With talk of “Family” around every street corner and hallway, it’s easy to forget that just 125 years ago women were welcomed to campus for the first time but asked to refrain from speaking in their co-ed lectures.
It’s time to remember, ladies and gents.
It’s easy to forget the three young women who marched up the steps of Samford Hall on Sept. 13, 1892, on their way to take entry exams that changed the course of Auburn history.
Despite their high marks, the women followed rules refraining from activities on campus aside from classes.
Once again, it’s time to remember.
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Their triumphs are just that — triumphs. They were huge steps, followed by egg-shell walking and settling for less than the greatest of all time.
It’s easy to forget Julia Tutwiler, the woman who stood before the University of Alabama board of trustees and spoke on behalf of women’s rights to higher education.
Her words exactly, painted beautifully in “Blossoms Amid The Deep Verdure: A Century of Women at Auburn 1892-1992” by Leah Rawls Atkins, say it better than any.
“...Big brother ‘grabbed the whole apple, and the little sister did not even get a bite,’” Tutwiler wrote in a letter to Auburn President William Broun. The letter was sent to the men she faced on the board as well.
Because of Kate Conway Broun, Willie Gertrude Little and Margaret Kate Teague, women are here.
Their persistence and effort got them a secluded study room in Samford Hall where they could stay between classes, but they paved the way for Jacqueline Keck to be president of Student Government Association, Elizabeth Huntley and Sarah Newton to be University trustees and Constance Rehlihan to be associate provost.
These women owe their successes to Kate Broun who looked up at Samford with “straight-forward gray eyes” and didn’t turn away for fear of failing or not being accepted.
These stories and more will be told this fall as the 125th Anniversary of Auburn Women sweeps over Auburn like a shadow of memory and hope for even more changes to come.
This anniversary isn’t a ribbon cutting for another overwhelming athletics purchase or another engineering building.
It’s the celebration of an entire gender being given the right to a future in the working world.
It’s a celebration of the past but, more importantly, the future.
Those women didn’t wear raincoats for fear of skin showing and abide by restraining curfews for Auburn women to settle for two women on the Board of Trustees.
This anniversary should be an active reminder of the power women could have and should grasp firmly by the collar.
Events, speakers and strong, encouraging rhetoric will be thrown around in the next semester.
Ensuring that Auburn women, whether freshmen or fifth-years, harvest the natural gravity and strength is the goal.
Attending the events, meeting women and boosting them up is how Auburn women will become “Auburn Fast” and a “Family” we can really lean on.
Those in our history said we couldn’t do what we have done.
Our present continues to question us. An anniversary of this magnitude is nothing to shrug at.
It’s proof that we did the impossible, and it’s ammunition to keep Auburn women moving upward.
“The Southern woman was expected to be quiet, self denying, and soft-spoken, a paragon of virtue who was protected by her man, be it father, brother, husband, or son,” wrote Atkins.
“Antebellum society was male-dominated, fathers were the heads of their households, and a wife’s duty was to obey.”
Women of Auburn and elsewhere, obey this: Stand with your fellow women as we celebrate the accomplishments made and the feats to come.
Listen to fellow women as they tell you to keep climbing and never get too comfortable.
The man pining for the job you deserve, won’t.
Join Auburn women as we look to the past and plan for our future together — stronger than ever before.
Lily Jackson is a part of the Women’s Leadership Institute and will be involved in the 125 Years of Auburn Women Celebration.
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