A Love Story
Ingrid Shafer, Ph.D.
First published as "USAO--The Impossible Dream: A Love Story." Chickasha Oklahoma 1891-1992: Our First Hundred Years. Chickasha: Centennial Committee, 1992. 91-115.While institutions may appear to consist of real estate, ultimately they are made up of people. They are material projections of the major and minor visions of countless individuals. They are shifting traces of the present being fixed into past and unfolding toward the future, all within the context of a given community, such as Boston or New York or Chicago or Chickasha. A college has the added distinction of being a depository of cumulative knowledge, connected to a far flung network of universities via faculty and students coming from and going to distant places. Hence every college is somehow linked to an intangible, global community of scholars and ideas which has its roots in the very dawn of civilization and will last until the end of time. I'll try to capture a sense of the people who helped engender the continuing process known at various times as II&C-OCW-OCLA-USAO by letting them share their personal recollections, which are also filaments in the school's ongoing story braid. This is not one person's tale told in a single voice; neither is it a confused babel of sounds; it's a polyphonous fugue woven out of the intertwining, overlapping, sometimes cacophonous stories of a few representative individuals who at various times during the past eighty years have known our school well, loved it deeply, and contributed to its distinctive nature.
Let's stop for a moment and imagine what Chickasha was like back in the first decade of the twentieth century. Listen to the voice of Maxie Woodring (known as Mona by family and friends), Professor of Foreign Languages and Director of OCW's high school program from 1911-1923. Woodring was little more than a child in 1906 when she first came to our town from Nashville to teach high school Latin. In addition to OCW and Columbia University records, I am basing Woodring's story on an interview taped many years later, after she had retired from a distinguished career at Columbia, and a telephone conversation with her niece Beverly Barnes from Brentwood, Tennessee (thanks to Louise Waldorf!). It's important to remember that in the late 19th and early 20th centuries youngsters rarely attended school beyond fourteen or sixteen, and that high school teachers often were not much older than their pupils. Woodring remembers that she was of "a very adventurous nature" when she finished college--at the advanced age of "not quite seventeen." Hence she applied for teaching positions in "pioneering, interesting" places far away from home. She was accepted in Chickasha because the Chairman of the Board of Education, a Reverend Rippey (listed on a plaque in Epworth Methodist Church as W.R., in an old record as W.M.P., and in mission directory as T.L. Rippey), had a son at Vanderbilt divinity school in Nashville. The younger Rippey generally ate Sunday dinner at Mona's grandfather's home, and gave her a glowing recommendation. She laughed, "This was in the summer and I would be seventeen in January." Her father wasn't exactly thrilled at having his little girl "go out and teach among the Indians." So he traveled all the way to Indian Territory to see for himself. He met the local superintendent of schools and "discovered that Chickasha was a very charming pioneer village made up of lovely people and that there was no trouble about teaching Indians, that the Indians were the aristocrats of Indian Territory."
The following September (she doesn't elaborate on the year but according to her biographical data sheet at Teachers College, Columbia University, the year was 1906) Mona "packed her portmanteau" and took the train to Oklahoma City via Memphis. She had to change trains in Oklahoma City. While she was waiting for the connection, a couple of Indians came in and joined her. The young Nashville girl and her new friends got on a "dinky little train" together. When she arrived at her destination, night had fallen. "Father Rippey," recognizable by the pre-arranged rose bud in his lapel, picked her up in a buggy. The white horse pulled the carriage to the home of one of his church members who had offered to let her board. "Incidentally," she notes, "these people were the first cousins of William Jennings Bryan, the famous politician." Since she had studied piano and knew how to play the pipe organ "a little," she became the organist at the First Methodist Church. Later she met an attorney who was interested in starting a study club. "They wanted to read Latin and Greek, so we met once or twice a month and had a club for classical readings, and I met some very unusual men at that time." Turn-of-the-century teenagers certainly knew how to have fun!
"Chickasha was really just a pioneer village," she continues. "The sewer line was being laid and the supervisor of the sewer line was a woman who rode on a big bay horse." There were wooden sidewalks on the main street and the fledgling teacher met her first class in the belfry of the Elementary School. She read Caesar with three students, one of whom was "a very fine young woman named Lela Copeland." Next the class moved to the "new Carnegie Library," where she taught on the stage for the rest of the year and recalls some excellent students, such as Dick Wooten and his sister Becky, along with Reece Smith, future President of the First National Bank. Long before she could have known of her pupil's banking aspirations, Mona had opened an account at the bank with Mr. John Wilson when she first came to Chickasha. According to First National's Executive Vice President Frances Doak, Woodring would become the bank's single longest account holder from that initial association until her death, seventy-five years later. Some things don't change--such as student loans. In her taped interview, Woodring gratefully remembers that throughout her career the bank backed her financially, adding that she would never have been able to continue her education if it had not been for the First National Bank of Chickasha, Oklahoma. "So I have kept an account with them and still do all my slight business with them and find them one of my finest group of friends." Eventually Mona earned a Ph.D. at Columbia, where she remained on the faculty until her retirement in 1953.
After a year of Indian Territory adventure, Miss Woodring returned to Nashville to teach fourth grade and high school English at George Peabody College's Demonstration School. She would come back to Chickasha in 1911 to join the small faculty at a tiny struggling college for women. The school would never be the same again.
In 1917, only ten years after Oklahoma was admitted to statehood and six years after Mona Woodring had joined the OCW faculty, Wanda Waterman wrote a history of OCW for the very first issue of the college yearbook, the Argus. She begins her account with the words: "Of all the educational institutions of this state, the history of the Oklahoma College for Women is, beyond a doubt, the most unusual." Seventy five years later I can only say that this pen-wielding sophomore was not merely an astute recorder of the recent past--at the time OCW was a spunky little eight year old--but something of a prophetess. USAO, née OCLA, née OCW is more than unusual, it's preposterous: an impossible dream that insisted on being born and refuses to die! And it's been that way from the moment of conception.
How did it all start? In 1908, Senator W. P. Stewart of Hugo introduced a bill in the senate to establish a school with the no-nonsense name, "Oklahoma Industrial Institute and College for Girls" and a charge of providing "a school for the high literary and industrial education of the white girls of this great and progressive State" (since native Americans were admitted from the very beginning it seems that the term "white" was to be interpreted as "non-black"). This school would offer "not only a literary education on par with a University course--but also such an industrial education as will make them useful economical, scientific queens of our American homes." The bill made it through the senate but was almost defeated in the house. After narrow passage, Oklahoma's first governor, Charles Haskell signed it on May 16, 1908. The college was the fifth tax supported state institution for women established in the United States. Alas, while legislators had appropriated $100,000 for an administration building to be erected somewhere in the state, they had conveniently neglected to provide funds to run the new school.
Why a women's college at all? Dr. Dan Hobbs, long-time Oklahoma State Regent and for a while Interim Chancellor, suggests that the whole notion of having a women's college came from the Victorian idea of viewing women as the saviors of the society. "Here these men were out here slaving in this sinful business world, in the muck and grime, out in nature, and the women, of course, were supposed to be the yeast that would transform those men who were raw and sinful and dirty and so forth, into the kind of society in which we could raise our children." He points to the women's colleges in the south as particularly apt paradigms, and indeed several influential members of Oklahoma's first legislature were from the South.
The Second Legislature picked Chickasha for the proposed school's location. The governor appointed a Board of Regents and promised that he would call a special session of the legislature to appropriate operation funds. The Chickasha Chamber of Commerce agreed to advance expenses until that time.
By late summer of 1909, a brand new president, instructors, and potential students were arriving in town. Students had to be "all white female citizens of Oklahoma between the ages of twelve and thirty-five." They also had to "pass satisfactory examinations in reading, arithmetic, geography, English grammar, and United States history" and be "known to possess a good moral character . . .."
The timing was perfect for the governor's announcement that there would be no special session, and hence no money. Instead of packing up and leaving, President J. B. Abernethy and his faculty of seven or eight decided to start classes on September 7, 1909 anyway. Actually, the school didn't open until a week later, after a mass meeting in Chickasha and a six day fund raising canvass led by an intrepid young history teacher, Miss Anne Wade O'Neill, whose demure looks and delicate Grecian profile in the 1917 yearbook are apparently rather deceiving. Thus, the Oklahoma Industrial Institute and College for Girls (II&C) became the first state college originally operated on a private subscription basis. It was not until January 1910 that a special session of the legislature appropriated funds to run the school until June.
II&C started classes in the Chickasha High School basement with 119 girls, most of whom came from the local community. Since there was no dormitory, school administrators rented several houses to provide lodging for out-of-town students, at a cost of $15 per month, which included "room, meals, fuel, lights, cold and hot baths" and a matron/teacher in charge of each home. According to the college bulletin, "Discipline will be gentle but firm; uniform and impartially enforced." With written permission, a student was allowed to go shopping once a week accompanied by the ubiquitous chaperon. They had to "wear the uniform at all times, in school, on the street, when shopping, going to church and at school exercises, except when they appear in public upon the stage, at which time they may wear a simple and inexpensive costume of white." Girls were expected to remain in their dormitory or cottage room every night during the school year unless they had been signed out by a guardian.
