April 21, 2003

Exhibit highlights women's journey at Emory

By Stephanie Sonnenfeld

It’s probably difficult for today’s student to imagine a time when the University wasn’t co-educational. But thanks to an exhibit in Woodruff Library’s Schatten Gallery, those students can travel back in time to when Emory was an all-male institution and follow the journey of Emory women, from the first “coeds” to today’s strong female presence.

“‘To Change Things for the Better’ Women at Emory in the 19th and 20th Centuries” uses a mixture of photographs and memorabilia to create scrapbook vignettes to chronicle the 50th anniversary of coeducation at Emory.

In the spring of 1953, the Board of Trustees made the decision in favor of full coeducation in the College of Arts and Sciences and the then-School of Business Administration, beginning with the 1953–54 school year. However, many of the University’s schools had already been admitting female students, including the Schools of Nursing, Theology, Law, Library and Medicine, along with the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

The exhibit not only follows the history of coeducation at Emory, but also honors the 10th anniversary of the Emory Women’s Center. Additionally, other aspects of women in the University community (including long-time staff and faculty members) are featured in the show, which runs through May 31.

University Archivist Ginger Cain and Valerie Watkins, Schatten Gallery director, began planning the project last spring with Women’s Center Director Ali Crown, drawing presentation ideas from original scrapbooks kept by campus women’s organizations through the decades.

“We treated the exhibit like a big, visual scrapbook,” Cain said. “Once we had that idea, we decided to design the exhibit as if all items came from a scrapbook.”

Rather than creating formal timelines and relying on a more text-driven showcase, the two designed an intimate glimpse into the many generations of women that helped to create today’s Emory University. By melding photographs, personal mementos (ranging from sorority t-shirts to pristine copies of Dooley’s Rib, the original coed handbook from 1953) and features from school periodicals, the exhibit aptly reflects the early struggles and current issues facing Emory women.

“In many cases, we tried to let the items tell the story—that really captures the time and place where it happened,” Watkins said.

Items are displayed in four sections, which include: Women at Emory in the 19th and Early 20th Centuries; The Role of Women in the New University; Coeducation and the Change in the Campus Life; Women as Leaders in the Modern Community.

While there is some accompanying text to guide visitors through the exhibit, for the most part the show’s artifacts accurately tell the story of women and their presence at Emory.
With such an array of material, picking one story or one item to wholly represent or sum up the exhibit isn’t possible.

Each aspect is as poignant and informative as the next, starting with Emory’s first “unofficial” coed, Mamie Haygood, daughter of then-Emory President Atticus Haygood. Mamie began her Emory career in 1883 as a 16-year-old freshman who eventually transferred to Wesleyan College in Macon to complete her degree in 1888. She married her Emory classmate Julius Harris Ardis, moved to California and will forever be remembered in the early alumni chronicles as a “non-graduate.”

There are the joyful photos of Eva Cunningham McGhee, Emory’s first woman to receive a Ph.D. in 1949; McGhee was also the first person to receive a biochemistry doctorate and the first war veteran to receive a doctorate, the exhibit reads.

Greeting visitors as they enter the gallery is an enlarged copy of the April 1953 cover of the Emory Alumnus (precursor to Emory Magazine) with nursing students Pat Rodgers, Anne Holbrook and Nancy Gault strolling across the Quad, with the title “Emory Goes Coed.”

Prominently displayed is the familiar purple logo of the Emory Women’s Center on a black
t-shirt, complementing information about the development of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women and its accomplishments on campus.

The exhibit is free and is open during regular library hours. After its run, Watkins said parts of the show will be archived on the Schatten Gallery’s website at http://web.library.emory.edu/libraries/schatten/.

“I think there will always be a lot of interest in this exhibition,” she said.

A special program on the exhibit (hosted by the library and the Women’s Center) will be held on Thursday, May 1, at 6 p.m. in the library’s Jones Room. Various speakers representing alumnae, faculty and staff will share personal reflections about their experiences at Emory and their thoughts on the exhibit.

For more information, contact Donna Bradley at 404-727-7620 or libdeb@emory.edu.