It’s well known that there were no female students when NC State was born as the North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts. What may not be so well known is the role that economics — and the man that Tompkins Hall is named for — played in changing that.
In 1899, a little more than 10 years after the university opened its doors, the trustees began to debate whether to admit female students. The debate was driven, in part, by the fact that the university offered technical training that was not available to women anywhere else in North Carolina, according to Alice Elizabeth Reagan’s account in North Carolina State University: A Narrative History.
Reagan says that trustee Daniel A. Tompkins helped lead the push for the admission of women. Tompkins, an engineer who became publisher of The Charlotte Observer, was a leading proponent of the textiles courses offered at the university and believed the women who worked in North Carolina’s many textiles mills would benefit from such training.
So on this day in 1899, the trustees voted to allow women to enroll at the university, with access to all the courses it offered.
It didn’t take long, though, before the trustees had second thoughts. Within two months, they voted to rescind their earlier vote.
“In deference to Tompkins the recently approved course in textile industry remained open to women while others were closed except to female special students who enrolled in only one or two courses,” Reagan wrote.
It would not be until the 1920s, more than two decades later, before more than a few women took courses during the regular school year at NC State.