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Happy (House)Mother’s Day!

Hi all! This is Ellen Huggins, JEC Archives Fellow. May 14th is Mother’s Day, and what better way to celebrate than with a brand new blog post? While working on the “Dining Services” page of the Women of Davidson college website, we came across several stories of “housemothers” from the early days of Patterson Court. Even though these women were not the actual mothers of the students they served (there might have been a few exceptions, who knows), we thought you would get a kick out of some (House)Mother’s Day Davidson history.

The post below is an excerpt from the History of Dining Services page of the “Women of Davidson” site, which you can view here: https://digitalprojects.davidson.edu/omeka/s/college-archives-women-of-davidson/page/dining-services-history. The site focuses not only housemothers, but on the untold history of cooks on Jackson Court and Patterson Court. We hope you can give it a read!

Starting in the 1860’s, one of the most common dining options for Davidson students was to eat at private boarding houses in the town of Davidson. These boarding houses were run by local women who formed lasting connections with the students that frequented their homes; below, a Davidson alum of the late 1800’s recounts the significant impact that Mrs. Barnes, who ran the Barnes’ Club eating house, had on the other students who stayed under her care. 

His remembering of Mrs. Barnes reflects the beginnings of the important community and connection built by women who worked in Davidson College’s dining services. 

“After staying with Mrs. Barnes for four years, eating her prepared food week by week and absorbing some of her steadfast upbuilding philosophy, they graduated feeling like a new born man literally as well as seeing the beauty in life, the dependability in others, and the beautiful world given to all of us to embody.”
– “Influence…,” Harris A. Johnson. The Mecklenburg Gazette, July 23, 1964

In response to the rising popularity of fraternities amongst Davidson students in the early 20th century, Jackson Court was created in 1928; a semi-circle of houses along Concord Road that were rented out to fraternity chapters for 500 dollars a month by Davidson College. Unlike the fraternities and eating houses of Davidson today, the Jackson Court houses were only meant as meeting places and had no dining facilities, meaning students still had to join local boarding houses to get their meals.

Image of the entrance to Jackson Court. The image is in black and white. There are two houses to the left of a dirt road, which goes down the center of the image. Large fir trees line the road, and there are two brick posts at the entrance to the road.
Entrance to Jackson Court, circa 1940’s.

As more Davidson students belonging to fraternities matriculated into local boarding houses, certain houses in town became closely associated with specific fraternities. The women who ran these boarding houses used the kitchens and dining spaces of their own homes to serve fraternity members. Over the course of Jackson Court’s thirty years, these “boarding house women” became known as surrogate mother figures to Davidson students, setting the precedent for the housemother role to be introduced in the Patterson Court era. 

Greek life began to move from Jackson Court to the new Patterson Court starting in 1958. As Patterson Court houses were built to include kitchens and dining facilities, each house hired its own housemother to plan the fraternity’s menus, assist in managing the house’s budget, and hire cooks to prepare meals. Another new feature of the Patterson Court houses were the inclusion of apartments for housemothers, where they would live year-round to monitor and facilitate fraternity activities.

“Patterson Court.” Pamphlet for Admitted Davidson College Students, 1959.

Over the next decade, housemothers became significant figures in the everyday lives of Davidson students, taking up the mantle from the boarding house women of the past. This can be seen in the article from the Davidson College Bulletin below, which describes an honorary event thrown for housemother Johnsie Shelton, who served at the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity for over 10 years. Shelton had previously run a boarding house affiliated with the PKP fraternity and moved into the fraternity’s Patterson Court house upon its construction, further showing the close correlation between the housemother role and Davidson’s boarding house history. 

Several men stand in front of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity house. The front of the house has a banner across that reads, "Thank you, Miss Johnsie."
From “Johnsie Shelton Appreciation Day.” Davidson College Bulletin, August 1959.

“I still keep up with my boys,” says mother to generations of Davidson students, Miss Johnsie Shelton, who has been a guardian angel to Davidson College boys all her life. (…)

Her home on Concord Road was used as the boarding house for the fraternity until the new half million dollar Patterson Fraternity Court opened last year. When asked whether she would leave her home to live in the housemother’s apartment in the new fraternity house, Miss Shelton said, “You can’t put old wine in new bottles.” But she went anyway, and now the “old wine” feels much at home in the “new bottle.”

“My favorite subject right now is ‘what are ya goin’ to feed the boy’s?'”

