100 Years of Herstory

It’s hard to imagine that a college that once boasted about it’s lack of women is now home to a class of over 65 percent females and counting. A distinction that once classified an institution of excellence is now nothing more than a stain on the College’s history. Women have been accepted into the College of Charleston for the past 100 years, and they only continue to prove their successes.. Their dedication and intelligence have put the College of Charleston at the top of the rankings for business, art and more.  But how did we get here? How did we go from an institution that once degraded women so much they put up a door to stop them, to one that now accepts and applauds them? 

The College of Charleston was founded in the year 1770, making it the 13th oldest educational institution in the country. The first class was, obviously, completely male and consisted of only six. By 1870, the class size had tripled, yet still boasted it’s all-male status. In fact, architect William Strickland even created the library door (a building that now houses the Alumni Center) so small that women with big hoop skirts couldn’t physically enter. However, that all changed in 1917 when Carrie Pollitzer makes a pitch for an “Extension Course of the College” to include females, and the first class of women was officially inducted in 1918. 

As the years went on, the female presence on campus increased with the first cheerleading team established in 1920 and the first sorority, Zeta Gamma chapter of Chi Omega, committed to campus in 1928. The first woman faculty member, Maggie Pennington, wasn’t employed until 1962. Five years later, the first black women, Carrie Nesbitt Gibb ’72 and Angela Brown Gilchrist ’72, enrolled at the College of Charleston.
Notable women alumni of the College include Arlinda Locklear ’73, the first Native American to appear in front of the Supreme Court; Linda Dingle Gadson ’72, who runs the non-profit Rural Mission; Michelle Asha Cooper, Ph.D., President of the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP), and many more.
Throughout history, College of Charleston women have also played significant roles in major world events. Some were selected to transcribe code at the Charleston Naval Yard for the US Coast Guard (1943), others were on a golf team that took the CAA championship 3 years in a row, and one, Jasmine Twitty ’10, was even the youngest judge in South Carolina ever appointed. 

Today, the College of Charleston is home to over 7,000 female students, and that total is made even higher by the increased number of female faculty members continuing to appear across campus. Women have made an impact in almost every major at the College, including Business, an MBA program that is now ranked Number 8 in the country with the highest percentage of women according to the College of Charleston’s Year of Women timeline, Biology, Visual and Performing Arts and Psychology. There are now even a significant number of clubs founded by and/or run by women here at the College, including Collegiate Curls, the National Organization for Women: the Network of Enlightened Women, PRISM, CofC Democrats and numerous club sports, are among the many organizations that have women leaders. 

If you enter a College of Charleston classroom now, you will most certainly see the ratio of women to men exhibited in full, with people of both genders engaging and discussing coursework that, 100 years ago, was only available to a select few. Women of all capabilities, races, sexualities and gender expression can be found here, and the population is only growing. In looking at all the accomplishments these women have made in just the past 100 years, it will come as no surprise when women continue to shape and reform the College of Charleston  for many years to come.


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