From Rhodes’ founding in 1848 and into the 1880s, the college was strictly an all-male institution. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a few daughters of chancellors and faculty members were permitted to attend classes, but couldn’t recite in class, take exams, or receive diplomas.
When Dr. Charles E. Diehl became president, things changed fast. With World War I in full swing, the board of trustees voted to allow women to be admitted on the same terms as men. In the fall of 1917, five women—including a young woman named Margaret Trahern—enrolled as first-year students. Four years later, she became the first woman in the college’s history to receive a diploma. During the 100 years since that first class of women entered the college, countless women of achievement have graduated and gone on to shape the world.
To help tell these stories and more, the college has kicked off 100 Years of Women at Rhodes, a yearlong celebration of the extraordinary women—students, faculty, and staff—who have called Rhodes home. Homecoming/Reunion Weekend, which takes place Oct. 26 through Oct. 29, will kick off several major events, including Women in Leadership, a panel of Rhodes alumnae sharing their experiences as leaders in the non-profit, for-profit, and government sectors; an alumna artist’s talk with Alexandra Carter ’09; and the opening of a Women of Rhodes exhibit of images and memorabilia in Paul Barret, Jr. Library.
Leslie Reddick ’82 and Arminda Thomas will bring Shakespeare’s Women, an imaginative exploration of the Bard’s women, to McCoy Theatre for three shows during Homecoming weekend. In Clough-Hanson Gallery, an opening reception will be held for “In Conversation: Celebrating 100 Years of Women at Rhodes.” The exhibit celebrates the contributions of women faculty and alumnae from the Department of Art and Art History by placing them in conversation across generations around persistent themes in the study and creation of art. The exhibit also will include the work of Floy Hanson and Jessie Clough, two forward-thinking women whose keen eyes and passion for art laid the groundwork for Clough-Hanson Gallery.
Events and commemorations will continue throughout the year, with Rhodes magazine dedicating the fall issue to profiles of women achieving “firsts” in their fields, including a conversation with President Marjorie Hass. In January, several events are planned around the inauguration of Dr. Hass, the first woman to serve as Rhodes’ president. The Sou’wester will also be profiling notable alumnae over the course of the year, including Lauren Avant Sumski ’14, a former All-American Rhodes basketball player who graduated with a B.S. in biology and has now returned as the head coach of women’s basketball.