“Her boys feel she has done more than feed them. This spring, the Pi Kappa Alpha Phi fraternity surprised her with “Miss Johnsie’s Appreciation Day.”

– “Johnsie Shelton Appreciation Day.” Davidson College Bulletin, August 1959.

The importance of housemothers in student life can also be seen through their numerous mentions in the Quips and Cranks yearbooks of the 1960’s. Below, the Phi Delta Theta fraternity dedicates a line of their 1960 yearbook page to “Mother Payne”; “[She] fed us well, helped us impress our dates, and was an excellent housemother.”

Yearbook page for Phi Delta Theta. On the left is an image of the president of the fraternity standing in front of the fraternity house. To the right is in an image of pledge day. In the pledge day image, around 20 young men are excitedly running towards the fraternity house.
Phi Delta Theta Fraternity. Quips and Cranks, 1961.

Mrs. J. Carey Stewart, housemother of the Alpha Tau Omega house, even reserved her own spot on a wooden paddle that was gifted from one fraternity member to another in 1961. 

Close up on a wooden fraternity paddle. In Sharpie reads: Housemother. Underneath, in pen is the signature of J. Carey Stewart. Beneath this is the crest of the fraternity, Alpha Tau Omega.
From the Estate of C.L. Hardy, Davidson College Archives and Special Collections.

In the 1970’s, fraternity housemothers began to lose their once strong influence over student life; a Davidson College student life study from 1973 reported that five housemothers split their time between eight different fraternity houses, a far cry from the individualized attention given to each house by housemothers of the past. This came during a time of larger cultural changes at Davidson brought on by campus integration in 1963, coeducation in 1972, and other social movements that broadened perspectives of students, faculty and staff, and shifted the mission of Davidson College as a whole.

Davidson was no longer a school for exclusively male students to be molded into “Davidson Gentlemen” under the watchful eye of housemothers and guiding hand of college administration; instead, Davidson students of all genders desired more independence and freedom in their college experience, and this extended into their dining options. By the 1980’s, the housemother position had been phased out completely, but cooks remained and took on a more central role in the eating houses and fraternities of Patterson Court, becoming figureheads in their own right. (Refer to our previous blog post on Fannie and Mabel.)

Housemothers represent many of the complexities of Davidson’s history; they belong to an earlier version of campus that could be seen as quaint, tight knit and more nurturing to students than the Davidson College of today, or alternatively, a stuffy and restrictive past. What remains undisputed is that housemothers made a difference in the everyday lives of Davidson College students by helping to provide them with a warm meal and a space to enjoy it in, and that is a legacy worth celebrating.

Johnsie Shelton stands next to the chapter advisor of the fraternity to accept gifts on a table in front of her.
From “Johnsie Shelton Appreciation Day.” Davidson College Bulletin, August 1959.

Remembering Davidson Icon Lula Bell Houston 20 Years After Her Retirement

Hi everyone – Ellen Huggins, JEC Archives Fellow, here with another blog post for you! While we’ve been working on the “Women of Davidson” website, one of the names that kept coming up again and again in students’ recollections of their time at Davidson was Lula Bell Houston. She worked in the college laundry service for 57 years (!) and made countless connections with generations of Davidson students, alums, faculty and staff. Although she retired all the way back in 2004, her influence can still be felt on campus through the Lula Bell Houston Resource Center. 

In celebration of her retirement almost 20 years ago, we’re revisiting the life and legacy of Lula Bell Houston. If you’re interested in reading more of Lula Bell’s story in her own words, we encourage you to access the full transcript of her 2012 oral history, here.

Fun fact: April 29, 2004 was officially declared “Lula Bell Houston Day” by the town of Davidson! This is mentioned in the Congressional record of May 2004, when Davidson alum Senator John M. Spratt gave a speech on the floor of the House of Representatives honoring Lula Bell Houston.

From the 1990 Quips and Cranks Yearbook.

Lula Bell Houston was born in Cornelius, North Carolina, in 1923. She was raised by a single mother along with her older brother, with whom she shared a close relationship throughout her life. Her mother, Rosa Carr, was an early employee of the Davidson College Laundry. In 1943, she began her career at Davidson College in dining services, serving meals to soldiers at Davidson during World War II, before she moved on to working at the college laundry a year later. Following a short time at the laundry, she decided to leave her hometown and go on to new adventures. Lula Bell traveled to Washington D.C and New York City, meeting plenty of new people and working a variety of jobs (including at a pen factory and a toy factory!) before she decided to return to Davidson in 1948. Here, she took up a job ironing at the Davidson College Laundry alongside her mother.