President Abernethy was unable to "harmonize the teaching forces" who were "young and inexperienced." It seems a few instructors even dared resign when salaries had not been determined after three months. In its second year of operation, 1910-1911, classes were held in the Baptist church and Bohart flats, and three houses in the Abercrombie block served as dormitories. One hundred thirty girls and young women had enrolled, and the faculty now numbered nineteen, plus two student assistants. Contemporary readers who inevitably think of buildings when they hear the term school need to keep in mind that the origin of USAO parallels the establishment of medieval European universities who began as groups of people--masters and students determined to learn together, and do so in private homes, rented halls, and even public squares and roads. Buildings and fixed locales came much later.
Despite its name and supposed practical-vocational orientation, examination of early catalogues shows that almost from its very beginnings OCW had a sense of mission which set it apart from the regional colleges and teacher training institutions. As early as 1911, the college prospectus promised a curriculum to prepare the "Cultured Woman." Dan Hobbs notes that the University of Oklahoma starts off as a bearer of culture in the same way the Oklahoma College for Women did. On the other hand, "the Agri College in Stillwater was an Institution for the People, of the People and by the People. A People's University, interested in rural things and in Oklahoma things." The University of Oklahoma sees itself as a National Institution for ideas more than people, and an institution for research rather than teaching. According to Hobbs, two institutions in Oklahoma exemplified the notion that they ought to be bearers and promulgators of culture: the University of Oklahoma and the University at Chickasha.
The infant college was tossed about by the whims of politicians. In 1910, Legislators abolished the special Board of Regents and placed the school under the State Board of Education. The following year, James Alexander Moore from Alabama succeeded President Abernethy. A period of political and financial chaos followed. Let's listen to the memories of Mona Woodring again: President Moore appointed a committee which included Mona Woodring and Edna Maddox to write a proper catalogue. For a couple of months committee members worked assiduously, doing their best to abide by the standards of the higher education accreditation agencies. They outlined requirements for the four year Bachelor of Arts Degree and completed their work in late spring.
Just about then, Mona Woodring recalls, OCW was once again embroiled in a "little political turmoil." President Moore had been asked to resign. He was determined to stay, and his newly appointed replacement, Dr. Jonas Cook of Chickasha, "had to erect a tent on the corner of the Campus. We had only this one building and a circular walkway with about fifty little saplings around it. He entered the tent as his office. President Moore was seen in his office with a shotgun across his desk in order to protect his job." As soon as Superintendent R. H. Wilson heard of these developments, he made himself president of OCW. Hence, in a parody of fifteenth century European papal politics, OCW had its own little schism--three simultaneous presidents for a few days or weeks. There is no indication that these political fireworks interfered with teaching, though they surely must have made for plenty of giggling gossip.
All of this commotion affected the catalogue's fate. When members of the committee turned the manuscript over to Moore, the beleaguered President was so chagrined that he told them he was planning to destroy the catalogue. What now? They developed a plan: While Moore was in chapel to hold morning exercises, "Miss Stevens went into his office and picked the catalog material off his desk." That night, at the suggestion of fellow conspirators, Superintendent Wilson and Chickasha High School Principal Edgar Cowan (who was also Miss Mona's landlord), committee members crept stealthily to the high school office where school secretaries helped them type a copy of their catalogue. They returned to their homes in the late morning. As soon as the office was unlocked, another conspirator returned the borrowed manuscript to the President's desk whence it disappeared, never to be seen again. Moore's attempt at sabotage failed. Based on the nocturnal labor, the catalog was printed in Oklahoma City.
During President Moore's brief tenure, the $100,000 Administration Building was completed. Supposedly, the discerning president complained that it had "a deplorable lack of taste in its mural and other decorations . . . and three inconsistent styles of plaster ornamentation in the auditorium" (at least he did not have to suffer from those aesthetic infractions for very long). A three story structure of pressed brick and stone, the building housed not only classrooms but assembly hall, dining room, kitchens, and an excavated gymnasium. According to Miss Waterman's 1917 history, "the third floor was used as a dormitory with the matron occupying the little room south of the library."
Miss Woodring fondly recalls an eccentric colleague, Anne Wade O'Neill "because she was such an unusual character . . . a very brilliant woman, a very aristocratic woman" who insisted on teaching with a hat on, and her long gloves up to her elbows, which amused the girls to no end." Alas, students had to bear their mirth in silence because the teacher permitted no unseemly hilarity to taint her historic lectures.
Several years earlier, the same Miss Anne Wade O'Neill had persistently appeared before the state legislature and local citizens groups to argue for a girls preparatory school at Chickasha. When the legislature neglected to appropriate operating funds she had led the six-day fund raising expedition through Chickasha. Obviously, the young lady was determined to bring class to this community.
Miss Woodring describes the early campus: a long series of steps which led to the entrance of the administration building. Frequently, they had faculty and staff meetings on those steps "for commencement, at Easter, and at other festive occasions." She remembers a circular walk surrounded by tiny saplings, possibly little poplars, "which the wind had a wonderful time whipping around." Then there was a stable left of the building. "In that stable resided a very famous member of our staff, the old white horse, who stood with his head out the window all the time when he was not in action. His master was a very fine Mr. Grimsley, who took care of the saplings and the white horse and maintenance of the building." Obviously, the area behind Davis Hall known as Grimsley Gardens is named in the man's honor. According to Woodring, he did chores for faculty and students. She adds that they also had another person who was a member of the staff pro tem, "and that was the hot tamale man who came out to the campus every day with his little cart and on his little cart were all these hot tamales and chili with which the girls, who I presume did not get particularly big meals in the dining room, supplemented their menu. He was quite a character and all the girls knew him as Old Greasy Joe." Some things never change!
The name "Industrial School and Institute" had connotations of prison or reform school. In 1912 the governing authorities began to call the school "Oklahoma College for Women." They did so after a probate judge had sentenced an "incorrigible" female to Chickasha, and a couple of people had inquired what steps they needed to take to commit lawbreakers to the institution. Thanks to President G. W. Austin's efforts, the new name became official in 1916. The first class of five graduated from the preparatory branch of the school in 1912, and the first three scholarships were given by the Oklahoma Federation of Women's Clubs, San Souci, and the United Daughters of the Confederacy. With what seems somewhat excessive optimism, a newspaper headline promised: "A thousand girls would work their way through school."
The campus of OCW was developing on a twenty acre tract which cattleman James B. Sparks had donated for the purpose in memory of his daughter Nellie. She had died while attending a girl's school in Missouri, and he was trying to help provide closer-to-home education for other young women. She was part Chickasaw and the land came from her tribal inheritance. It was located on a hill, quite a distance from downtown Chickasha. Mona Woodring remembers that there was a little streetcar that ran from town to this new institution out on the hill, "of which the citizens of Chickasha were very proud. Of course," she chuckles, "you couldn't find the hill, but it was there I am sure, and the streetcar came rattling out three or four times a day to see that we had transportation." When the weather was good she enjoyed the walk from the edge of town to the campus across the prairie. At the time she lived with the Edgar Cowans. "The walks in the spring were delightful because the prairie was covered with wild flowers and beautiful grasses." Less fondly, she recalls the blowing dust and burning sun later in the season. Twenty years later, in the 1933 Argus, the Oklahoma College for Women no longer stands alone in the prairie. In her piece "OCW Has a Birthday," Doris Comby reflects on the previous twenty-five years: "From a barren, wind swept prairie has sprung a tree shaded campus. Through beautiful gates, the gift of a graduating class, one follows a curving drive along which are grouped twelve modern buildings, each one completely equipped to fulfill its purpose."
Around April 1912 the State Board of Education once again appointed Jonas Cook of Chickasha acting president of the college. Moore was gone, and Cook no longer needed to reign from a tent in fear of his life. He stayed until July, when J. B. Eskridge, a Texan with a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, took office, in time to start the college's fourth year, 1912-1913. He was inaugurated with a formal banquet served on tablecloths, napkins, fine china, and silver on loan from the women of Chickasha (who had also been called upon when the college had entertained the State legislators the previous year). That year the entire administration building had to be used for class rooms and all the students boarded in town. The faculty numbered seventeen. The need for a dormitory was obvious. The legislature appropriated $50,000 for Nellie Sparks Hall, which opened the following year, and had to be expanded with a $100,000 addition in 1917. The first year Nellie Sparks housed 76 students, and following the addition, 210. The fifth year of the college, 1913-1914, the faculty increased to nineteen, with an enrollment of around two hundred. Political upheavals continued.
Miss Woodring recalls Dr. Eskridge's brief administration, noting that he was chosen to help get the college on the list of the Southern Accreditation agency. "He was a very scholarly gentleman; he had his Doctor's degree in Greek and Latin. He was a very, very intelligent man but he had no understanding of the West. He didn't understand the people of Chickasha and their wonderful way of living in freedom." Consequently, he did not last very long "and was soon followed by a very wonderful president, George W. Austin, whom we all admired and loved very much." Rex Harlow, in his 1927 biography of Austin, presents a slightly different version of events. According to Harlow, Eskridge was unexpectedly removed and Austin elected during a board meeting in Oklahoma City in July, 1914. When Austin arrived in Chickasha, Superintendent Wilson's brother warned him that most citizens were outraged at what they considered an injustice done to his predecessor. After transporting the new president's baggage from the train station, the drayman supposedly said: "I've hauled three presidents out here, and I've hauled 'em back. When you need me, call my number and I'll be glad to haul you back." He was wrong. President Austin would remain until his sudden death thirteen years later, and Mrs. Austin would hold various positions at OCW, including Counselor and Student Union Hostess until she died. Gracious, bespectacled, white-haired, and grandmotherly, she continues to smile from her in memoriam photograph in the 1962 Argus.
