If one were to pick up a Baylor Lariat dated back to the 1950s, it would read a lot differently than one today. This is especially true when focusing on how women were portrayed. Baylor media frequently contained several stereotypes regarding women. Some of these stereotypes included attending school to find a husband, being needy in the dating scene and having to be cared for by both men and the university.. Women were often referred to in relation to their good looks. It was also common for women to have their identities linked to men when being referenced in the media. The headlines and sexist comments did not accurately represent the role Baylor women were playing on campus in the 1950s. Some of Baylor’s organized activities and rules actively enhanced these stereotypes. Nevertheless, both male and female allies worked to create a more respected and equal view of women during this time.
One gender expectation often stereotyped in the media was the social responsibilities women were expected to uphold. In August of 1951, Baylor offered to their female students what was believed to be the very first collegiate course in “human relations” (Press Release, 1951). Topics covered in this course included manners, ethics, group and family relationships and personality development. Women were required to attend these classes five days a week. When asked the purpose of such a class the professor, Mrs. Douglas, was quoted stating it was “A frank sincere approach to the problems confronting the college girl, we hope to aid in taking stock of herself and to direct her in making of herself a wholesome, happy, useful member of society” (Press Release, 1951).
Other courses women were strongly encouraged to take were in home economics. Women took cooking classes that included a final exam where they were required to cook a recipe completely by memory (“Girls must be able”, 1949). The Lariat features an article depicting the class as a female lab alternative to what the males were studying. The article concludes with the quote “Boys who believe that girls have a snap in cooking might try memorizing a few hundred recipes sometime” (“Girls must be able”, 1949). This quote further perpetuates the ideal that women belong in the kitchen and while men should appreciate this, they are not expected to do it themselves.
Another quote related to these home economics courses read “So boys, if you’re getting tired of restaurant eating, you might look over some girls in 101. They’ve got biscuits on the ball” (Williams, 1949, p. 2). Professor Parker was quoted asserting “Good biscuits and smart house keeping attract a man as quickly as anything else” (Press Release 1951). This viewpoint not only provides the image that women are responsible for housekeeping duties, but also portrays to female students that following these stereotyped expectations is a great method for “attracting” a man. These two themes, as well as others, were frequently repeated through classes at Baylor, often highlighted in the Baylor media.
Another reoccurring expectation of women was the need for them to look “perfect” and beautiful at all times. A clear example of this expectation was the Baylorettes,; a group of girls who would march at the halftime show for football games wearing boots and short dresses. W. R. White agreed there needed to be more “color” during the halftime show, referring to the entertainment value the Baylorettes would add. W. R. White supported the Bayloretters when their leader Miss Kay Mitchell stated, “There is such an abundance of beautiful girls on the Baylor campus that an organization like this should prove very colorful to the half time activities of our football games,” (“Baylorettes will meet”, 1949).
A review of Lariats that mention Baylorettes between the years of 1949 through 1957 demonstrate the objectification of these women primarily on their looks with such article titles as ‘Pretty Marching Coeds Get Whistles From BU Rooters at Grid Games’ or ‘Co-eds Face Problem of Accommodating to BU Style of Less Sex, More Art’ (Thirteen Twirlers, 1949). The second article mentioned places blame on the Baylorettes for being too “sexy”, a pressure that had previously been pushed upon them by the media. Several Lariat articles praised these women for being “sexy” and having “beautiful bodies” at the origin of the organization. Critiques later surfaced in these articles scolding the Baylorettes for such features. This in part was a response to outside constituents beginning to write in to the paper expressing their disapproval of the Baylorettes when it came to “accommodating the BU style” (Thirteen Twirlers, 1949). To remedy this situation, Baylor selected a group of five Band Majorettes to act as a classier alternative. The transition to Band Majorettes was announced in a 1949 Lariat article and was at the forefront of the media for several years to come (New BU Majorettes, 1949).
