'This Action is Inevitable'

—Emory President Goodrich C. White, 1953

Graduated Change: (Clockwise from top left) Graduating nurses, 1907; Coretta Scott King embraces her daughter, Bernice King, at her graduation from Emory Law; Commencement procession; Eléonore Raoul; a graduate in the Class of 1920; a 1966 graduate; student Hilda Keng 50T.
University Archives

When Eléonore Raoul 1920L arrived to enroll In Emory's newly opened Lamar School of Law in 1917, she was not only challenging convention, she was quietly changing history.

A suffragist and community organizer from a prominent Atlanta family, twenty-nine-year-old Raoul had studied at the University of Chicago, chaired the Fulton and DeKalb Counties’ chapter of the Equal Suffrage Party of Georgia, and served as a field organizer in New York and West Virginia, venturing up and down rutted mountain roads to urge the wives of coal miners to demand the right to vote.

A few years earlier, the former debutante had even served as grand marshal of Georgia’s first suffrage parade, riding a white horse down Peachtree Street to lead hundreds of women in support of the nineteenth amendment—thought to be the first event of its kind in the American South. Raoul later said she didn’t consider herself a courageous social reformer so much as a pragmatist who yearned “to do something that seemed worthwhile.” As she put it, “It was the right thing to do, and so I did it.”

Claire E. Sterk (bottom), the university's first woman president, welcomed guests at the opening event.

Becky Stein

In later interviews, Raoul also recalled the day that she walked from her mother’s home on Lullwater Road to Emory’s fledgling law school—today’s Carlos Hall—to talk with Emory trustee and acting School of Law Dean William Danner Thomson about the possibility of admission.

Historically, Emory was in the business of educating young men, and Chancellor Bishop Warren Candler had made no secret of the fact that he vigorously opposed coeducation. As it happened, her inquiry coincided with Candler’s absence from campus. A friend called to tell her, “The bishop is away. Get out to Emory quickly and pay your fees,” she recalled in a 1977 Emory Wheel interview.

The law school had opened its doors a year earlier, and in 1917, Raoul was permitted to join a modest entering class of three students, a number starkly depleted by World War I enlistments. She graduated in 1920—the same year that Congress ratified the nineteenth amendment granting women the right to vote. Yet the year after she applied for admission, the Board of Trustees made an official statement prohibiting women from entering the schools of theology, law, and medicine.

“Young men and women working together in a dissecting room or hearing lectures together on anatomy and physiology would, in my judgment, create a most indelicate and injurious situation,” Candler said. “And women lawyers would not promote justice in the courts.”

Sheer persistence

One hundred years after Raoul was admitted to Emory Law, the university celebrates the lives of the women at Emory who have trailblazed, made an impact, and broken barriers for the past hundred years. A special exhibit in the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library was a visual testament to decades of hurdles and progress fueled by advocacy, activism, and sheer persistence.

“It becomes complicated when you talk about the first woman to do anything at Emory,” says University Archivist John Bence, who curated the exhibit. “But this year’s celebration allows us to reflect fully on Emory’s relationship with female students.”

Early on, women simply found a way to study here, whether their presence was officially condoned or not. Consider Mary “Mamie” Haygood Ardis, the first woman known to have taken classes at Emory’s original campus in Oxford, Georgia. Records show the daughter of former Emory College President Atticus Haygood (1875–1884) was permitted to take classes alongside her male peers for three years, from 1884 to 1887, but then had to transfer to Wesleyan, an all-women’s college in Macon, for her final year.

We've Come a Long Way: A retrospective exhibit earlier this year in the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library marked a milestone in Emory history.

Ann Borden

Women who found a way

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, it wasn’t uncommon to find women permitted to study at Emory under special circumstances. Teachers seeking professional development were allowed to enroll during the summer quarter, and many earned degrees that way. In 1922, Wesley Memorial Hospital, which had trained area nurses since 1905, moved to the Emory campus, bringing a new wave of female students. In 1944, the School of Nursing became official.

Still, throughout the early half of the century, the idea of coeducation at Emory College was met with mixed feelings by administrators and trustees. In the end, economics may have swayed the decision. Faced with declining enrollment during the Korean War, rising tuition costs, and a growing outcry for coeducation, in 1953, Emory President Goodrich White finally told the Board of Trustees, “I am convinced that this action is inevitable, and that the present is a good time to take the initial steps.” By then, some two hundred bachelor’s degrees had been awarded to women through Emory College, as well as many advanced degrees from the graduate, law, medical, and theology schools.

Pushing for progress

It was one thing to educate female students, but hiring women as educators was another hurdle.

One of the earliest recorded hires was in 1929, when Evangeline Papageorge was employed as the first full-time female faculty member in the School of Medicine, where she taught biochemistry and clinical chemistry for twenty-seven years, then served as its first dean of students for nineteen years.

“It wasn’t just that Emory had problems integrating women, it was a struggle being seen across higher education,” says Martha Albertson Fineman, Robert W. Woodruff Professor of Law and founding director of the Feminism and Legal Theory Project.

In 1968, Lore Metzger would become the first woman hired as a full professor in Emory College, where she taught English and comparative literature. Three years later, Delores Aldridge would become the first African American scholar to hold a tenure-track position in Emory College, going on to become the founding director of what is now the Department of African American Studies. Metzger was also among four faculty members who called an open meeting of women interested in addressing issues of equity and justice for women at Emory. That gathering would lead to the formation of the Emory Women’s Caucus, a pivotal force for campus change. Carole Hahn, Charles Howard Candler Professor of Educational Studies Emerita, who came to Emory in 1973, recalls that first open meeting: “We had no idea who would come,” she says. “They wound up filling the room—women from Candler School of Theology, the School of Medicine, the college, from all over.”

Breaking the final barrier

The work of the Emory Women’s Caucus would lead to new practices in the hiring and treatment of faculty, tenure and promotion, sexual harassment protection, and the eventual creation of a President’s Commission on the Status of Women.

As of fall 2016, women constituted 42.4 percent of regular full-time faculty and more than half of the student body. Not only can Emory students take classes dedicated to women’s, gender, and sexuality studies, the campus community finds an array of support and resources in the Emory Center for Women, now marking its twenty-fifth anniversary.

Last summer, the university’s administrative glass ceiling was shattered when the Board of Trustees appointed acclaimed public health researcher Claire E. Sterk as Emory’s twentieth president.

Fineman notes that when she arrived on campus in 2004, “one of the reasons I was brought here was specifically because of my work in feminist and legal theory.” And about half of today’s Emory Law scholars are women. Fineman imagines that Eléonore Raoul would approve.

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