The following is an excerpt from an interview with Janet Coleman Kimbrough, a member of the College of William and Mary's first class of women. The interviewer, Emily Williams, directed an oral history project at the College between 1974 and 1976. After graduation in 1921 Kimbrough went to medical school, later returning to Williamsburg as an active member of the community and a supporter of the college. In the interview, she comments on the town, the college, and the place of women in the first quarter of the twentieth century.   The complete interview may be found in the University Archives, Swem Library.

Janet Coleman Kimbrough, pictured in the 1921 Colonial Echo, p.62.

Williams: When you were ready to go to college was when William and Mary became a coeducational institution?

Kimbrough: Yes. My father had expected to send me to Hollins, and for the last couple of years before I went to William and Mary I had been following a course of study more or less suggested by Hollins. When the college became coeducational that seemed to father the opportunity to send me here. You see, he had no sons, and he was particularly interested in the college, so this seemed to him as if it worked out just right.

Williams: Were you glad to be one of the first women to go to the college, or was your choice part of this?

Kimbrough: Well, I had no choice in the matter, as I remember, at all. I was very much interested in the idea, but I really didn't have any opinion. Nobody asked my opinion, and I don't remember feeling either that William and Mary should become coeducational or it shouldn't, or anything else. I was just an onlooker until I became a student.

Williams: In the Flat Hats that spring before you and a small group of women arrived, the Flat Hat was not exactly taken with the idea that there were going to be women students. When you arrived as a student did you find any resentment on the part of the men students?

Kimbrough: Comparatively little. There was a certain resentment among the alumni and there were a lot of the students -- it would not have been fashionable for them to say that they approved of coeducation, but they weren't at all unfriendly to the girls. But it was fashionable to feel that this was a man's world and that William and Mary was a man's college, and they were possibly a little condescending in their attitude toward us, but as I remember, the students who were actually in college were very friendly. As I told you the other day, the war [World War I] was on, and everyone was thinking of the war so much more than they were of women's rights and coeducation that we didn't run into -- I don't remember any unpleasant attitude on the part of the men in general. I'm sure you read this little write-up they had this year -- "The Petticoat Invasion" or something like that. The only thing I really remember: there was this one preministerial student who was very much opposed -- I don't exactly remember why -- a young man named Wicker. He went on and studied for the ministry; I don't know what his attitude in later life was, but at that time he felt that this was just all wrong. He felt quite intensely on the subject that women should not go to William and Mary. And at that time they had two literary societies and debates were the big thing; just about every month they had a debate in one of the literary societies. They decided to have a debate pro and con on coeducation. And someone I think with a strong sense of humor put Mr.Wicker on to support coeducation. They just put him on that side. The two literary societies didn't have any women as members but we were invited to that particular meeting. I didn't go; I wish I had. A number of them went, and Mr. Wicker when it came his turn to give his section of the debate in favor of coeducation, stood up and said as there was nothing to be said in favor of coeducation he would have to explain why he couldn't support it, and he launched into a very violent attack on coeducation. Some of the girls were rather upset by it, others were very much amused, and the student body in general had a grand time. They just thought it was a grand, big joke, but there were a few of the girls who felt quite upset and embarrassed about having gone. This was just the age when the flapper was appearing, and he drew a terrible picture of the awful flapper and the awful influence she was on the male students and how her short dresses were disrupting the morals of the world and that the students weren't able to keep their minds on their studies because of the horrible women who were parading around in these short skirts. And the skirts actually -- they wore high shoes at the time and the skirts were actually an inch or two above the top of the high shoes, which was supposed to be just terrible. It [the debate] was a very exciting event but that is really the only incident I remember. There were a lot of students whose individual opinion was that women didn't belong in college, that they didn't need higher education, that this was sort of ridiculous -- but they didn't carry it over to being unfriendly at all. They dated the girls if they liked the girls and they didn't date them if they didn't and that was it.

Williams: I think maybe from the context of today we would expect you to feel as you marched up the street to the college that you were striking a blow for women's rights in some way, but you say it wasn't that way at all?

