Today in NC State History: Women become “special students”

August 2, 2012
By Chris Saunders

PrintIt took the Board of Trustees 12 years to bring up the issue of female students after the North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts was founded in 1887. In the summer of 1899, it first debated the issue of admitting women to the all-male college.

According to Alice B. Reagan’s North Carolina State University: A Narrative History, the reason the trustees took up the issue was twofold. First, they  believed that the college could offer technical education that wasn’t available elsewhere in the state to women.  Secondly, Daniel A. Tompkins, an engineer who became the publisher of The Charlotte Observer, was a strong proponent of women coming to the college, pointing out that many mill employees were women and would benefit from a technical education.

So on July 5, 1899, the trustees voted to allow women to enroll in all college curricula. But a month later, on this day in 1899,  the Board of Trustees rescinded the vote and only allowed women to be enrolled only as “special students” in one or two courses. Reagan writes that out of respect to Tompkins, however, the board did allow women to fully enroll to study textiles.  (Tompkins Hall, the first textiles building, bears his name.) Two years later, Margaret Burke was the first woman to enroll, taking a physics course.

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