Woodring describes Austin as a cross between Moore and Eskridge, a scholar in his own way, a gentleman, and an aristocrat (in fact, G.W. was the seventh child of a genial if poor Mississippi country preacher). He loved people and knew how to meet them. He also understood Oklahoma politics. "He was even willing to have his picture painted and hung in the hall by the Commission." He loved publicity, and he had few, if any, enemies. "He also had a keen sense of humor and we all enjoyed his funny little sayings which always came out in a chuckle."
There is no question that 1914 was a crucial year for OCW, one of those rare moments when the right people find themselves in close conjunction in the right place. President Austin would become the school's creator, defender, and guiding spirit. When he arrived on campus, Austin discovered an empty new dormitory, Nellie Sparks Hall, with assorted furniture piled high in a couple of rooms. So he and his wife moved themselves and their two children into four dormitory rooms and prepared to become foster parents to whoever might arrive in fall. Alas, administrative records were a mess, and not a single student had been scheduled for housing thus far.
Austin determined to do something about the pervasive public opinion "that the college would never amount to anything." He wrote personal letters to school superintendents all over the state and high school graduates in every major town. His strategy worked. That fall 243 (221 according to another source) students enrolled, and 76 moved into the dormitory. Thirty-seven counties were represented: henceforth OCW would draw its enrollment from the entire state.
Devoutly religious, and a 32nd degree Mason, Austin joined the First Baptist Church, the Chickasha Masonic Lodge, the Lions Club, and the Chamber of Commerce. He was soon asked to teach the Men's Bible Class. In every way, he worked on gaining the local citizens' respect. He made it known that he intended to stay a quarter century, and immediately outlined his 25-year plan for the college. Death intervened, but by then Austin had managed to put his stamp on OCW (and the Chickasha community) in the twelve years between 1914 and 1926.
Political pressure decreased, and Austin was relatively free to create a high quality college. He toured "girls' schools" throughout the South, taking careful notes along the way. He also had a spunky spouse who immediately and enthusiastically got involved in college business.
Woodring recalls, "I must mention Mrs. Austin because she was one of the greatest assets that Mr. Austin had. She was a mother to all of the girls and was a constant help in counseling the President." She describes the Austins as devout Baptists who "infused the institution with a religious atmosphere that was wholesome. In no sense did they try to force their religious views on any one but you felt at all times they were working on a high moral base." It seems that initially Mr. Austin refused to allow any plays on the campus. Members of the Drama Department were not exactly thrilled. "However, Frances Dinsmore Davis was able to remove the obstacle by producing a very interesting religious play and inviting Mr. Austin to come as a guest." Like Austin, Frances Davis joined the faculty in 1914. She was twenty-six, a native of Bentonville, Arkansas who had moved to Chickasha as a child and graduated from the local public schools. Before coming to OCW she had already taught dramatic art at North East Teacher's College at Tahlequah and Central State College at Edmond. Unlike Austin, she would live to retire from OCW forty-four years later.
The fall of 1914 marked the beginning of the "Great War" in Europe, and in general American sympathies were with the English and the French. Hence it is surprising that an earnest looking Mr. Rudolf Richter, a pianist from Berlin, Germany, was employed that year. The man's photograph ended up in the 1917 Argus, whence he continues to peer at us through a pince-nez, thin lips unsmiling beneath a crisp military moustache. Adding a German to the OCW faculty and keeping him there shows remarkable lack of prejudice. In a sense it parallels an all-German composer program Miss Davis would organize about thirty years later during World War II.
Over the subsequent decades OCW would come to be known all over the country as a distinguished dramatic center under Frances Dinsmore Davis' leadership. I wonder if that bright-eyed, dark haired firebrand of a young drama teacher and aspiring actress had any inkling back in 1915 that in a mere five years she would be Dean of Fine Arts, and that thirty-eight years later she'd produce her very last play before retirement in a splendid fine arts building named in her honor. Appropriate to this Shakespeare devotee, who pursued the Bard's ghost from England to Connecticut, Ohio, Oregon, and California, the final play of her directing career would be Midsummer-Night's Dream, staged with the elaborate costume, make-up, and symbolic properties of the original performance. In her long career Davis directed plays ranging from Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes through Shakespeare, Moliere, and Schiller, to Ibsen, Shaw, Synge, Wilder, and Coward. In addition her talent as impresario opened Chickasha up to the grand world of culture and entertainment through such personalities as May Peterson, Ruth Draper, Cornelia Otis Skinner, Dorothy Sands, Angna Enters, Eva Le Gallienne, and Margaret Webster.
But none of these thespian triumphs would have occurred without that very first play. At the time young Frances Davis had to figure out a way of paying for the production, since the president's permission for the performance had not extended to financial support. There was also the little matter of a bare stage. The unflappable Miss Davis ordered green satin curtains (according to another source the curtains were blue; could we settle on turquoise?) and decided to present The Piper by Josephine Peabody, because numerous children were part of the cast, and their parents, including the President whose little girl Davis had given an appealing role, would surely attend the play. The ruse worked. Box office receipts paid the bills, and theater had come to stay. Mary Thompson played the lead role that night. Eventually the delicate young Chickasaw-Choctaw would be known all over the country as Te Ata, celebrated interpreter of native American songs and legends and liturgies.
The school year 1915-1916 opened with an enrollment of 411, an increase of more than one third over the preceding year. The faculty was twenty-six. The new dormitory was already far to small, and two private houses just off the college campus were rented to lodge students. Because of the housing crunch, numerous applicants had to be turned away. The "girls'" mandatory uniform was changed to a blue serge suit, "though any navy blue suit will be acceptable." A white or blue waist was worn as were black velvet sailors, but only the skirts and waists were worn to school. (The emphasis on simple and similar clothing continued for many years. More than ten years later, the deans would still check student luggage, and if "her effects contained more than one party dress, it was returned to her home." This was an attempt to minimize economic inequality and encourage a democratic spirit.) At a special session of the legislature in 1916, Austin persuaded the governor to ask for an appropriation for the second unit of Nellie Sparks Hall and a name change to Oklahoma College for Women. Legislators turned down the request for additional funds, but approved the gratis name change, as I've noted above. On May 28, 1916, Austin conferred the first degree on Miss Ruby John Canning. A decade later, shortly before his death in 1926, he would confer 61 degrees.
Student government was organized in 1916-1917, as were the first social club and the Alumnae Association. It was the time for the first class memorial and the first Argus (which has been so helpful in collecting materials for this history). While the dormitory problem limited enrollment, the faculty increased to thirty-one.
During 1917-1918 departments of Biology, Education, and Violin were added, and OCW applied for admission to the North Central Association of Colleges. One Hundred and Twenty students had to be turned away because there was not enough dormitory space, and others were crowded into the gymnasium for the first six weeks of the term. After the U.S. entered the war, a young Indian woman is said to have given $100 as a donation, insisting that she could not justify buying a new winter coat at such a time.
During Austin's administration the school developed into a true liberal arts college. According the Austin biography, a separate Board of Regents (including some women) was once again established for OCW in 1919. That year $238,500 was appropriated to build Willard Hall dormitory, a Fine Arts Building, and the President's home (finally!). Four years earlier Austin had noted in a report that he, his wife, and their two children, "one boy twelve years old and a little girl nine years old" had to manage in two rooms on the third floor of Nellie Sparks Hall (in a typical gesture, the Austins had given up two of their initial four rooms because they were needed for students). The appropriation was carefully choreographed by the president. After his failure to secure funds in 1916, Austin had become an astute politician. When pianos and pianists had invaded every available location and it became obvious that OCW was in dire need of a Fine Arts building, Austin invited a legislative committee to visit the campus. According to college lore, he saw to it that all those pesky pianos plus a horde of eagerly practicing budding musicians were moved to even more conspicuous areas, such as the hallways. Thence they assaulted the eardrums of their illustrious guests through the luncheon and an afternoon conference. He got his money. Miss Davis turned the first shovel of dirt for her new building's foundation on Feb. 10, 1920, and eight months later the fine arts department moved into the south half of the building. After additional appropriations the complete structure was dedicated Oct. 20, 1921. According to the 1922 catalogue the value of building and equipment was $131,000.
The President was an eminently practical man; he is said to have watched the wheat and meat markets in order to buy supplies when prices were low. He also had a habit of wandering around the dorm inspecting girls' rooms. He obviously disapproved of unmade beds in mid morning or discarded clothing piled on the floor. He quietly expelled young women who were repeatedly caught visiting with young men without a chaperon.
Austin was so fascinated with the new invention called radio that he eventually saw to it that the campus had its very own radio station. Mona Woodring recalls an exciting event when the bell rang early in the morning, before chapel time, and all the students and faculty were called into the chapel. They couldn't imagine what terrible thing might have happened. Then Mr. Austin walked out onto the stage "and he said that he had something very wonderful to show us. He turned on his radio and we heard a lot of static and a few words from Youngstown, Ohio. He was just enthralled." They listened to the static and those words for about half an hour. Then they returned to their classes. From horses and buggies and the magic of coast to coast radio transmission to the first trip to the moon in about half a century!