Despite the Band Majorettes’ attempts to focus more on the skill of the sport and less on the sexual appeal of the women, the Baylor media remained fixated on the physical appearance of the women. In the first announcement article for the BU Majorettes, the article read “These five pretty twirlers—three blondes, a redhead and a brunette— constitute the first line of the marching band. Watch them twirl, strut and step high” (New BU Majorettes, 1949). Little attention was paid to their talents; the journalistic focus was on their beauty. This objectification was present in a 1954 exclusive describing the five BU Majorettes. The media piece was written by a male student, Bill Nash (1954) who interviewed the women, and commented on their responses regarding their physical descriptions and struggles as BU Majorettes. His written comments included; “Evelyn, who has long flowing blonde hair, is 5ft, 9 in. tall and weighs 130 pounds. I am sorry there are no further dimensions available, gentlemen, but use your imagination” and “her biggest problem is trying to keep her weight down” (Nash, 1954).
Other Baylor traditions that focused solely on women’s beauty included Homecoming Queen. The fall editions of Baylor Lariats were inundated with headshots of beautiful women hoping to be the next Queen. Advertisements were spread across the papers displaying the gifts the Homecoming Queen would receive including diamonds and flowers. In the 1950s the main criteria for Queen selection was beauty, poise, and personality. Another tradition was the powder-puff football game every year where the two teams of female students called “The Cutes” and “The Beauts” would play each other at the “Beauty Bowl” (“Beauts and Cutes, 1949).
Complimenting physical appearance standards, there was an emphasis put on dating at Baylor. The university went so far as to release the addresses for 2300 single men for the “convenience” of the single women. This list was found in a Lariat article titled Here’s Where to Look for You a New Feller, Girls (“Here’s where to look for you a new feller”, 1951). The article makes remarks claiming that if a girl “loses her man” her best bet would be to stop by the dean’s office because if anyone can locate them, he can (“Here’s where to look for you a new feller”, 1951). Baylor media also published several stories of the desperate acts women went through to receive male attention. One female senior named Martha Jean was envious of the attention the freshman girls were receiving from Baylor boys. To remedy this situation, she wore a freshman hat around campus and as the press release promoted, “it actually worked” (Press Release, 1950).
Another article in the Lariat perpetuated the idea that boys were the victims in the dating scene due to girls being needy and spoiled (Smith, 1950). The article discusses Corrigan Weekend a “wrong-way” dating event where women asked out the males and were responsible for picking them up, making the plans and paying for everything, “even that second bottle of root beer” (Smith, 1950). The article jokes about how high-maintenance the boys will be, probably late but ideally looking beautiful (Smith, 1950). It also references how they will have to be dropped off right on time so they do not miss curfew. These comments and the event in general, portray women as shallow, weak, and needy.
Baylor created a number of events that helped stimulate such a popular dating culture on campus. Events where males were encouraged to buy flowers to court females were a regular occurrence. Members of Baylor’s campus had mixed feelings about these events. One student who wrote into the Lariat expressed his disapproval of Baylor not living up to its Baptist values by stating the following:
It’s not uncommon to see such practices going on out on a country road among girls and boys with little sense of values, but on a Baptist college campus it seems out of place. It gives Baylor a bad reputation and it seems to place love, or what some call love on an extremely low plane. When one walks across the campus he has to practically close his eyes to keep from interfering with someone’s so called “private” affairs. We believe that something should be done about this situation because we want Baylor to be the Christian college which it has been known as through the years, instead of some institute for better courting. (“Letters to The Editor”, 1950)
Other males wrote in suggesting free date options through Baylor’s Union Building such as sponsored movies so that even the “poor boys” would be able to take girls out (“Letters to The Editor”, 1950). A female entered her opinion into the matter with the following:
They don’t realize that three-forths of the girls on this campus enjoy the company instead of the amount of money he spends on them. The average girl doesn’t expect good-looks, money, or a car when the boy asks for a date and she accepts. I will admit that a few girls around this campus are known as “GOLD DIGGERS,” but most of us women look for a good personality in our dates. Due to G.I. bills most boys have little spending money, so how about someone in this school lending a hand and start having free entertainment on the week-end nights! (“Letters to The Editor”, 1950)
The culture and importance placed on dating had a negative impact on the role females played and how they were categorized on campus. Frequently, the writers of the Baylor Lariat would either refer to women denoting their beauty or by referencing their connection to a man. For example, women were usually referred to as “The wife of…” or “The daughter of…”. Rarely are they addressed simply as themselves. An article titled ‘Wearing of the Frat Pin’ discussed how a girl’s identity is determined based on if she is wearing a fraternity pin or not (Miller, 1959). To college students, pinning your girl was a couple’s announcement to their world that they are in love and that they intend to be married. Unlike an engagement, a pinning does not imply parental consent for marriage (Miller, 1959). The article further states that a female’s identity on campus is solidified when a male has selected her (Miller, 1959). This shift from being dependent on one’s parents to dependent on a male counterpart suggests that a females’ identity is reliant on her relation to others. It projects the idea that women are not complete or enough on their own.