Kimbrough: No, I don't think we felt that way. I think some of the women's suffrage people felt that. We were always being lectured to and told that we were "pioneers" -- we got very tired of the word -- and that we must set wonderful examples for those to follow and build up the beautiful tradition of the betterment of women and the strength of women in the world and so on, but I don't remember that the students -- ( the twenty girls who were going into college) -- were particularly interested in pioneering for women's rights or pioneering for anything else.

Williams: These wouldn't be teachers at the college that were doing this -- telling you were such pioneers -- just people in town maybe?

Kimbrough: No. Anybody who made an address to the women up at the college, and someone was always addressing us. We would have chapel in the morning, and if there was any speaker that came to William and Mary he always seemed to launch out a little on the "pioneering" young women. But of course we had to start a number of things. They had, at that time, a great deal of discussion always the first year at William and Mary on the honor system, and when they spoke to the women about the honor system they would tell us we were pioneers. When we formed our own little self-government organization and someone would come and address us and explain the outlines of self-government, they would tell us we were pioneers. We formed a Y.W.C.A.,and someone from away would come and talk to us about the Y.W.C.A. and tell us we were pioneers. We just got it coming and going.

Williams: Did the women stick together -- these first twenty or so?

Kimbrough: More or less. We weren't conscious of being a segregated group or anything at all but of course, the women's dormitory was where even the town students hung out, and any organization or anything was formed was always at the dormitory. We were tremendously interested in each other. There were about six or seven town students and twelve or fourteen dormitory students, and the dormitory students interested us very much. We spent a great deal of time discussing clothes and manners and what everybody was doing and whether to use lipstick or not and whether a girl who kissed boy was fast and so forth.

Williams: Now the girls that lived in the dorm lived up at Tyler Annex?

Kimbrough: No, Tyler Hall. Tyler Annex was later. Tyler Hall was the new dormitory which had been built for men,and the men had only been in it for a couple of years or so. They took them out and put the girls in there and that didn't particularly please the men, but I don't think that had anything to do with coeducation; that was just that their good quarters were taken away from them. It was not only that their good rooms were taken away, but the girls that first year were such a small number that they didn't fill the building at all. Now by the second year they did. There were about twenty girls the first year, of whom six or seven were town students; sixty came in the next year, and then there were a hundred or so the year after, so it practically doubled every year there for a little while -- both the girls and the men, of course, because the men coming back from the war came in.

The first year we were there everything was attuned to the war. A good many of the students were not paying their own tuition; it was being paid for by the government. They had what they called the Student Army Training Corps (SATC). Captain Van Deusen (I think his name was) and two lieutenants who were in the army were stationed here in charge of the SATC. When the war ended in November, of course, the need for this SATC ceased, and so from Christmas on there was no more SATC. The result was that the number of men at college dropped way down right after the [term] (we had a term that ended at Christmas -- I don't think it ordinarily had; I think it had been on a semester term before, but because of the war they ended one term at Christmas, and then there was a second term that ran until about March and then a third term). So we had three terms, then, the first year [I was here], and the second term the population at the college dropped down I think under a hundred (and I think that was including the girls). The twenty girls, of course, were there for the whole year, but all this SATC unit was pulled out. Some of them came back later but they had to go home and refinance their education after the SATC was disbanded.

We had bugles blown at the end of each class period, and the members of the SATC had to get up and march out of class and march to wherever they were disbanded and then reformed to march into the next class and so on.

Williams: Did they take classes with the students?

Kimbrough: Yes. There wasn't much feeling about the girls because there was so much feeling about the military at that time.