In 1919 Mary Thompson, the previously mentioned lead in Frances Davis' first play, graduated from OCW. She had been born near the old Chickasaw capital at Tishomingo. Her father was a member of the last Council of the Chickasaw Nation. After primary and secondary education in tribal schools and an Indian boarding school, she spent four years at OCW where Frances Davis discovered and nurtured her dramatic talent. After graduation she taught in OCW's drama department for two years, and began offering programs of Indian mythology and legends across the country. Further training at Dean Davis' alma mater, Carnegie School of Technology, launched a brilliant career which included the role of Andromache in "The Trojan Woman" on Broadway. In years to come, known and loved as Te Ata, she would present her Indian programs in every state and Europe. She would even be invited to represent native American culture on a program presented during the visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to the United States. Mary Roberts Rinehart commented on one of Te Ata's performances, "The entire act was a triumph of sheer beauty, and knowing the American Indian as I do, I had never seen his poetry and his pathos so remarkably interpreted." Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote, "I cannot say too much about the pleasure it has always been for me and for my friends to see and hear Te Ata. She has a most delightful voice and interprets her people in a most charming manner."
OCW was accredited by North Central Association of Universities and Colleges in March, 1920. Institutional growth was reflected in continued construction. In 1922-23 the Home Economics and Science buildings were added, as was a new heating plant. Esther Phillips (Williams) wrote a college hymn. Accompanied on the piano by Marjorie Dwyer, Elise McClanahan sang the hymn for the first time in 1924. That same year Austin Hall was completed; until the death of the President, it was called Home Economics Hall. In 1927, the building's name was changed to honor the deceased President. In 1926 the preparatory school branch of OCW had been dropped, and the institution was now an established college. The college continued to enjoy a close relationship with the local community. The 1925 Argus is dedicated to the City of Chickasha, "With admiration for her enterprise / with gratitude for her opportunities / With confidence for her future / With sympathy for her high ideals / With thanks for her fostering spirit." At the death of President Austin in October 1926, a committee with Mrs. Austin as chairman, carried on the duties of the office until the selection of another able administrator, Dr. M. A. Nash (1927-43). During his administration Senior Hall was built as was the Physical Educational Building, equipped for swimming, indoor sports, rhythmic and corrective work. An infirmary was added, with offices of the college physician, diet kitchens and hospital facilities. In the late twenties, OCW was fulfilling a dream of President Austin by running a powerful broadcasting station (possible in those pre-FCC regulation days). According to an article in the 1927 Argus "K-O-C-W on the air!" OCW broadcasting power (and educational resources) reached across this nation: "When some farmer in Maine or some realtor in Florida seats himself in the evening before his radio, his ears are likely to be assailed by the above words; for K-O-C-W is on the air with an infinite variety of programs." Suddenly we recall the times when an evening's entertainment did not mean national television, but listening to the radio, times where stations, such as K.O.C.W. had a chance to compete, offering "nearly everything from 'setting up' exercises to 'bed time stories,'" broadcast by students and faculty of O. C. W., presenting "local talent, ranging from Cranville Fowler and Bernard Baird, who, accompanied by Mrs. Fowler, have become one of K. O. C. W.'s most popular features, to various ministers of the city; and visiting celebrities such as the 'Oklahoma JOY BOY' from K.Y.W."
Under President Nash the college continued to thrive. In 1929 OCW earned the recognition of the American Association of University Women and joined the Association of American Colleges and Universities. Dr. Nash obviously believed in "his" college: he conferred OCW degrees on both his wife (BA, English) and daughter (BA, History). He loved to plant trees all over the campus, and it was said that they would have grown for him if he had planted them in a desert.
Jessie Dearing Kinley was a typical student of that era in OCW history. She came in September 1931, from Calumet, "poor as Job's turkey," prodded by her "bright as a tack" older sister who was determined Jessie go to college. She remembers going to Dr. Ruth Wills Pray's office to borrow twenty-five dollars to get into the dorm. After explaining that the money had to be repaid, Dr. Pray took Jessie to the Dean's office. Mrs. Kinley laughs when she recalls the short English professor's "red Chow dog who went everywhere on campus with her."
Before borrowing the money to move to campus, Jessie had spent the first semester with an aunt and uncle in their home on Twelfth Street and Chickasha. She and her cousin decided to attend a concert. They had heard that the girls were supposed to dress formally. So they got out their floor length high school graduation gowns. Her cousin was in white taffeta, and Jessie wore a dress her mother had made, the color of coral, with a pale green velvet ribbon on the base of the square neckline. The dresses were beautiful, but the two young women were the only people there with formal garments. The embarrassment of that moment sixty years ago still stings.
In the manuscript of an address to Hypatia initiates Jessie remembers her college days:
And so . . . I came to O.C.W. I am glad I came to this school. Looking back I realize how much I took for granted. Its first President, Dr. Austin, had been gone less than five years. It was the year 1931. The college had barely finished that important period in its history during which it had developed into an accredited and recognized Liberal Arts college. Yet as I held that first College Catalog in my hands I had no feeling of newness. It is still hard for me to imagine that it was ever different to the way I found it that first year. Even that would be hard for you who are students now to imagine. When I came, there were no college buildings East of 17th Street except the Infirmary and what we called the Home Management House. Where all the beautiful buildings stand today there were very young trees. There was no Student Union Building. Only Senior Hall and North Hall where the Student Union now stands. The Fine Arts Building lacked the new addition. And the Administration Building was not the light, airy place it has become.Mrs. Kinley's reference to "Dr. Austin" reflects a long-standing custom. Austin's biographer notes that people throughout the state simply assumed that he was "a Doctor or he could not have successfully conducted the Oklahoma College for Women." Austin simply couldn't continuously correct people who introduced him in public. The whole business "became a sensitive point with him, and he sincerely regretted that he had not gone on with his school work in his young manhood until he earned the Ph.D. degree."
After saying some wonderful and astute things about McGuffey Readers and the purpose of education, Jessie Kinley continues her memories:
There was the year when I lived in North Hall when living conditions on the campus were so crowded one was lucky to find even a corner. It was the year I worked in the dining room at Willard. Every morning I rose, dressed, walked across the campus, got into my uniform, worked through the breakfast hour, changed back into my own clothes, walked back to North Hall and dressed for an eight o'clock class. At noon I hurried from the Ad Building back to Willard, fell into my uniform, waited tables through lunch, changed clothes again and went back to class. For some ridiculous reason that was the year I chose swimming as my Physical Education course, so three afternoons a week I changed into a charming one-piece gray cotton knit bathing suit--dunked myself for an hour - and changed back into my own clothes before making another change to the green uniform for dinner. Another change. Then back to the dorm. The lucky evenings I did not change again until bedtime. My clothes must have been made out of cast iron that year or they would have been worn out just getting into and out of them. I figure that in nine month's time I only changed clothes 10,000 times!All of that swimming and clothes changing would have been impossible and unnecessary if the governor's original response to OCW's request for a physical education building had remained firm: "girls should exercise out of doors and swim at Shanoan Springs." Once again OCW authorities refused to take no for an answer, and in 1928 the Physical Education building was opened, along with what was then called Anthony Hall (later the building came to be known as Senior Hall; eventually it would be incorporated into the present day Student Union). In those years the campus must have been a hive of construction activity: 1930 the Home Management House (YWCA cottage); 1931-1932 Mary Lyon Hall, formerly owned by the Grimsley family, was remodeled; 1933-1934 the riding stables; 1935 Canning Hall, Lawson Hall, Robertson Hall, and a nursery school; 1935-1936 the golf course; 1936-1937 the college cabin; 1939 Addams Hall; 1940-41 the alumnae gave land for an addition to the golf course.
The 1933 Argus piece "Alum-na-graphs" lists a wide spectrum of the accomplishments of OCW graduates. Among the most noteworthy careers were a '25 graduate artist who had exhibited in this country and abroad, a couple of directors of physical education in colleges, the member of the class of '20 who was national Y.W.C.A. secretary, several actresses, one "on the legitimate stage in New York City," another in Hollywood. Then there were "the well-known Indian princess of the class of '19," two poets--'27 and '30, respectively, who were contributing to "leading magazines and papers," plus numerous alumnae who had distinguished themselves in forensics or had "established music studios and are actively affiliated with music organizations throughout the country." A '25 graduate had opened a school of aesthetic dancing; a member of the class of '23 served as congressional secretary in Washington, D.C., while one of her classmates was a scientist "living in an igloo just sixty miles from the Arctic Circle. A '26 graduate worked as a county demonstration agent to the farming sections of Mississippi. A graduate of the class of '25 was the first woman to be elected province governor of Pi Kappa Delta. Members of the classes of '29 and '31 were doing research in bacteriology and chemistry, respectively, and several outstanding dietitians "received their training in O.C.W."
In those days long before the women's liberation movement had the name, OCW students saw themselves as pioneers invading previously all-male territories: "Positions that heretofore have been conceded as belonging exclusively to men are now being filled ably by graduates of Oklahoma College for Women." The writer of the article lists law, medicine, journalism, and accounting.
Throughout the period, under the brilliant leadership of Frances Davis, the performing arts continued to flourish. March 2-7, 1942, for example, OCW presented a series of spring concerts dedicated wholly to the German composers Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms and featuring pianist Ernest Hutcheson, President of the Juilliard School of Music, and former teacher at Berlin, Leipzig, Weimar, and New York. The concerts were sponsored by people in Chickasha and the State. Dean Davis introduced the concerts with the following message:
The School of Fine Arts takes pride announcing to a harassed and war conscious public a Spring Music Festival.In 1946, Frances Dinsmore Davis was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame.
Some of the following material pertaining to OCW's physical plant is taken with little change from the above mentioned 1976 USAO Bicentennial publication (signed only by the initials DNC--could that be Doris Comby once again?), "II&C--OCW-- OCLA--USAO: 1908-1976." Other information comes from the Regents' Minutes and other unpublished documents.