The intensity and importance of dating culture directly influenced the stereotype that women are only concerned with getting married at Baylor in the 1950s. An article from 1950 goes so far as to refer finding the perfect wedding dress as the biggest stressor for college girls (Vaughan, 1950). Very few editions of the Lariat during the 1950s could be found without featuring engagement announcements or advertisements for wedding dresses and rings. A 1957 article discussed the census results that claimed five out of six women of marriageable age already landed a man, but one of every four men are still single (Boyle, 1957). The article was titled “Boyle Learns Southern Belles Have Best Husband-Hunting”. It went on to say that females looking for an engagement should come learn husband hunting skills from the southern females (Boyle, 1957).
One Lariat engagement section from 1952 was even titled “Eight Baylor Girls Can’t Feel Pain; They’re Wearing Rings” (“Eight Baylor Girls”, 1952). In this edition, like many others, almost an entire page is dedicated to wedding announcements and advertisements most of them using phrases like “finally settled down” or “took the most important step”. This projects a clear image to the female Baylor community. Articles using this tone emphasize “success” for women as simply finding a husband. “Ring by Spring” was a term that used at Baylor to depict the push for females to be engaged by the spring of their senior year of college; this term can still be heard on campus today.
Female Student Counterviews
Some female students on campus were not as quick to follow the “Ring by Spring” trend being emphasized by the media. One outspoken editor, Darla Prudom, had her own column in the Lariat entitled ‘Darla Says It Must Be True’. Darla discusseds an article she read in Time Magazine entitled “Girls in College: They Have Scarcely Begun to Use Their Brains” (Prudom, 1961). The article stressed that women should get an education whether they planned on getting married or not, denoting the general consensus of most females; “I’ll continue my education until HE comes along, then I’ll get married” (Prudom, 1961). The times article also stated “”The proportion of girls in college has slipped from 47 per cent in 1920 to 37 percent now. Only a little more than half of all college girls get a bachelor’s degree. For every 300 women’ prepared to earn a doctorate, only one does” (Prudom, 1961). These numbers were then compared to Russia where 30 % of Soviet engineers and 75% of those with doctorates are women. This compared to the U. S. where only 6% of the doctors and one percent of engineers are women (Prudom, 1961). Darla was sincerely bothered by the fact that girls grow up with the idea that they may not be expected to use their education and that it is therefore unnecessary.
Some colleges report that 90 percent of their girl graduates marry within three years. To some girls, marriage looks like salvation. I’m not saying it is wrong to think of marriage, but I do believe an education should be in every girl’s future. It is important for a young mother to be an individual, an intellectual individual — an individual who strives to be a full person’—a well read person. Years ago, if you asked a girl what her plans for the future were, she would immediately reply, “Career.” Now however, she will say “Marriage and children,” Time said. A Wellesley girl wrote that girls who get to be seniors without a man sometimes panic and hastily turn themselves into teachers, but the great majority keep cool and go on to marriage after graduation. She wrote also that “I never, never expected to leave without being married.” (Prudom, 1961)
Even females who were on campus completing noteworthy accomplishments and community service still fell victim to media objectification. For example, a 1951 press release announced the capping of the first Nursing Class. This was a major accomplishment by twenty-seven women that was overshadowed by an article that instead focused on what they would be wearing during the ceremony (Press Release, 1951). These nursing students are one example of Baylor women acting outside of how the media portrayed them. In this rigorous area of study, women had to complete pre-clinical instruction and two years of hospital training (Press Release, 1951). This class of nurses were the first to receive broader education in both science and human understanding and had an option fourth year of study which many ended up pursuing (Press Release, 1951).
