A History of Women

By Sydni Anderson, Staff writer

The history of women at Murray State dates back to the creation of the school. From the beginning, Murray State has been a co-educational facility, teaching and hiring both sexes. As people around the world celebrate Women’s History Month, Murray State looks into the past to celebrate its own history of femininity.

FIRST FACULTY & ALUMNI

The year was 1924 when Murray State Normal School hired its first faculty members. The first person contracted was a man, but out of the eight teachers hired that year, three of them were female. Mary W. Moss was the first woman to join Murray State’s faculty. She taught English and served as the Adviser of Women, or Dean of Women as it is now called. Her yearly salary was $2,400, matching the pay of two male counterparts. It was the highest faculty salary.

The first Murray State alumni were overwhelmingly female. According to Board of Regents minutes from the year of Moss’s hiring, the graduating class of 1924 was 93 percent female. Out of 15 graduates, 14 were women. In their minutes, the Board of Regents forecast the university to be dominantly female.

“There will always be three women to one man,” the minutes read, referring to the university’s need for only one male dormitory.

FIRST DORM

Sarah Hopley, Murray State Special Collections curator, said the first dormitory built on campus was a women’s dorm. Hopley said Wells Hall opened in 1925 and was overseen by the Dean of Women, Mary Moss. It was set to house 316 women.

RISE OF FEMALE GROUPS

In the following year, the Women’s Self-Government Association was established. All women registered in college were members of the association and had to follow its rules. According to “Murray State University: Fifty Years of Progress,” a book written to commemorate Murray State’s 50th anniversary, the group was created to advocate for female students.

“The purposes of the Association were to enact and enforce regulations for the welfare of women students and to promote school spirit,” the text reads.

“Fifty Years of Progress” also notes the establishment of another female group. The Alpha Chi chapter of Sigma Sigma Sigma pioneered Greek life at Murray State and was the first sorority and Greek organization on campus. As stated on the chapter website, the sorority was chartered in 1942 and had 26 chapter members. Alpha Sigma Alpha’s Beta Nu chapter was installed in 1946.

DISTINGUISHED WOMEN

In 1964, the Murray State’s Alumni Association established a program of designating a “Distinguished Professor of the Year.” In the second year of the program, Professor of biological sciences and Adviser to pre-medicine students Liza Spann was selected as distinguished professor of the year. Spann’s service to Murray State is remembered to this day, as she now has a memorial scholarship in her name for pre-medicine and pre-dentistry majors.

Women at Murray State also excelled in athletics. Carla Coffey the first woman to be inducted into Murray State’s Hall of Fame in 1981. According to the university’s Hall of Fame webpage, Coffey ran track and played basketball for Murray State from 1967 to 1971.

“Honored as the most valuable player in track and basketball for three consecutive seasons, Coffey recorded the only first place finish in women’s national championship competition,” the page says.

Six years later, Nita became the first female coach and administrator to enter the Hall of Fame. She coached tennis from 1967 to 1982 and achieved a 204-67 record with her teams, three of which had undefeated seasons.

In 1984, Murray State freshman rifle shooter Pat Spurgin won an Olympic gold medal, becoming the first woman to win gold in Olympic shooting. She was also selected as 1984 OVC Female Athlete of the Year. She was inducted into the university Hall of Fame in 1993 and the rifle range was named in her honor.

In 1983, the university saw its first female president. According to the history of the office page on the university website, Kala M. Stroup was the seventh president of Murray State and served for six years.

WOMEN RACERS TODAY

To this day, Murray State students and faculty follow in the footsteps of alumnae.

Shawn Touney, director of Communication at Murray State, said since 2001 the percentage of females on campus has consistently been around 60 percent. Touney said last fall had an enrollment of 6,154 female students. Just like in 1924, women make up the majority of the Murray State student body.

A variety of groups on campus represent this female majority, including the National Organization of Women and ECHOS Inc. Last year, Marjorie Hilton, university associate professor of history, chartered the Women’s Faculty Caucus, which celebrated Women’s History Month with a panel discussing feminism.

Ki’Ron Sickles, a member of ECHOS Inc. from Louisville, Kentucky, said female organizations are important on campus.

“We strive to be that voice for all women on campus, and prove that women can successfully work together for a purpose bigger than self,” Sickles said. “We stand for ALL women.”

In an event honoring women, the Murray State National Organization of Women hosted an International Women’s Day picnic. Kelsey Hill is president of this group and a senior from Louisville, Kentucky. Hill said the organization represents women by advocating for them on gender issues.

“The NOW campus affiliate works to raise awareness about challenges facing women, such as equal pay for equal work, informed voting, women in STEM and violence against women,” Hill said.

As women like Hill, Sickles and Hilton celebrate women’s history and stand for feminism, Murray State students and faculty reflect on the university femininity. They stand on a campus where a female teacher’s pay was equal to a man’s and where a freshman woman won gold in the Olympics. With a conviction to “stand for ALL,” not only do they remember the history of women – they strive to create it.