In 1943 Dr. C. Dan Procter succeeded President Nash, who had been appointed first Chancellor of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education. Dr. Procter continued the development of the building program and during his tenure the Student Union was dedicated October 8, 1948. Even before the building was totally completed, 1500 Rotarians were served. Once again Chickasha residents provided china and silver. Now part of the Student Union, the former Senior Hall, would house guest rooms. In 1950 the $500,000 Library opened; eventually it would be named for the former president, Dr. M. A. Nash. "The moving into the new library of 10,000 volumes was uniquely accomplished in two hours' time. President Procter took the first armload of books from a member of the Library staff on the third floor of the Administration Building, [and] led the grand procession of students, faculty, and staff with similar loads of books to carry them across the oval and place the books on the proper shelf of the new Library."
In 1951 a major addition to the Fine Arts Building provided the Little Theatre, a recital hall, and classrooms. Austin Hall got a face lift; and a 1952 $200,000 remodeling project of Nellie Sparks Hall included expanded facilities and new furnishings. The State Regents authorized OCW to continue permitting certain men students to enroll during the academic year 1952-53 "under restrictions heretofore approved by the State Regents for such students." Once again, the Educational Counseling Service of Chicago was hired to represent the college within a sixty mile radius of Chicago. A $50.00 commission would be paid for each student (taken from out-of-state tuition).
In 1954 the Jane Brooks School for the Deaf was brought to the campus and housed in Willard Hall to augment the Speech and Hearing Therapy program. Another class room building was completed in late 1957 at a cost of $400,000 and was named for former Governor Raymond Gary.
In 1954 the first official rumblings of civil rights concerns surfaced in the OCW Regents' Minutes, and an era of thoughtless discrimination began quietly to come to an end. This school would no longer be allowed to exist for the sole benefit of "the white [that is non-black] girls of this great and progressive state," as stated in the 1908 bill establishing the school. On June 18, 1955 "The Regents took cognizance of the pronouncement of the Regents for Higher Education at their meeting of June 6, wherein they authorized the colleges to accept Negroes for the coming fall term. Upon motion by Dr. Abernathy, seconded by Mrs. Westcott and unanimously carried, it was ordered that Negro students applying for admission to the Oklahoma College for Women, and found to be qualified for entrance, will be admitted."
Members of the Chickasha community continued to assist the school in a variety of ways. Mrs. Marjorie C. Nichols, for example, announced establishing a fund for establishing an Artist-in-Residence Chair of Music for Mr. Jacques Abram. She pledged $2000.00 per year to supplement his salary for three years, 1956 through 58.
In September 1956, Dr. Freeman Beets joined the OCW faculty as professor of journalism and English. He probably had no idea that within two years he would be college president. But so it was to be. According to OCW Regents minutes, in November 1957, President Procter presented a new organization to be instituted on a trial basis during the second semester. He wanted to replace departments with six divisions, Language & Literature, Science, Social Studies, Vocational Training, Family Life, and Fine Arts. He justified this reorganization by pointing to what he considered the tendency of OCW to have a self image as liberal arts college which was not supported by enrollment figures. He added, "If the preponderance of the majors should be used as the criterion for determining what our college actually is--the "liberal" of liberal arts becomes merely a beautiful adjective serving to conceal the vacuity of the noun!"
At the time courses of study and numbers enrolled were as follows: Elementary Education (77), Business Education (73), Home Economics (34), Vocational Home Economics (31), Physical Education (28), Speech (21), Speech Therapy (16), Music Education (20), English (15), Art (12), Biology (9), Chemistry (4), Science (1), Foreign Languages (2), History (8), Library Science (2), Math (3), Piano (9), Voice (11), Nursing (11), Organ (5), Psychology (4). Procter also argued that while wholesome competition can be good for business it is destructive in the form of "competition among our departments for students already on the campus . . . The good student sometimes is bewildered by the 'two-way stretch' when 'pulled' by two department heads. Specific examples can be cited where a student took work during her early years in two departments, but when she chose her major field she apparently became a 'traitor' to the other." He believed that the "welfare of the students and of OCW can be better served by deceasing the number of possibilities for conflict, and creating a situation whereby all faculty members will promote OCW rather than a particular department."
In retrospect, Procter's plan to reduce the inter-departmental territorial hassling makes a great deal of sense. On the other hand the overwhelming emphasis on such down-to-earth fields as education, business, and home economics at the expense of the fine and performing arts and traditional academic course of study seems puzzling and significant. OCW was clearly changing, possibly back to its initial Industrial Institute character. Much of this shift can be explained by the economic climate of the period. Some, however, may be due to a modification in faculty recruiting practices which resulted in increased regionalism of the faculty.
In 1933, just thirteen percent of the faculty of 55 had their highest degree from Oklahoma institutions, and only one fifth of the faculty came from an area including Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. In other words, four-fifth of the faculty were educated outside the region. Forty-three percent came from the North Central area--including fifteen percent (8 professors) from the University of Chicago. Twenty-seven percent had received their degrees in New England--including eighteen percent (10 professors) at Columbia. In other words, almost three-fourth of the faculty came from the two U. S. regions most highly respected for scholarship and the arts.
By 1960, fulltime faculty had been reduced to 42. There were still four faculty members from Columbia but none from the University of Chicago. A bit over two thirds of the faculty came from the North Central-New England region, while about one third had been educated in Oklahoma and almost fifty percent came from the Oklahoma-Kansas-Texas region. The trend to increasing regionalism has continued. Tabulating the faculty roster in the 1989/90 catalogue shows that more than half of sixty-six faculty members have terminal degrees from Oklahoma and about seventy percent come from the Oklahoma-Kansas-Texas area. On the bright side, about two-thirds have doctorates or the equivalent, compared to less than one-third in 1960, and several of the OU graduates have previously studied outside the region.
In January 1958 the Regents accepted the mid-year resignation of Dan Procter to take a position as Vice-President in charge of Public Relations at Star Engraving Company in Texas. They hired Freeman Beets as President, starting February 1. While it has been suggested that this resignation was politically motivated, Dr. Dan Hobbs believes that Dr. Procter was simply trying to increase his pre-retirement income, since the business he joined dealt in class rings and Dr. Procter had visited high schools and spoken at commencements all over this region and would be very valuable to the engraving company.
In July 1959 the possibility of changing OCW into a coeducational institution was brought up in the college minutes. The President mentioned two recent meetings of Chickasha residents who wanted to discuss making the college a coeducational institution. He presented a request of these people to meet with the OCW Regents for further discussion. Mrs. Wescott suggested that the Regents talk not only with those who would like to see the college change, but also with representatives of a group from Chickasha who would like to continue the college as it is. Two month later, in September, members of the regents met with four Chickasha business men to discuss the future of the college as a coeducational institution which would attract more students. Four other Chickasha business men and women had "been invited to attend as interested observers and personal friends of the college."
One of the most dedicated proponents of OCW as liberal arts Women's College was Jessie Dearing Kinley ('33) whose memories I have cited earlier in connection with the 1930s. Twenty odd years after graduating, she pleaded with townsfolk and administrators to leave OCW a woman's college, and her argument sounds very much like one we still use to keep USAO's Liberal Arts orientation in place--because we are different, and our reason for existence lies in that difference:
I am convinced there are sufficient exceptions to pack the beautiful dorms on this campus to the brim. I do not believe that if those of us who know and love this school sell it in the right places and with the enthusiasm it deserves, that O.C.W. will have to worry about its enrollment. I am not saying that O.C.W. is good and other educational institutions are bad. I am not saying that smallness is to be desired to the exclusion of largeness or that largeness is to beI find myself to applauding, and yet I am also one of those who a quarter century ago came to change OCW and make it into something which by its very existence seemed an affront to loyal alumnae like Jessie. It's also important to keep in mind that the college had changed profoundly since the 1930s.
According to Dr. Hobbs, "the sixties were the decade in which John Kennedy said 'we are going to put a man on the moon by the end of this decade,' and you don't do that without an educational thrust." He added that by the middle of the decade all the other colleges and universities in the state were "burgeoning," while OCW was filled to less than half capacity. "The returning veterans were not about to send their daughters to a women's college." In addition, at that time almost two out of every three college students were men; the era of large numbers of women going to college wouldn't begin until the seventies, "too late to help Oklahoma College for Women."
In November 1960, Dr. Beets resigned. He was temporarily succeeded by Dr. Kenneth Young, Dean of the College, who served as acting president for four months. In January, 1962 Dr. Charles Grady became president and served until June, 1966. Dr. Grady supplied the Regents with an inventory of college property at the President's Home. It offers an intriguing (and a bit amusing) insight into "elegant living" in the early 1960s.
The kitchen contained a Hot Point refrigerator, G.E. Floor waxer, curtains, Noritake China service for 26, Frigidaire dishwasher, and a National garbage disposal. There were drapes on the Breakfast Room windows, and a round pecan table with four matching chairs on the floor. The Dining Room sported a dining table, buffet, china closet, silver cabinet, a dining table pad (in the closet), eight chairs, Zodiac Blue Crystal (service for 24), a cracked cut glass bowl on a silver stand, yellow and green organdy tea cloth, and, once again, the ubiquitous drapes. An area called (for an inexplicable reason) Music Room, contained 1 brown occasional chair, 1 rose occasional chair, 1 green velvet love seat, 1 brass lamp with a white shade, and 2 miniature pictures. The TV Room had curtains, and the Bedroom was provided with two twin beds, a double dresser, a mirror, all in Mahogany. There were curtains in the Powder Room, and a Maytag automatic washer an the Wash Room. In the basement were an aluminum chaise lounge with a green pad and an 8 foot aluminum ladder. Grady also lists a TV antenna with a Roto-tenna and two Hoover upright sweepers (with only one set of attachments).