The bugles were not completely in tune with the college bell, and the professors for the most part ignored the bugles and went by the bell, and if the bell rang a little early, that was all right, but if the bell was a little later than the bugle, that was very upsetting because the army people were furious if the students didn't get right up with the bugle and march out, and the professors were very much upset if they did. There was a small group who were here paying their own way. The college students who were seventeen or who were physically unfit or something like that made up the students who were not in the SATC, and they were irritated by the military, and they weren't going to be very polite to them, and they refused to stand aside and let them march in first and things like that. The three young officers who were here felt they had to enforce their regulations -- Mr. [Y.O.] Kent could probably tell you more about it than I could. I remember one incident -- at that time Brafferton was being used as a dormitory, and somebody leaned out of an upper floor as these three young officers were marching by and dumped something down on the top of them, which made them perfectly furious. They took a small group of their SATC under orders and went in and searched the dormitory and arrested the young man they felt had done the thing. Of course, it was poorly managed -- they should have had better cooperation -- but they didn't appeal to the college authorities at all; they just marched the young man down to the train and put him on the train and sent him away. In the meantime the faculty had gotten together and had a faculty meeting, and they rushed down to the train station; the military put him on one end of the car and the faculty took him off the other end. I don't know what was the final outcome, and I don't know any of the details, but I remember that everybody was having a beautiful time watching that. But ask Mr. Kent about it; he probably was much more in on the story than I was.

Williams: This, then, sounds as though 1918, with this SATC coming in and women coming in, must have been a real change in the life that had been known at the college.

Kimbrough: Well, everything was so changed at the time. We had daylight savings [time]; of course we'd never had [it] before. Automobile traffic was just really getting under way, and the army stimulated that tremendously. There were these military trucks continually coming through town carrying loads of military materials down to the ports and the army camps here. They tore up the road. We had no paved roads, you see, and we had two very bad winters, and they tore up the roads terribly and turned them into just almost an impossible morass -- especially the eastern end of Duke of Gloucester Street. You really couldn't get across it. You had to walk sometimes three or four blocks up the street before you could go from one side to another because of this deep mud. I remember stepping in and losing my shoe in it; there was no hope of finding it; it was way down in the mud. To complicate matters still further, the town decided to put in water and sewage -- or had decided just ahead of all this -- and they dug the street up to put in sewer pipes, and that made it that much worse. They began the thing thinking they were going to be able to finish it quickly and then because of the shortage of materials and shortage of labor and so forth, it didn't get finished as quickly as they thought. The result was that the streets were terribly torn up. of course, the fact that almost every family had some member involved in the armed forces -- there was just so much change at that time that coeducation was a minor matter. Girls' skirts were going up; of course, the flapper and jazz and the type of dancing -- everything was "upsetting the morals and the morality of the young people," and we were coming in for a great deal of criticism. Just everything was changing; the coeducation was just one small item, really.

Williams: I think you had said the other day that having women in the college changed somewhat the situation of the other girls in town who did not go to the college.

Kimbrough: Yes. They were very much interested in, but very critical of the coeds and inclined to think they were an unattractive group of girls. Of course, as a group they were not; well, they were neither particularly attractive nor unattractive; they were just an assortment of girls who wanted to go to college. But the town girls were undergoing all sorts of changes, too, because up until then there had been very little work of any sort for women. There were a few secretarial jobs in town for women. There would be a secretary up at the college, maybe. Suddenly there were all sorts of other things opening up. There was a big munitions plant, and a great many of the women in town were encouraged to take part in that. (It wasn't right in town; it was down here at Penniman). There had been women teachers in the public schools -- that was just about all. And then suddenly there were jobs as secretaries. Positions that had been held by men were now open to women because the men were in the service. Telephones were growing up in every direction; of course, all the telephones had to have central women operators, and that work increased. It was just a period of intense change.

Williams: You were speaking of the number of teachers. As I read, it seemed as that a number of the graduates at the college did go on to become teachers, but you instead went to medical school. Was it not unusual for a woman to go off to medical school at that time?

Kimbrough: Yes, it was fairly unusual. Actually, I intended to go either into teaching or into nurses' training. Both of those fields were open to women, but I think it was my senior year here that the head of the biology department -- I was talking to him about some biology problem or something that he was interested in or that I was interested in, and he said, "You know, as a nurse, you won't get into any of this," but he said, "what you should do is to study medicine instead," which I had never really considered before. I thought about it and investigated and found that the classes that I had taken at the college would be sufficient to give me admission to a medical school. So I changed over to that. Actually, when I first entered college there were no major and minor requirements at all. You didn't have a field in which you were going to concentrate. You could take almost any subject you wanted.