For more than twenty years of her time at the laundry, Lula Bell did the behind-the-scenes work of taking care of student’s clothes. This changed in the late 1970’s, as Lula Bell took up the role of manning the laundry check-in desk. According to Lula Bell, she was the first Black staff member to have the job, which allowed her to regularly interact with students. Arguably, this was when Lula Bell’s reputation at Davidson truly got the chance to shine; students through the years remember noticing her friendly smile when they walked in the Laundry door, leading many to strike up conversations with Lula Bell as they dropped off their clothes. In her oral history from 2012, Lula Bell speaks fondly of one student in particular, a foreign exchange student from Nicaragua who wrote her a heartfelt letter about how speaking to Lula Bell at the laundry check-in made him feel less isolated at Davidson. 

When she retired in 2004, Lula Bell was awarded with a variety of honors from student groups at Davidson, including the “Spirit of Davidson” award from the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity. Lula Bell, a lifelong Cornelius resident, jokingly responded in her oral history, “I didn’t live in Davidson, so why was I the Spirit of Davidson? But to the boys, I was the Spirit of Davidson. [laughing]”

“Changed College Says Warm Goodbye.” Charlotte Observer, 2004. From the Maggie Smith scrapbook, Davidson College Archives and Special Collections.

Along with her connections with students, Lula Bell also reminiscences in her oral history about the tight knit community of laundry staff at Davidson. She and several other staff members would form a singing group called “The Laundrettes,” inspired by the group humming in harmony during the work day. The Laundrettes sang at Davidson College events, and Lula Bell even remembered being requested by a faculty member to sing at his funeral once he passed. Singing was a lifelong passion of Lula Bell’s. After her retirement, Lula Bell would continue to sing at her home church even during the health struggles of her later years, according to her daughter, Peggy Rivens. (You can read Peggy Riven’s oral history here.)

After her retirement, the laundry was renamed “The Lula Bell Houston Laundry” in Lula Bell’s honor. The college laundry service closed in 2015, but two years later the building would reopen as The Lula Bell Houston Resource Center. The resource center was funded in part by a generous donation from the family of Tom Anstrom, a Davidson alum from the Class of ’04 that passed from a heart condition in 2015. Lula Bell attended the dedication ceremony and met Carol Quillen, the first female president of Davidson College.

President Carol Quillen and Lula Bell Houston at the Dedication of the Lula Bell Houston Resource Center. Davidson News, 2017.

Today, Lula Bell’s (as it’s called by Davidson students) provides important resources such as easily accessible food, professional clothing for interviews, and programming like communal trips to the grocery store for students. The center describes its mission to carry on Lula Bell Houston’s legacy:

“Lula Bell Houston, a name associated with making others feel valued and loved, will once again be attached to a space that makes a lasting difference in the lives of students. Her legacy will live on in Lula Bell’s, an on-campus resource center that aims to prepare students for success at and after Davidson.”

Mural painted by Davidson College Students at The Lula Bell Houston Resource Center, 2023. (Photo by Ellen.)

If you’d like to learn more about the Davidson College Laundry, its origins and the women who worked there, you can come see the in-person “Women of the Davidson College Laundry” exhibit at the E.H. Little Library! Or, visit the “Laundry History” and “Laundry Staff” pages of the Women of Davidson College website. 

Fannie and Mabel: “Two Special Ladies”

Hello, everyone — Ellen Huggins, JEC archives fellow, back again! For the past few months, we’ve been updating our “Women of Davidson” site to center lesser known stories of women from the Davidson archives, particularly Black women of the Davidson College staff who have not yet been highlighted for their contributions to Davidson history. Here’s a preview of what you’ll see on the Dining Services page!

Did you know that from 1971 to 1985, one of the eating houses on Patterson Court was named after cooks Fannie and Mabel?

Black and white image of Fannie Brandon and Mabel Torrence. The two women are standing side by side and both are wearing white dresses with white aprons. Fannie Brandon has her hair in a bun and is wear glasses, and she is standing on the left, wearing glasses. Mabel Torrence has short hair and is standing on the right.
Fannie Brandon and Mabel Torrence. (Fannie is on the left, Mabel on the right.) From the Davidsonian, 1982.