In March 1965, Dean Kenneth Young presented his resignation effective June 30, 1965. The following May the Board went on record "as supporting Dr. Charles Grady in his administration of the Oklahoma College for Women and, further, that Dean Kenneth D. Young be suspended from further duties and responsibilities at Oklahoma College for Women until the end of his contract June 30, 1965, because of gross insubordination." Echoes of the 1911 schism? More probably simply advance tremors of the violent earthquake which was about to hit OCW.
On July 7, 1965, Senate Joint Resolution #16 of the Thirtieth Oklahoma Legislature officially changed the name of Oklahoma College for Women to Oklahoma College of Liberal Arts, designed to function as a experimental co-educational four-year college for the academically and artistically talented. Had OCW been killed off or given another lease on life in a new incarnation? Time would tell.
On July 22, 1965 Governor Henry Bellmon called the first meeting of the newly appointed Board of Regents for Oklahoma College of Liberal Arts in the Blue Room of the governor's offices at the Capitol. Mrs. John Holland was appointed chairman. The following week the OCLA Board met on the OCLA campus.
Dr. Dan Hobbs describes the change and its motives: "At OCW the student-faculty ratio was abysmal, the money expended per student was the highest in the State." Then there was "educational efficiency." In addition, "you had the local senators and representatives who wanted to keep their institution afloat. They figured that the State might come in and shut it down or make in into a eleemosynary institution, a charitable institution that looks after orphans and wayward children, and so on. That was the setting for the change."
Hobbs considers himself one of the co-parents of OCLA, along with Dr. John Coffelt, coordinator of research at the State Regent's Office at the time. Coffelt went on to become President of Youngstown State University. He had come into the State Regents Office in early l962. Hobbs had come the year before, serving first as Research Assistant and later as the Educational Programs Officer. The two men developed the liberal arts notion for a transformed and coeducational OCW as continuation of the institution's long-time heritage, despite its more recent emphasis on teacher training. Hobbs' analysis jibes with the figures cited by Dan Procter shortly before his resignation.
He suggests that an excellent way of understanding an institution is by looking at institutional history and one of the ways to do this is to write an institutional saga, something of the sort I am attempting in this article. "And so you have the Founding Fathers and Mothers," Hobbs argues, "and then you have the 'larger than giants' early leaders who are romanticized and mythologized. They are the ones who developed it and who developed the tradition that we live in, and so forth." In those terms, the history of USAO can be imagined as institutional saga. Who were the giants? What were some of the traditions and rituals and so forth, that set it apart and made it different?
According to Hobbs, OCW was the third Oklahoma college or university accredited by the Regional Association. The teacher's colleges came along and were accredited later, but they were disaccredited during the early 1930s, and in 1936 we had only three accredited institutions in Oklahoma Higher Education--Oklahoma College for Women in Chickasha, the University of Oklahoma in Norman, and Oklahoma A & M in Stillwater. OCW saw itself as unique with justification.
In the Thirteenth Biennial Report of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, Acting President H. B. Smith, Jr. wrote:
The 1965-66 year was one of change and challenge. Enrollment increased 36 per cent, the highest rate of growth among colleges in Oklahoma. Since the college had only two months to prepare for the changes, satisfactory arrangements for the 164 boys who enrolled were difficult to make. Nonetheless, everyone concerned was pleased with the success we had in meeting these problems.It was into this cauldron bubbling with enthusiasm for creating a brilliant community of scholars in the pastoral setting of Chickasha that Robert L. Martin, the new President of OCW / OCLA / USAO plunged himself with cheerful determination. He chuckles when he recalls how he came by this position. He was in the Chancellor's office being interviewed for the job of Dean of Arts and Sciences at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, when someone called him to the phone. "It turned out to be Helen Holland, chairman of the OCLA Board of Regents. She wanted to know if I'd be interested, and I said no, I didn't feel I had the experience to do that sort of thing." She insisted on sending him the description of what the State Regents envisioned the college to be. He looked--and was hooked. Today he recalls that on paper the college appeared like a dream, exactly the kind of institution he would have designed if someone had asked him to. "Liberal Arts! Experimental! No intercollegiate athletics! No fraternities or sororities! No vocational program!" His comment is reminiscent of Dan Procter's remark that at OCW the equivalent of a football team was the fine arts activities.
And so Dr. Martin came in 1967 and was officially inaugurated in a splendid ceremony on Saturday, April 20, 1968 at 10:30 a.m. At the time Louise Waldorf was head of the music department. In one of her many scrap books I found a handwritten note recording the event: "Procession started from steps of library--across 17th in two double lines (permanent walk had been laid) across campus roadway--up steps of Ad Bldg into Bldg down Auditorium Aisles to the stage. Placing of colors. Program. It was MOST colorful and IMPRESSIVE ceremony. Auditorium packed. Pipe organ in Auditorium playing processional piped so that it went out all over that end of town!" Neither the new president nor Louise Waldorf had any way of knowing that five years later Martin would be asked to resign, and in 1973 his successor would dismiss three other administrators plus eleven faculty members in an attempt to reverse the course of this bold if irritating Oklahoma experiment in higher education. The fired individuals filed suit. They lost in District Court but prevailed (by a minimal majority of one) in the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. After the US Supreme Court had refused to hear the case, the dismissed faculty and administrators were invited to return to OCLA (by then renamed USAO) in 1975, though only three ultimately accepted. The circumstances surrounding these events have since become part of the history of the interaction of law and American higher education.
OCLA under President Martin was indeed a sort of Camelot. "Bob came in the new dispensation and his marching orders were to transform this women's college into a full-blown liberal arts college, with all that it connoted," recalls Dan Hobbs, whose daughter Kathy was one of OCLA's first students. Martin had portfolios to make changes, to create, to do all that he possibly could to make a new institution out of it, and, indeed, it became a new institution. "They were able to bring in new talent and particularly bright people and this kind of change, eventually," Hobbs notes sadly, "runs into opposition. Change theory says you can make two or three major changes and after that you begin to engender enough opposition that it then loses it's momentum." Eventually, you had two parties--"a new party and an old party, and after the changes that were made began to threaten, in was almost inevitable that there would be a reaction among those who had been there for a long time." Hobbs believes that "there was too much of a good thing . . . a euphoria that accompanied the revolution, everyone was equal, everyone was fraternal, and there was no special privilege or no special rank . . .. The abolition of rank and tenure was probably the precipitating event leading to Bob Martin's demise and it brought the old and the new faculties into collision with each other."
Hobbs is right about the democratic spirit. The Martins still laugh about an incident while Bob was college president. Occasionally weddings were performed in the chapel. On one such occasion an irate father called Martin's house, complaining that the women's restroom was dirty. So, Dr. Martin (according to his wife Daisy) picked up a bucket and a mop and walked on over to the chapel to clean up the mess, saying, "No woman should have to get ready for her wedding in a dirty bathroom." And then there was the story about his ingenious way to stop a protest sit-in before it really got started: Seems that a group of students wanted to have a little rebellion. Martin is reputed to have observed the commotion from the office window. He mumbled something about what a lovely day it was, picked up his pipe, and wandered on down the administration building stairs toward the group. When he got there he simply flopped down on the lawn with the kids. End of sit-in.
All this democratic fervor led to the new college symbol, an exploding square: The new self-image of the college--or at least part of the college--was succinctly put in a small article called "Signs and Symbols" in the Trend: "The Exploding Square is the symbol, not only of a school, but also an ideal." The piece points to "a group of social dissenters called beatniks" who had used the term "square" to describe the traditional and established ways of doing things, "because a square is a regimented, strictly defined area. To be a square, all sides must be the same length, all angles must be the same. This was their impression of society, conforming to the strict standards." OCLA would be an intellectual nemesis of squares--particularly "the conventional teaching methods and philosophies found at schools all over the world." The article concludes, "The Exploding Square then is the symbol of our attempt at OCLA to break out of the traditions and move ahead to new horizons in the field of liberal arts education. As our symbol, it affirms our dedication to the experimental and innovative concept of OCLA." What few of us appear to have noticed at the time was the fact that the Spirit of OCLA was simply a new incarnation of the OCW Spirit which, a half century earlier, had propelled a tame local vocational girls' school toward a magic couple of decades of national flowering as center of scholarship and the arts. At least one member of the "old-guard" OCLA faculty did understand, the only one who was in any position to know what OCW had been like in the beginning--Louise Waldorf, violinist and long time chairperson of the music department who had come to OCW in 1933, straight out of Oberlin. I found several extant specimens of the exploding square plus the little piece I cited in one of her scrapbooks. She was part of a minority.
Ironically if understandably, it was this very spirit of academic ferment which was perceived as subversive and dangerous by some members of the faculty and some local residents. Almost overnight they saw their campus invaded by long-haired, beaded, barefoot young people of indeterminate gender wearing faded blue jeans. Several of this new breed of students came from distant parts of the country. Some claimed they smoked pot. Most just looked as though they did. The majority were literate, idealistic, inquisitive, eager to learn; and they found courses to stimulate their imagination and challenge their minds. They also found a school where there was only an intermural athletic program and little emphasis on social clubs. Instead of being separated into freshman to senior classes, students were encouraged to interact with one another and the faculty.
