Finding Feminism at Carolina

Gloria Steinem is the founder of Ms. Magazine. Betty Friedan is the author of “The Feminine Mystique” and founder of the National Organization for Women. Angela Davis is a political activist that pioneered in issues related to race and gender. These are the names of women that I often come across when I read about the women’s movement.

The curiosity about these women and the women who trailblazed a glowing path for the generations of Carolina women to follow led to learning more about Susan H. Ehringhaus, Patricia Wallace and Mary McRae.

Many students at UNC-Chapel Hill (particularly first-year students) are familiar with Ehringhaus, one of the largest high-rise dorms on south campus. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, prohibited sex discrimination in publicly funded education programs and prevented discrimination based on sex in publicly funded education systems.

ParkerThe other two aforementioned names, Mary McRae and Patricia Wallace, were both firsts at UNC. McRae was among the first women admitted to the University in 1897 while Wallace became the first female student body president in 1985.

In 1968, the Association for Women Students, an organization to which female undergraduate and graduate students were routinely admitted, was a major women’s rights organization on campus. During the women’s rights movement and throughout the 1970s, the association distributed pamphlets on rape, pregnancy and sexual relations, hosted a career week and three women’s festivals, and published its own magazine, SHE.

Some of the notable achievements of the association included hosting Gloria Steinem in 1974 during one of its festivals, providing information on contraceptive clinics and rape centers, and encouraging discussions among men and women about their beliefs on feminism and the movement. The association also encouraged students on campus to lobby and fundraise for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, with the help of campus political groups and the Orange and Chatham County Coalition of North Carolinians for the Equal Rights Amendment.

In the 1980s the association was disbanded and SHE folded. The most recent turn of the century awareness about disservices done to women around the world and gender inequalities have brought women and men on campus together, and today there are dozens of organizations students can join in order to advocate for equal rights.
Susan H. Ehringhaus, Mary McRae and Patricia Wallace may not be household names like Steinem, Friedan, and Davis, yet they were milestone women in the history of UNC-Chapel Hill. For a little over one hundred years, women on campus have followed in the footsteps of those before them and fought for their rightful spots, giving women on campus the gains that we often take for granted.

UNC Women’s History

1897: Mary McRae becomes the first female student at UNC-CH.
1925: Spencer Hall, the first female dorm on-campus, opens.
1963: Karen L. Parker becomes the first black woman undergraduate to enroll at UNC.
1968: The Association for Women Students is founded.
1970: Morrison becomes the first co-ed dorm.
1972: Passage of Title IX.
1974: Gloria Steinem speaks on campus as part of AWS’s Women’s Festival.
1976: Women outnumber men for the first time in the first-year class.
1979: Karen Stevenson became the first Carolina woman to receive a Rhodes Scholarship. She was also the first black woman in the nation to receive this honor.
1985: Patricia Wallace becomes the first female Student Body President.

(image above: Karen L. Parker, the first black woman to enroll at UNC.)
Images courtesy of The University Library and the UNC Center for the Study of the American South.