WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A WOMAN AT A COLLEGE FOR MEN
The second time Dean of Admissions Anita Garland came to Hampden-Sydney, she was interviewing for a position in that department and meeting people from around campus. As she and then-president Josiah Bunting were walking along Via Sacra, he said to her, “You know, this place … this place … it just makes you want to … I don’t know, it just makes you want to … have a lot of children.” Despite being taken aback by this unusual and very unexpected comment, Dean Garland soon began working at the place that would define her career.
That was 1980. Sixteen years later, she would become Hampden-Sydney College’s first female dean. Nearly 18 years after that, she, along with retired Biology Professor Dr. Anne Lund and Director of Grants and Special Projects Eunice Carwile ’92, shared her story at the opening reception for the Atkinson Museum exhibit “First Ladies: Hampden-Sydney’s Mothers, Matrons & Favorites.”
As the name of the exhibit suggests, it was not just a celebration of the wives of the College Presidents, but also a celebration of pioneering and revered campus women. The exhibit looked at how the image of women in the Kaleidoscope changed over the course of time and how the women-run boarding houses shaped campus life. In addition to honoring the first women students and faculty, the exhibit also honored women such as Delia Brock, the college nurse who cared tirelessly for sick students during the Spanish Influenza outbreak of 1917-18; Erlene Bowman, who learned the names of nearly every student from her post as the bookstore cashier; and Gerry Pettus, a steadfast supporter of all students, particularly those on the basketball court.
At the museum, Dean Garland recalled, “While I was the first woman recruiter in Admissions, I was not the first female administrative staff person at the College. In reviewing the Catalogue from 1980, among the 43 administrative staff members, there were six women [including] two women of the four members of the Library Staff—E.A. Mayo and Sandy Heinemann (community members still living on campus)—as well as the acting director of counseling and career planning, the bookstore manager, and Mrs. Virginia Redd, director of records and research. In 1980, almost all of the 43 assistants and secretaries were women. There was also an active group of female spouses—I believe they called themselves “The Hill Club”—who helped with decorating and entertaining for major events on campus. The rarer women in 1980, though, were members of the faculty—with Dr. Anne Lund and Dr. Mary Saunders holding two positions of 61 members of the teaching faculty.”
Though she has gone on to prove herself as a champion of Hampden-Sydney and its (mostly) all-male student body, Dean Garland’s arrival was not received entirely with eagerness. She said, “I remember one letter in particular from an alumnus who wrote, ‘Anita is an unusual name for a young man, for I cannot imagine that my alma mater would hire a woman in Admissions’.”
However, hire a woman they did and her success and devotion are unquestionable.
Though Anita Garland has recruited thousands of young men to Hampden-Sydney, she did not recruit Eunice Carwile ’92. (However, Dean Garland did recruit Mrs. Carwile’s son Jon Carwile ’98, who has the distinction of being the only alumnus son of an alumna). When Carwile began working at the College in 1985, she also began taking classes to complete the bachelor’s degree she had begun at Longwood College in 1969.
Though Hampden-Sydney is a college for men, there have been some women students and even nine women graduates. Female employees and daughters of faculty and staff have been allowed to enroll ever since, according to On This Hill: A Narrative History of Hampden-Sydney College 1774-1994, Professor John Henneman allowed a group of “six or eight young ladies of the Hill” to enroll in his literature class in 1891. (Since this is an article of “firsts,” we should note that Mrs. Kim Stahl Harris ’77 was the first female graduate of Hampden-Sydney.)
Mrs. Carwile remarked at the exhibit’s reception that she is regularly asked “How was it being in a class full of boys?” She answered: “The classroom wasn’t always full of boys. There are women professors here. But the short answer is, it was OK, sort of. There were a few nasty moments. One in particular: Professor of English Larry Martin still recalls the day a student took issue with me over a passage in Chaucer’s Troilus and Cresyda. It had something to do with love, marriage, and relationships. The student became enraged, reached a fever pitch in his argument, threw his text against the blackboard, and left the room. After a pause, Professor Martin said, ‘Well, that was interesting,’ and continued the discussion. Overall, though, I was treated with courtesy and respect—to most students, I suppose I was like a slightly strange aunt.”
She continued by saying it was because of the College’s incredible faculty that she “stuck with it.” The encouragement from professors such as Larry Martin, George Bagby, Hassell Simpson, Jorge Silvera, and even John Brinkley ’59 kept her spirits afloat when she felt like sinking under the waves of schoolwork, full-time employment, and family responsibilities. Carwile also found strength from Dr. Saunders, herself the first female tenure-track faculty member at Hampden-Sydney.
As the First Ladies exhibit shows us, women have played an important role at Hampden-Sydney since its founding. Carwile reminded the audience of this important fact. She said, “Years ago, a woman closely associated with the College proclaimed that our students were not exposed to enough ‘professional’ women here. After all these years, I have a chance to respond to that statement: ‘Are you kidding?’ Many of the faculty and staff here are women—professionals, dedicated scholars, and excellent teachers—who serve as exemplars for us all. We should celebrate them more often. The question is ‘Why don’t we?’ For the same reason we don’t celebrate air and water more often: vital to our very existence, air and water give us breath and life. But they are always here, always sustaining, always supporting, always life-giving. They are always here, without our asking.”
One of those first “professionals” in the classroom was Dr. Lund. She arrived in the spring of 1975, coming to the rescue of the Biology Department mid-year to teach the lab sections for microbiology. She was the only female faculty member until Dr. Saunders arrived the next year. For many years, she was the only female teaching in the natural sciences, which, she says, was a department that gave her instant credibility.
“Students in the sciences were always wonderfully respectful; maybe I had a charmed life as a woman at H-SC because of being a scientist. My more specialized knowledge in the sciences was always respected and expected, and I often thought that the women faculty members outside the sciences might have not benefited from their specialized knowledge in the same way. Students feel they ‘know’ history, literature, etc., because the vocabulary is familiar. In the sciences, the specialized courses are not very familiar to the entering students.”
In addition to having the respect of her students, she had the support of her colleagues across the campus, particularly Dr. James Simms, Dr. Gerald Carney, Dr. Paul Mueller, Dr. Gerald Bryce, and retired professors Owen Norment and Robert Rogers. She added, “I am humbled by the fact that I shared the teaching award with Professor Lee Cohen.”
Among her memories as a “first lady” of Hampden-Sydney, Dr. Lund said, “I never liked the bumper sticker ‘H-SC: Where Men Are Men and Women Are Guests’ and I told the whole faculty that once in our regular faculty meeting. President Sam Wilson had the bumper sticker removed from the bookstore shortly after that, but it came back later. I still don’t like it—makes the men seem like ‘knuckle draggers’.”
Certainly, the overwhelmingly male presence at Hampden-Sydney contributed to the uniqueness of these experiences on the faculty, on the staff, and in the classroom. However, much of what these three women love about the College is loved in spite of the Hampden-Sydney’s all-male (or, at least, mostly-male) student body. These women appreciate the unique student body, but they cherish the academic rigor, the welcoming community, the beautiful landscape, and the everlasting friendships.
As Dean Garland thought back to her second visit to Hampden-Sydney College and President Bunting’s peculiar comment about having children, she said, “I realize that Si Bunting was correct. This place does make you want to have a lot of children. As I count now, I have just over 10,000, and almost all are boys.”