Baylor’s Leading Women
There are many other examples of women with major accomplishments on Baylor’s campus. The successes of said women range from leading female clubs and organizations including Women’s Auxiliary and Women’s Missionary Union to prominent female figures such as Lily Russell, Marie Mathis, Katherine Cornell and Louis Murray. Female students were the majority population when it came to working with missions and service initiatives. Out of the 949 active service missionaries in 1954, 588 of them were female students (“Statistics Revealed”, 1954). In addition to service, female staff hosted conferences for female students to develop in their faith and leadership (“Leading the Girls”, 1953).
One of these prominent female contributors was Lily Russell, a leading figure for women for decades, who served as Dean on Women and living on campus for 54 years. In her time, she initiated a project of compiling and writing Baylor’s history, a project that was taken over by Mrs. Lois Murray. Mrs. Murray aimed to develop a complete and authoritative history that will “be a reflection of the broad services rendered by a great Christian university” (Mrs. Lois Murray, 1953). Mrs. Murray was the recipient of the American Ideals teaching award and was committed to improving education and preserving tradition at Baylor (Mrs. Lois Murray, 1953).
Baylor Dean of Women Lily Russell, later replaced by Mathis, actively worked to improve Baylor as a whole. They promoted the development of a group of female students who were poised and well rounded. A reflection piece on Baylor was composed in 1985 entitled Looking Back at Baylor. In this reflection was a commentary written in 1977 on the Deans of Women and the characteristics they portrayed as a traditional “Baylor girl”. This included:
While the girls of Baylor are and always have been one of the university’s finest features, in earlier decades the words “a Baylor girl” carried a more definitive connotation than they do today. They meant that the young lady in question was almost certain to be refined and modest in manner, neat and attractive in appearance, studious and serious of mind, She was also capable of having fun, but the fun must be clean: there were quite definite things that Baylor girls “did,” and even more clearly defined ones that they “did not.” (Keeth, pg. 57, 1985)
This definition encompasses more than what was projected in the media at the time. It refers to females as being serious and focusing on committing to education and service rather than simply being somebody’s wife.
Another example of a leading woman on campus was Katherine Cornell. Katherine Cornell worked very closely with Dr. Armstrong in the development of the Armstrong Browning Library (“Letter from Dr. Wimpee”, 1956). She was most well known for packing Waco Hall twice, once for a famous play and again to assist in the dedication of the Library (“Letter from Dr. Wimpee”, 1956). In January of 1956 W. R. White declared “Katherine Cornell Day” and invited several hundreds of people to celebrate the anniversary of her successes with the unveiling of her portrait. W. R. White compiled a list of approximately 150 prominent women from Baylor who should be invited to Katherine Cornell Day. This list included successful women in a variety of academic fields, service initiatives, and arts and philanthropy (“Letter from Dr. Wimpee”, 1956). These women’s names and successes were not the focus of Lariat articles as frequently as the beautiful faces of the Baylorettes and potential brides. When looking through Baylor’s archives it becomes clear that women were accomplishing far more than what they were receiving publicized credit for.
There is something to be said regarding the types of females being portrayed in a positive light through Baylor’s media. Mostly females who were faculty and staff were presented in regards to their accomplishments compared to Baylor undergraduates. Although this does not directly reflect the female students, it does provide them with positive examples and role models. These female faculty and staff represented important counter-models to what was being portrayed in the media.
The Baylor media of the 1950s portrayed female students in fixed stereotypes. Certainly, there were women on campus that fit into these stereotypes and further perpetuated them with their actions. Whether the media led to their behavior or if the media is simply accurately reporting on the actions and thoughts of Baylor constituents at the time is difficult to determine in retrospect. What is clear however is the fact that alongside, and in contrast to these narrow social roles, there were many productive and contributing females who broke the stereotypes of women being codependent or simply a pretty face.
1953. Mrs. Lois Murray compiles history of baylor university. Office of the President, Chancellor and Preseident Emeritus. (8, 6) The Texas Collection, Baylor University
1956. Letter from W. R. White. Office of the President Chancellor and President Emeritus. (6, 8) The Texas Collection, Baylor University
1956. Letter to Dr. Wimpee from Mrs. A. J. Armstrong. Office of the President Chancellor and President Emeritus. (6, 8) The Texas Collection, Baylor University
1956. List of prominent women. Office of the President Chancellor and President Emeritus. (6, 8) The Texas Collection, Baylor University
(1959, June 26). Wedding bells ring for grads, students. The Daily Lariat, p. 4