“I seek only equality…”
Posted on February 27, 2019
From 1927-1947, Dr. Grace Warren Landrum served the William & Mary community as both Dean of Women and Professor of English. A graduate of the University of Chicago, Landrum completed her doctorate at Radcliffe College with a dissertation on Chaucer. She published on Edmund Spenser and southern literature in the United States. She traveled extensively for “pleasure and studying” (per one passport application) and attended the International Federation of University Women meeting in Geneva, Switzerland. She served as the first vice president of the Virginia Division of the American Association of University Women, and president of the Virginia Council of Administrative Women. She kept detailed journals of bird-watching and campus life, and her teaching included tenures at Westhampton College and Redlands College. Landrum Hall, located on William & Mary’s campus, was posthumously named in her honor. Landrum’s achievements keep her legacy strong in the first wave of women administrators, faculty and staff – she was a highly accomplished force on and off campus.
You see this strength in Landrum’s papers, housed in William & Mary’s University Archives. Her correspondence is assertive and clear, particularly in an exchange with Thomas Pinckney, then Director of Public Relations at William & Mary. In late 1939, Landrum contacted Pinckney with a “regret” related to a newspaper item drafted by his office. On the offending notice, which she enclosed with her handwritten note, “Miss Grace Landrum” is forcefully underlined with a similar strike under the “Dr.” designation for her male colleagues. “My Man Thos. Pinckney,” Landrum opens cordially before asking, “if a woman had a Ph.D. should the men mind it on the basis of sex?” She acknowledges that Pinckney might not be the writer but states firmly that “you will acquiesce in my move for no distinction between our men and women here.” Landrum’s point is clear: “There should be an entire equality of men and women.”
Pinckney responds the same day, pleading “inattention” and stating that he will not “show the same carelessness again.”
Except he did.
In early October 1941, Landrum again writes Pinckney about the proper address for Dr. Caroline Sinclair “before faculty and students.” She reminds Pinckney, “[Y]ou know the tendency to make all men “Doctor” and to fail to think of the women as in the ‘doctor group.’” Though her tone is pleasant, the message is clear in her closing lines: “I make no fetish of the degree. I seek only equality and the matter is far more than tiresome.” This time, there was no written response from Pinckney.
When Dr. Landrum began her career at William & Mary, coeducation at the university was a recent development. Though the female student population increased with the approach of World War II, women were still referenced using sexist language in campus publications. In this brief exchange between Landrum and Pinckney, we see an individual advocate strongly for her proper and well-earned title. Landrum’s correspondence provides an example of how to exhibit agency in a less-than-progressive environment and at a time when women administrators were far and few between.