Williams: Did you consult with the registrar or someone before you chose your classes? Do you remember?

Kimbrough: You usually consulted with anyone whose class you wanted to take. This all changed while I was a student. I was getting the B.A. degree but taking quite a lot of science at the same time, so I preferred to take it under the old catalog requirements. The old catalog simply required that you have a certain proportion of your classes from science if you were going to get a B.S. degree or a certain proportion of your classes from English, history, and language if you were going to get a bachelor of arts degree. You could just scatter it around pretty much as you wanted -- and I did. Most of the degrees given from then on were given under the new catalog with a definite concentration in a field of some sort.

Williams: How would you characterize, then, the standards of the college at the time you were here as a student?

Kimbrough: Well, of course, as far as equipment went, the college was very, very deficient in equipment. The sciences of physics and chemistry have developed so since then that what we learned would hardly pass us -- I don't think would have passed us -- for a high school course in physics or chemistry [now], but in other subjects such as English and literature and language, I think the standards were probably very good. We learned the funadamentals of biology and chemistry probably better than the student of today does because the fundamentals were all there was to learn. Radio was just in its very earliest stages. I remember Dr. Young, who was head of the physics department, put together sort of a radio up at the college chapel. I remember several times trying to listen on that to music being broadcast from Pittsburgh, I think. KDKA was what everybody tried to get and mostly what you got was horrible screeches and screams, but if you got even a whisper of music -- and it was all by earphones; there were no real loudspeakers -- you felt more than rewarded because here you were hearing music that was in Pittsburgh and you were sitting up here at William and Mary, and it was sort of magical-seeming. We talked about Einstein. I think, actually, we probably understood as much or as little about Einstein then as the average student does today because I don't think he's anything but a name to most people. In fact, maybe we understood more because it was news and we talked about it more. Now it's just rather factual, disinteresting history; it's just a name tucked away. Einstein and relativity were very new, and even if people couldn't understand it at least they talked about it.

Williams: When you went to medical school, then, did you feel that you had been as well prepared at the college as some of your compatriots in med school?

Kimbrough: In general, I think so. There certainly were some a lot better prepared than I was but there were some who finished at William and Mary who were a lot better prepared for medical school than I was. I hadn't been conscious of putting out a great deal of effort while I was a William and Mary, and as I say I was so diversified that I wasn't working awfully hard in any one field. Of course, the students who came to William and Mary were very much more poorly prepared than a great many of them are now because after about ten years of schooling you were eligible to enter William and Mary. At that time there were some high schools that were beginning to run an eleven- year course, but the majority of them did very well if they had ten years, and a lot of students had less than that. There was a great deal more individual instruction given both in college and everywhere else,which was an advantage to the student over today -- I suppose it's an advantage. Of course, what happens now is that the student does more independent work, and that of course may be an advantage of sorts. But we really knew our professors and they knew us. There were so few students; the professor didn't run a course that was being taught by an instructor.. He did all his own exam papers, he called the roll at the beginning of the class, and he knew pretty well by the end of the course which students were paying attention and which weren't.

Williams: When you came did the college have the "duc" rules at that time?

Kimbrough: Oh, yes. Of course, they didn't have "duc" rules for the women. The first year we were there we really had nobody -- we weren't included as ducs or anything else. They didn't exactly know what we were, neither fish nor fowl. But by the second year, when we were upperclassmen, we began trying to impose duc rules on freshmen women. But it was a little difficult, because by the time we were upperclassmen there were so many more freshmen than there were upperclassmen that we didn't get very far. The duc rules were sort of off that first year because of the war anyway, so really all that began to come back into college life when the war ended. I don't ever remember women that first year wearing the so-called "duc"caps that everybody wore later.

Williams: What about social rules for women? Now while you lived at home, I suppose you wouldn't have been governed by them.

