This blog post was researched and written by SCA student employee Parker Beverly.
March is Women’s History Month and we have been looking through our archives to find out more about Wake Forest’s association with this annual celebration. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the United States entered the Second World War. In the face of such an event, the nation decided to implement the draft system, meaning young men were transported overseas to fight in battle. As a result, universities saw a decrease in enrollment including Wake Forest College. To offset potential financial losses, the college changed its admissions policy, allowing women to attend in 1942.
To begin the process of integrating women, Beth Perry, a student at Meredith College, transferred to Wake Forest College in the spring along with two other women named Elizabeth Bunn and Penny Clark. For Perry, transferring to Wake Forest was a chance occurrence, having lost a semester of school due to contracting spinal meningitis. Following her battle with this illness, her family urged her to apply as a transfer student to Wake Forest, the same college as her brother.
As the war progressed, more women continued to join the Wake Forest community with 53 being enrolled by the fall of 1942. According to one newspaper article, women like Perry claim they “saved the school”(Gaston) due to their presence during a time of financial need. During their first semester, the women answered to the same dean as their male peers, however, this changed with the introduction of Lois Johnson. Like Beth Perry, Lois Johnson attended Meredith College and graduated with her master’s from the University of North Carolina before becoming the Dean of Women at Wake Forest in 1942. Described as a “charming conversationalist, prolific reader, fashion-wise dresser, and gracious receptions” (Powell and Olive) Johnson embodied the quintessential characteristics Wake Forest hoped to instill in their new female students. Throughout this historic tenure, “Miss Lois” as she came to be called, championed the cause of a co-educational experience, helping women gain equitable access to campus resources and encouraging their academic success. She also established a code of conduct for students including a 10:30 pm curfew, restrictions on the possession of alcoholic beverages, and rules regarding proper dating etiquette while on campus (Shaw, 49). The Women’s Government Association was also established by Johnson in order to promote the health and wellbeing of female students through a focus on women’s issues. In June 1962, Lois Johnston retired from her position. Today, the University recognizes her contributions with a residence hall named in her honor.
Following her retirement, Lula “Lu” Leake became Dean of Women under President Tribble. Leake served on the Faculty Executive Committee and various committees on topics ranging from student life and admissions to new financial aid and scholarships. In her multifaceted role, she established her own code of conduct, served as a trusted advisor, interviewed prospective students, and even made dorm assignments (Shaw, 179).
By 1972, Wake Forest had a more considerable female presence with 1,030 women compared to 1,865 men. With the growing number of women, the University began easing restrictions on dress code requirements, social conduct, and curfews. 20 years later, the entering class included more women than men. Today, Wake Forest has made great strides in increasing gender equality on campus with the establishment of the Women’s Center in 2013 and providing greater equality in admissions processes.
Bynum, Shaw. The History of Wake Forest College (Volume IV: 1943-1967), Wake Forest University, 1988.
Gaston, Janice. “First Official Coed.” Winston-Salem Journal, https://wakespace.lib.wfu.edu/handle/10339/56417.
Powell, Harold and Olive, Tommy. Deacon Beacons, July 1952-June 1953. https://wakespace.lib.wfu.edu/handle/10339/69214
7 Comments on ‘A Brief History of Women at Wake Forest University’
Thanks for this wonderful post Parker and Rebecca. I learned a lot due to your research. Of all these women, I did know and work with Lu Leake, who was a great individual. Thank you for honoring these women and Women’s History Month.
Thank you, Parker, for sharing this important part of Wake Forest history!
Thank you, Parker, for this informative post on women’s history at Wake!
I’m glad to know more about the history of Wake’s women! Thank you, Parker!
Thank you for this informative post. It is fascinating to consider how the US entry into WWII aided in advancing gender equity at WFU. I didn’t know that Johnson Residence Hall was named for the first Dean of Women!
Thanks, Parker! This is a wonderful and informative post!
I love learning about some of the women behind Wake Forest – thank you, Parker!