Recently Fr. Kilian let me borrow a Saint Martin’s student newspaper that he found when he was cleaning out some old files. The paper was yellowed and ripped at the folds, dating back to April 4, 1941. I was amazed that he still had a copy of what was then The Martian, and was even more surprised that he let me borrow such a treasure. Headlines included a story about KGY, the first radio station in Lacey that originated on the Saint Martin’s campus, as well as the Seattle Mothers’ Club planning Saint Martin’s annual dance. Inside stories included questions of whether Hitler could invade America, and sports news about how Johnny “Pretty Kitty” Katica was all-conference choice for the second year in a row for the Saint Martin’s basketball team.
Of course, the first thing I noticed about the paper was the date. April 1941 was only a few months before America became involved in World War II, and at this time, Saint Martin’s was not a coeducational institution. A story on the front page read “Army, Navy Corps Take Eight Fliers,” the students obviously male. Intrigued, I pulled out Fr. John Scott’s “This Place Called St. Martin’s” to take a closer look.
In 1939, Saint Martin’s, as well as other, larger universities, prepared themselves for the war by joining an experiment funded by the government to “foster and develop” private flying and general aviation. At this time, male and female applicants were required to be accepted on an equal basis into the program. So, during a time when Saint Martin’s was not coed, women were allowed to attend these classes.
Though the experiment was successful in providing pilot training, the U.S. Army and Navy were unwilling to be in a position of being forced into accepting women. After the first summer of the experiment, women were no longer allowed to apply. However, those female students enrolled in this program could technically be called Saint Martin’s first coed students.
Knowing that women’s role in World War II helped get women out of the home and into the workplace, I was interested to know that it was the war that also gave women their first step into Saint Martin’s.
The idea of Saint Martin’s becoming a full-time coeducational university began after the aviation program, but it was continuously shot down until 25 years later (women had been allowed to take night-courses and classes during summer session, but were still regarded as “special students” until 1965). However, a few women had been accepted into regular course work, and Grace S. Dixon had even graduated as the valedictorian of the Class of 1953. Going coed seemed like the next logical step.
As I read on, I found explanations for both sides of the argument.
Fr. John Scott wrote: “A young philosophy professor, Father George Seidel, did not like ‘the speed at which the decision for something as important and as far-reaching in its consequences as co-education’ was being taken. ‘The real reason we are giving consideration to coeducation at any level at this time,’ Fr. George asserted, ‘is, frankly, money. It is a matter of pure expediency.’ He further assumed that women would mostly want to study subjects in liberal arts and humanities… in which areas the College’s faculty and offerings were at present very limited.” Ouch.
On the pro side, accounting professor Edward Daniszewski addressed the situation: “The founding fathers of SMC followed the then current opinion that only men need be educated because they were the dominant sex in society. Since World War II, this opinion is no longer tenable by facts [for] women have made and are making tremendous advances in their social and economic position.”
Thank you professor Daniszewski. I would like to think that the staff at Saint Martin’s at that time were not just worried about getting money from the attendance of female students. I would like to think that Saint Martin’s was not only thinking of what was advantageous to the college, but what was just in terms of female higher education. Thankfully, SMC faculty voted in favor of coeducation, effective as of September 1965.
So here I am, 44 years later, Co Editor-in-Chief of the new student newspaper at Saint Martin’s University, reading a newspaper written by an all male staff about an all male student population at what was then Saint Martin’s College. It is hard to believe that such a short time ago, women did not have the opportunities that are now offered to both men and women. Women now represent __ percent of the student population at Saint Martin’s, and are not only interested in liberal arts and humanities, thank you very much, but are progressive in all areas of study.
I would like to solute those women who first participated in the aviation program in 1939. I am disappointed that the U.S. military wouldn’t accept them during the war, but am glad that Saint Martin’s gave them the opportunity to join the program. It was women like them that got everyone talking about coeducation, and they are part of the reason that I have a voice at Saint Martin’s today.