Norman H. Calaway--Hardy--is a typical student of the searly seventies. Now a veteran history teacher with a master's degree in education, he has sent us an entire flock of excellent students. In the thirties, two of his father's sisters graduated from OCW, and his mother attended the college for a year. Hardy's father has fond memories of the dances there. Twenty years ago, when Hardy told his aunt Marie that he had decided to attend OCLA she said that she had quit sending money to the alumnae, not because the school was now coeducational, but because they changed the name. "Her" school was dead! He remembers laughing: "Marie, would that be a status degree for me from Oklahoma College for Women!" So she started contributing again.
Why did Hardy decide to come here? Male, a veteran, railroad worker, union activist, involved in the American Legion and the JCs, and eventually President of the Young Democrats, he seemed worlds removed from the finishing school refinement of OCW. "I grew up thinking of Chickasha as a women's college (though his father graduated from its high school). My dad had fond memories of the dances, and the big bus they called the meat wagon that went to Fort Sill to get men to dance with. On the Halsey side, my mother's brothers all were banned from the campus at one time or another." He had certainly never considered coming to school in Chickasha. However, he found himself researching colleges while he was off the coast of Viet Nam, "wishing he were elsewhere." That's when he discovered OCLA. It looked like exactly what he wanted: Liberal Arts. He got out of the Navy in '70 and came to Chickasha in April of 1971.
He fell in love with the program. "The student body was involved and enthused with the new approach to education--'Let's just not look at things from small disciplines but from several'." There were even hand-made textbooks, written by faculty and students for several of the new courses. He remembers one of Leon Cherrington's "famous" pre-computer multi-media productions, "film, eight millimeter, two or three slide projectors, dimmed lighting, he narrated, recorded music throughout, one hour long, during a lecture section--about war. In twenty years of teaching I've never had a class just get up and file out in silence when the bell rang. Everyone was moved.
Hardy recalls an amusing story connected with Cherrington's presentations. It seems that one night around three in the morning Mrs. Cherrington called LeRoy Rampey, the Assistant Dean, because her husband was missing. Rampey drove to the President's house and got Bob Martin (who had a master key) out of bed; together they went to Gary Hall. According to legend the president was wearing a robe and slippers. He himself thinks he might have stopped to dress. Either way, they got to Cherrington's office, and there was Leon, slide projectors going, music blaring, projector whirring, busy assembling one of his productions. He peered up at them, wondering what they were doing there. "Oh, we just decided to drop by," said Martin, and off they went, leaving Cherrington to his technical wizardry.
"Yes," Hardy remembers with pride, "we were blowing apart the square!" Significantly, the way the square was being attacked was NOT at all in the customary manner of the sixties--taking over campuses and hounding administrators and relaxing standards and getting rid of traditional, arduous, required courses in search of some elusive ghost of "relevance." OCLA administrators, along with about half the faculty were determined to shatter the square of academic mediocrity by challenging students with a demanding, highly structured curriculum mingled with opportunities for small-group discussion and independent study. Hardy has fond memories of the Human Ecology class. "Always had four or five instructors, and only four or five students ever really took the course, but they had to hold the thing in the conference room of Austin Hall to house the people who showed up. I am sure that class never paid for itself but it always filled a large room of people who were really interested." All of this grew out of a contagious love of learning which was quite disconnected from practical considerations.
Of course, those students also found themselves in other courses in which instructors viewed their irreverent ways and very presence as an affront. According to the 1975 report into events of the time submitted by an investigative team of the American Association of University Professors, the new students brought "with them educational aspirations and ideals quite unlike those held by students in the past. The committee was informed that local community sentiment, perhaps as a concomitant, tended to support a return to 'traditional' education." The AAUP committee was only partially correct: externally, those students may have looked different from the neatly attired young women of 20s and 30s but they shared their spirit of adventure and relative cosmopolitarian background. The new students did differ, however, from many of the more recent students who were primarily interested in vocational programs.
According to a 1972 Report by the North Central Accrediting Agency, "The faculty manual indicates that new faculty selection should 'depend in part upon the applicant's ability to assist in developing the new program and upon his acceptance of the philosophy of this experimental college.' However, it appears to the examiners that some of the faculty who have tenure at the college do not feel called upon to support the new program and wish to see a re-establishment of the old college curriculum and program. . . . In this climate it is difficult to see how the challenging and exciting possibilities outlined in the Plan for the '70 s can be realized." A bit earlier the North Central team had noted with concern that "some Board members [Regents] are consulted directly rather than through the president and that appeals have been made directly to the Board without the prior knowledge of the president. Such relationship of Board to the campus can only produce further misunderstanding of the lines of authority." Once again, OCLA was tossed about in the courts of political power plays, and this time the dream almost died.
According to the AAUP report: "Conditions continued to deteriorate in 1971 and early 1972. Some faculty members were alleged to have exerted influence In the Office of the Governor. A faculty group was criticized for having met with the Governor's education advisor, Dr. Bruce G. Carter, . . . a friend of many faculty members." In the recent interview Martin elaborated that he went up to see Carter after that visit. Carter told him that if any of his faculty members had done something like this when he was president at NEO he would have simply called them in and told them they were fired.
Within two years after his election, between March 1971 and July 1972 Governor David Hall radically altered the makeup of the OCLA Board of Regents by exerting pressure on two men to resign and taking the opportunity to put political allies into existing slots his predecessor had left vacant. While back in 1965, legislators had tried to ensure that all changes in the governing board would be gradual by insisting on staggered terms, this intention was subverted when the governor was able to get his appointees to complete unexpired terms. In the process an entirely new and politically predictable board was created. Two new members of the Board of Regents, recommended by Dr. Carter and appointed by Governor Hall had close ties to Carter's previous college.
On May 3, 1972 President Martin recommended that the Regents temporarily suspend the various college constitutions, revoke the tenure of all tenured faculty members, review the performance of all faculty members, establish a policy of employee accountability, and approve a faculty salary schedule. The Board accepted the first, second, and fifth recommendation. "When submitting these recommendations, President Martin also tendered his resignation." The Board accepted, effective almost immediately. The investigative team did not explain why Martin resigned. He says that was given a choice: resignation now or dismissal the following month. Significantly, after Martin resigned one of the regents announced that the governor's educational adviser, Dr. Bruce Carter just happened to be in town, and would be happy to visit with the Board. A few weeks later, Carter took over the presidency. Meanwhile the students held a silent nocturnal candle light procession in honor of Dr. Martin. He and Daisy still remember all sorts of little gifts which mysteriously materialized in the screen door of their home--a copy of The Little Prince, a few peaches, a cantaloupe. Signs of love. The 1972 Argus, published after the new president was in office, is designed around the exploding square, and on two otherwise blank black pages appears the tiny dedication (in white): "as a tribute to Dr. Robert L. Martin, President of OCLA from July 1967 until July 1972." A glimmer of light in the darkness.
Twenty-three years before he arrived on the OCLA campus, Bruce G. Carter was working on his dissertation on the topic of junior colleges in Oklahoma. Junior colleges are primarily intended to serve students from regional communities. They offer technical training for immediate employment, as well as lower level academic courses to ease the transition from highschool to senior colleges. Thus junior colleges are different in kind from four year colleges, particularly liberal arts schools with selective admissions standards. When he completed his dissertation in 1950 Bruce Carter had already been president of Northeastern Oklahoma Agricultural & Mechanical College in Miami for seven years. He would stay for another nineteen years (1943-1969), and was considered an expert on junior colleges when he left Miami in 1970 to join newly elected Governor David Hall's staff. Making him president of a school so utterly different from anything he had ever experienced was a tragic blunder, unfair to him and to the college. Carter's dissertation, along with his long and distinguished career as junior college administrator, shows clearly that his emphasis is on vocational training. In a sense he represented a return to the pragmatic mentality which originally engendered the II&C (and which OCW rejected!). On pages 153-54 Carter writes:
Educators in the State . . . might do well to take another look at the type of professions and jobs these typical Oklahoma youth are interested in. How good a job are we doing in preparing our youth for the occupational choices they have in mind? Scores indicated a desire to become electricians, carpenters, salesmen, brick masons, paper hangers, truck drivers. Other scores and hundreds [sic] expressed a desire to earn a living as a beauty or telephone operator, a secretary, a nurse, a social service worker, a radio technician, and other jobs of a similar type.During his first faculty meeting Carter explained what he expected of the faculty: First, "your loyalty to the college." Second, "your competence as an instructor, or your competence . . . as manager, or your competence as a house mother; your competence as a painter, plumber, electrician, carpenter, or whatever position you hold. And third, "you will be judged on how well you serve the college, over and above your regular teaching job." Never once did he mention scholarship, research, writing, increased academic rigor, artistic excellence, teaching students to reason and challenge, helping prepare them for a pluralistic world. The new president was clearly uncomfortable with OCLA's innovative, iconoclastic mission. He was utterly confused by a student body which was strongly opposed to an intercollegiate athletics program, and wanted no part of a drum and bugle corps. The students on the other hand, taunted the new administrators by parading through the buildings playing kazoos in a parody of marching bands. When administrators tried to divide the student body into official classes and organize the election of class-presidents, Hardy nominated his dog--who was overwhelmingly elected. The new administrators interpreted this kind of opposition as prelude to anarchy without realizing that the students were simply releasing tension through relatively harmless pranks.
