M because she didn't want them
to miss out on the excellent leadership training the Corps offered,
"I thought to myself, 'Why would she want any less for her
daughter?'" Scott said. "That question alone was enough
to motivate me throughout my four years as a cadet."
The number of women enrolled at A&M has skyrocketed. Today,
there are 21,123 women attending A&M alongside 23,578 men. This
year was the sixth consecutive year that women in the freshman class
outnumbered men, according to university officials.
And, the number of "firsts" continues. The first female
student body president was elected in 1994, and since then, there
have been two more women elected to lead at the university. In May,
Josie Ruth Williams became the first woman named among A&M's
Stormy Kimrey, Class of '58 and a die-hard Aggie, said he believes
that the admission of women at A&M has strengthened the university.
Many women today, he said, show more Aggie spirit than their male
"I think they've been an asset to our A&M community,"
he said. "It's one of the best things we ever did."
Colleen Kavanaghs e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org