Kimbrough: Well, yes, I was to a certain extent because if I was up at the colleges I was at the college dormitory and the rules in the dormitory were very strict. They appointed a dean of women for the first time that first year and -- a rather interesting woman, a Ph.D. in English literature, I think she was -- Tupper-- and we called her ''Doc." She was, of course, a Dr. Tupper and she was from Illinois, I think, and she was quite a liberal person for the period. She was constantly trying to avoid making hard and fast rules. She constantly told us to try and establish a "tradition" -- women didn't do this through tradition, that women didn't do that -- rather than make a hard and fast rule. But we had a great many rules even at that that didn't seem at all restrictive to us because everything else was being run that way, too. Everyone had to be in the dormitory from suppertime on in the evening except by special permission, and from 8:00 until 10:00 at night you were supposed to be either in your own room or in the library; you were supposed to be studying. There wasn't supposed to be any noise or commotion. Of course, everybody continually stewed around from their room to someone else's because they had to borrow a pencil and they had to this and that, so it didn't work out the way it did on paper at all, but the dormitories were very quiet. Then at 10:00 the study hall period was over and from 10:00 to 10:30 you could sort of roam around and make a racket. At 10:30, though, everyone was supposed to go to bed and have their lights out except those who had special permission, and you could get special permission to stay up and study til 12:00 if you wanted to, but then you would have to study in one of the other rooms because you would keep your roommate awake. At 12:00 all the lights all over the campus went out and there was no further light until dawn came, and that disturbed Miss Tupper -- the idea of having the women's dormitory in complete darkness. There were no lights after 12:00 from the College powerplant and Miss Tupper managed to arrange to have a wire run in from the town that supplied little lights on the stair landings. The result was that my second year at college when you had to study late you would go out and sit on the stairs. Of course, you weren't supposed to. You weren't supposed to stay up, but you could get up as early as you pleased, and we would very often go to our rooms and go through the formality of going to bed, and then get up and sit on the stairs and do our studying and also talk to each other.

For the first year there we had what we called "social hour" right after supper until 8:00, and somebody would play the piano, and they would roll back the rugs and dance. At this time people really went in for dancing in a big way. Dancing every evening gave the college rather a bad name from Dr. Chandler 's point of view. He said that it was giving the state the impression that they were spending their state money in riotous living for the students, and so he did away with the social hour, which I thought was a pity. It [dancing] went the first year and about halfway through the second year, then they were forbidden to dance in the dormitory at all. We had to make special arrangements to hold a dance in the college gymnasium or something like that.

Dr. Chandler was a rather stern disciplinarian in a way and Miss Tupper was, as I said, not at all. They didn't pull together, so about halfway through the second year -- you see, Miss Tupper was here with Dr. Tyler for the first year -- about halfway through the second year Miss Tupper left, and we didn't have a dean of women then for a long time. We had a "social directoress," Miss Bessie P. Taylor, who came in, and she was a real chaperone in that she watched the girls with an eagle eye, and she was always telling people that their skirts were too short and that they were holding too close to the young man they danced with and that they used too much lipstick and so forth. She would sit there and watch at any dance or anything like that; and you could see her practically measuring the length of the skirts and looking to see if they were doing any cheek-to-cheek dancing and so on. She was there for a number of years. It was quite awhile before we had another dean of women and the result was that organizations like the American Association of University Women (AAUW) had us on an unapproved list as a college because they felt we weren't upholding the proper standards for women.

I would say we had rather good [women's] athletics. We had a basketball team; of course you have to have two teams to even practice, and when you just have twenty students, you use just about everybody. We also had "aesthetic dancing." I think you've seen that picture.

Williams: That picture in Cows on the Campus? Yes.

Kimbrough: My mother took that picture. We were having an outdoor display of some sort, and she came up and took that picture. We've used it a number of times since because it's about the best picture we have of the coeds as a group. Most of them were in that picture; there were several of them who were not, but I think there were almost twenty; I think there were seventeen in there.

Williams: This was before they had the May Days. Yes, that came several years later.