On April 3, 1973 Emeritus Dean of Fine Arts, Frances Dinsmore Davis died at age 84. Her death prefigured the dark cloud which seemed about to swallow up OCLA. Ironically, Clarice Tatman was the 1973 recipient of the OCLA Alumni Hall of Fame award. Many years earlier, when she was still on the Mount Holyoke faculty, Tatman had written to her former professor, Frances Davis, "The work of any great and inspiring teacher lives long through her pupils, and so, my dear, your work will live long years beyond you." She continues, "Fan, the reason I'm so sure about you is that you have inspired so many pupils with such great love," love for "many fine, high things."
But that April the teaching of "fine, high things" was eclipsed by panicky extinction of the torch of academic and artistic excellence lit by Dean Davis and passed on to OCLA. On April 26, 1973 the Board accepted President Carter's recommendation by a vote of five to two to terminate the services of three administrators and eleven members of the faculty (most of whom taught in Davis Hall). In the course of the long Board meeting Regent Joel Carson argued with Carter who became increasingly aggravated, fuming "let me tell you something Mr. Carson, as long as you sit here in a board meeting and play up to a crowd, as long as you argue and fuss as you have in nearly every meeting we have had..I want to tell you as long as . . . the faculty is divided against itself, . . . and as long as students go down the dormitory room, after room, after room, and talk hatred . . . the only way in the world that this school can be built, it can be saved, and to go on, is to have harmony within its faculty and it certainly should start with the board." Shortly after Carter took office, one of the faculty members who would subsequently be dismissed went to see him to tell him she disagreed with the way he had achieved his office but loved the school and wanted to help. He asked her to identify the students and faculty who were plotting against him. When she told him she had never heard of such a plot (and indeed there was none), he accused her of being one of the conspirators.
According to the AAUP report I cited earlier, "President Carter indicated that none of the dismissals related to professional competence. Indeed, he stated that the eleven faculty members were among the best teachers at OCLA." He freely admitted that terminate those whom he considered "divisive." He categorized people as "divisive" on the basis of their "philosophy" or life-style, "personal warmth," visits (or lack of visits) to his office, fraternization with students. In the words of the United States Court of Appeals: "In the last analysis, it was refusal to conform to President Carter's patterns and molds, all of which were personal and subjective on his part, which was the cause of their being fired. . . . One had to become a person who was in his image and likeness if he or she wished to serve as a member of the faculty at OCLA. By his own testimony Carter is shown to have been jealous of his power and insecure in his position as well as unable to tolerate any dissent, criticism, or disagreement, all of which he called "divisiveness."
The situation seemed hopeless. As Hardy Calaway put it: "I doubled up my hours to get out. That's when the students on this campus voted against the change with their feet and left in droves." There were signs on OU dormitories, "OCLA Refugees Welcome!" Several students, including Hardy, tried to sue the school for breach of contract for firing most of the faculty who were committed to the mission of the school. Their case was thrown out of court on the basis of sovereign immunity. You can't sue the state without the state's permission. Hardy still chuckles, "None of us ever expected to win or get anything out of it. It was just a way of getting the problem in front of the public." Now, twenty years later, Hardy still insists that the student body was cohesive, solidly behind the former president and the fired faculty. On October 14, 1973, Dr. Glen Snyder, Regents Professor of Education at OU commented in a long article in the Sunday Oklahoman on the "ironic aspect of the tragedy at OCLA" that the liberal arts program had practically "no experienced personnel since almost all the persons teaching in it were fired."
In his report to the State Regents that year Carter wrote that "OCLA is still in the experimental stages and it is to be determined in the future if there is a genuine need for the trimester plan and a program of this type." At the time, he and his administrative officers had their hands full, trying to survive the mass exodus of students. In the fall of 1972 full time equivalent enrollment had been 844; the following fall, after the firings, it was down to 623. Thus the name change from OCLA to USAO in 1974 was accompanied by an almost exact obverse of the increase in enrollment from the 619 in 1964 to 856 in 1965 when OCW had become OCLA. Carter tried to entice students by initiating an intercollegiate competitive athletic program. According to a report in the Daily Oklahoman on July 23, 1973, the OCLA budget in literature and philosophy was being cut from 85,000 to 56,000, and the math curriculum from 61,000 to 37,000 in order to fund the new sports program which Carter argued would attract fifty students. Three regents were disturbed that Carter had originally insisted that the new competitive sports programs would not cost any additional funds.
Regent John H. Patten said it flustered him "to increase the athletic budget while cutting the guts out of the core curriculum." Ultimately the regents approved Carter's request. In the above mentioned article Snyder wondered, "The relationship of this action to challenging and innovative liberal arts programs defies logic."
In a 1987 address to the USAO Study Committee, Dan Hobbs commented on the situation: "There was the inevitable reaction. Truth is a very dangerous commodity. . . . So I consider that in the coup which changed it back from Oklahoma College of Liberal Arts (even the name was anathema in the Vietnam era reaction) it was not an accident that its acronym became 'USA-OK.' That was the purpose of the political movements of the times to move it back away from a liberal arts college, with all the dangers implicit in that, back toward a more conventional, regional, state college."
Miraculously, the dream remained banked in the hearts and minds of enough of the faculty and community to be rekindled when Dr. Roy Troutt, a leader in the area of Liberal Education, assumed the presidencey of USAO on July 1, 1975, exactly three years after Bob Martin had left. Troutt came to Chickasha from OU's College of Liberal Studies where he had served as Dean. In February, after he was named next USAO president by the State Regents, Troutt said that he intended to hire faculty from all over the country and hoped "to transform the school into an institution with a national reputation for academic excellence." I suspect he did not realize then exactly how difficult that task would be.
When Troutt came on board he found himself captain of a rapidly sinking ship. Because of campus politics, North Central Association had put OCLA on public probation; there wasn't sufficient funding even for basic necessities; the required team-taught interdisciplinary core program seemed moribund; the student body was in the process of mutating into an unstable mixture of veterans, part-time evening school adults, the academically troubled, and increasing numbers of international students, particularly Iranians who had been recruited indiscriminately the year before Troutt arrived in order to compensate for the drop in enrollment. Foreign presence exploded from 7 in 1973 through 152 (1975) to a high of 373 in Spring 1976. After cresting, the wave abated to 263 (1977), 106 (1978), and 80 (1979). For the next decade the count remained fairly stable, despite steady decrease in the number of Iranians. Whatever we might think of that odd period in USAO history, it is perfectly clear that the foreign students literally saved the college. They were full-time students, the majority lived in the dormitories, and they paid out-of-state tuition.
Faced with a majority of students whose attitude toward the core program ranged from indifference to active resentment, the faculty voted overwhelmingly (with only only one nay and one abstention) to allow students to choose either a liberal arts or professional / vocational curricular track. "A few students may be ready for the Kentucky Derby," was a dejected comment at the time, "but most prefer a plowing contest." In one of his first acts as college president, Dr. Troutt refused to be swayed by that vote. He was committed to the interdisciplinary liberal arts concept and convinced that a two track compromise would kill the team-taught general education program which alone distinguished USAO from other state colleges. Troutt prevailed, managed to convince others, and has since seen his personal vision of merging liberal learning with career education take on tangible shape at USAO. Our kind of program is now widely publicized as a model to alleviate the crisis in higher education across the nation, and several members of the USAO faculty have attained national recognition for their scholarship.
Since the mid-seventies USAO has done much to synthesize some of the best of OCW and OCLA while developing a unique personality of its own. In 1989 a member of the most recent North Central Accreditation team called USAO a "hidden pearl" and expressed his delight to find a school which had such a long tradition of doing what all the experts are currently suggesting--educating the whole student and avoiding over-specialization. And so, NCA accredited USAO for ten full years; members of the examining team explained that "The mission of the institution . . . is understood and supported by Regents, community leaders, administrators and students. The faculty is clearly committed not only to the professional program but firmly to the liberal arts. . . . The liberal arts are spread over four years of the undergraduate program and the IDS [interdisciplinary core] courses are the backbone of this part of the mission. The total commitment of the institution to the arts and the IDS program is illustrated by the enthusiasm of the faculty for team teaching of IDS courses and by the hiring practices which emphasize bringing in people committed to this concept."
While most of our alumnae
and alumni live in Oklahoma, many make their homes all across the United
Sates--including Alaska and Hawaii. Several graduates can be found North
as well as South of our borders, and quite a few have settled in Africa,
Asia, and Europe. USAO's reach increases considerably if we consider all
the students who went on to other colleges or started their careers without
graduating from USAO. In terms of faculty, students, and program, USAO
draws Chickasha, Oklahoma, into the global family of communities, living
proof that even some experts can be wrong. In the 1987 statement
I citied earlier, Dr. Hobbs points to the comment (over two decades earlier)
by OU Professor Jim Harlow, who later went on to become president of the
University of West Virginia: "You can't put a liberal arts college in Chickasha,
Oklahoma." Hobbs wondered why he couldn't. Harlow quipped,
"The people won't let you. They're not ready for liberal arts in Chickasha,
Oklahoma. They're not likely to stand for it." For a while it seemed Harlow
the Cynic might have been right. But he didn't know the people of Chickasha
and the Spirit of OCW-OCLA-USAO the way Mona Woodring did, or Frances Davis,
or G. W. Austin, or Roy Troutt.
to Ingrid Shafer's USAO site