Kimbrough: Yes, that came much later. We had had May Day events in Williamsburg, but of course it [the queen] had to be elected from the girls in Williamsburg as there were no girls at the college until that year [1918], and that year I don't think anybody bothered about May Day because everything was so disrupted. It was several years later before they began having May Day arrangements and parades and so forth. The first year the basketball team and the aesthetic dancing were the only real athletics of any sort that we had. We also had a certain amount of drilling right at the beginning, but after the war ended we lost interest in that, too. I remember we used to march up and down and right face and left face and all. Of course, that's what the men were doing, but I don't remember any of that later on. There was a certain amount of tennis, but that was completely on a voluntary basis. There were two or three courts up there, and anybody who could get a racket would get out there and play. First come would get the court and both men and women played tennis, but I don't ever remember any instruction in tennis; most of the tennis was pretty poor by more recent standards. Of course there wasn't any swimming pool. We had swimming parties, and we'd go down on the James River down at Kingsmill or something like that, but that was mostly in summer and not during the regular session of college. The men, of course, had football, basketball, and baseball, which was very important. I don't know that anybody had to go out for these things at that time, but it was just more or less college activity, and if you could go out for it and get on the team, why of course you had it made as far as prestige went. I remember the college games from way back when I was a child. We would go up and sit in the grandstand and root for the team even though we had no idea what was going on out on the field at all. We didn't pay any admission; I don't remember paying any admission or anything; we just went there.

Williams: Students seemed to have really supported the teams. I got this when I was reading the Flat Hats.

Kimbrough: Yes. It was a period when college spirit was very strong. There wasn't any question about supportlng your team; you just naturally did. We used to have rallies, (so-called), just before the big games of the season, and part of the initiation of the ducs was that they were required to learn certain cheers. We didn't have girl cheerleaders at all. I don't remember even considering them. The cheerleader would have a megaphone and would direct the cheering, but there wasn't any special costume or special activity on the part of the cheerleader; he was just to see that everybody made noise.

The boys' fraternities were very important at that time, too. There were, I think, five on the campus, and there weren't any rushing rules as there are now. You just went down to the station, and if you knew somebody was coming in, if you possibly could you grabbed him right as he got off the train, pledged him as soon after he got off as you possibly could, and that was it. But the girls, of course, didn't have any sororities until my last year, the third year I was here. One came in subrosa the second year, but it wasn't until the third year they officially became girls' sororities.

Williams: Was there any objection on the part of the administration? Was that why?

Kimbrough: They had to get permission. I don't know whether the boys if they wanted to establish a new fraternity had to get permission from the board or not. I rather think they did at that time, and when the girls decided they wanted to have one they didn't come out in the open with the fact that they'd formed one until they had gotten permission from the board to have sororities. I think three of them formed very rapidly, one right after another. I don't remember any new ones coming in, but I have the feeling they existed only with be permission of the administration. They had their own houses at that time, and as dormitory space was rather short, the college wasn't at all disapproving of that -- they were very glad to have them have a house of their own.

Williams: I know they [the sororities] had no housing of their own.

Kimbrough: Yes. They had no housing of their own. At first they just met in somebody's room and then once they were really established the first thing they wanted to do was to have a room away from the dormitory that was theirs. I know that the Gamma Omegas, to which I belonged, rented a little room out the Richmond Road. We kept our secrets there.

The men had their two literary societies and these five fraternities. Before William and Mary was coeducational the town girls usually supported one or the other of the fraternities, depending on who their boyfriend was. They would be much more in favor of one fraternity than another. It was a very important part of your social life -- your fraternity. Which girl was wearing what boy's pin was very important. We didn't use the term "pinned" in those days, but the fact that you had a boy's fraternity pin pretty well labeled you as his particular property. There was a great deal of discussion when we first formed the girls' sororities as to whether you should give your pin to a boy. The girls did quite often, but I don't think the national sororities approved of it very much. I frankly don't ever remember seeing a boy wearing a sorority pin, but the girls very often, of course, wore the boys' -- some sort of a double standard at the time.

(Oral History Collection Ki-N, folder: Janet Coleman Kimbrough; University Archives, Swem Library, College of William and Mary).

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