Fannie Brandon and Mabel Torrence were two longtime staff members of dining services at Davidson College, and by 1982 they had a combined total of 72 years of service. According to the 1982 Quips and Cranks yearbook, “With the closing of the 1980-81 school year, Mabel finishes her 28th year of Patterson Court service and Fannie marks up 40 years of catering to hungry students.” Although Mabel and Fannie started their work at Davidson at different times, the pair began working together at the Kappa Sigma fraternity house in the 1950’s. 

The student members of the Fannie and Mabel eating house are sitting on a brick wall outside. There are 21 people lined up, some sitting on the wall and some standing behind. There is a tower of large steel beer kegs arranged on the wall as well. Fannie and Mabel are at the center of the group. They are wearing white dresses with white aprons over them.
The “F&M” eating house, 1972. (Fannie and Mabel are wearing white dresses and standing in the center.) Courtesy of Davidson College Archives and Special Collections.

After the fraternity left Davidson College in 1971, students rallied to form a new eating house on campus around the two women and named it “Fannie and Mabel” in their honor, going by F&M for short. Fannie and Mabel’s personability and excellent meals (including the famous “Melt-in-Your-Mouth-Wednesday-Mabel-Rolls”) were well known across campus and the two would be regularly visited by alumni of F&M and the Kappa Sigma fraternity, especially on Davidson game day weekends. 

Pencil illustration of Mabel Torrence and Fannie Brandon. The women are wearing aprons and are standing with their hands behind their back. The title at the top reads Two Special Ladies. The caption below the image reads With Love, Lisa Buckley class of 1982.  Mabel Torrence is on the left and Fannie Brandon is on the right.
“Two Special Ladies,” dedication page by Lisa Buckley ’82, secretary for F&M eating house. From the Quips and Cranks yearbook, 1982.

In response to Davidson College’s lack of retirement benefits for Patterson Court staff, the residents of F&M began a retirement fund for Fannie and Mabel starting in 1979. The F&M eating house raised more than $1200 in donations from alumni and students who had been impacted by the pair, and in the Davidsonian article written about the retirement fund three years later, the two women reflect on their long years of service for the college and the changes they had experienced while working on campus. 

Black and white text reading F and M's Celebrated Cooks.
“F and M’s Celebrated Cooks” article headline. From the Davidsonian, 1982.

“Fannie and Mabel have enjoyed Davidson and generously share their impressions on how the community and the campus have changed over the years. “We just love the kids,” Fannie explained. Mable will tell you of the growth of the town. Both smile quickly when reminiscing on changes in the student body. “It’s the girls. That’s the big change,” Fannie says. “And it’s good to see more Blacks,” Mabel adds.” 

Benedict, Jeb. “F and M’s Celebrated Cooks.” The Davidsonian, January 22, 1982. Page 6.

(As Fannie started in dining services around 1941, followed by Mabel in 1952, both were working on campus well before the entrance of the first Black student at Davidson College in 1962, or the beginning of coeducation in 1972.) 

The F&M Eating House was shut down in 1985, but Fannie and Mabel continued working in dining services, moving on to different Patterson Court fraternities and eating houses where they kept cooking, serving up meals, and making connections with Davidson students. 

Black and white headshot image of Mabel Torrence. Mabel is wearing large glasses, has short black hair, and is wearing a white shirt.
Mabel Torrence, 1990.
Black and white headshot image of Fannie Brandon. Fannie is wearing large glasses, has short hair and is wearing a white collared shirt.
Fannie Brandon, 1990.

Fannie Brandon and Mabel Torrence in the 1990 Quips and Cranks yearbook, where they were listed as cooks for Spencer eating house.

Behind the Display Part 2: Title IX and the History of Women’s Basketball at Davidson

Title of Display Case Two.

Welcome back! In this part 2 post, we’ll be looking at the second case in the “Title IX and Women’s Basketball Davidson” exhibit. The oral histories featured in this display case were originally collected as part of a student research project in 1999 by Davidson College alum Eileen Dwyer (Class of ‘99). 

First half of Display Case Two.

Figure 1) For her senior capstone paper entitled “Women’s Athletics at Davidson College: Grassroots Movement and Institutional Support,” Eileen Dwyer decided to research the history of women’s athletics at Davidson College, starting with the then current 1998/99 women’s basketball team. The interviewees include; John Filar, the head coach of the women’s team; Jessica Montrella (‘99), a center on the team; Jennifer Roos (‘93), assistant coach; and Emil Parker, sports information director for athletics at Davidson College. 

The 1998/99 team were the first in the history of women’s basketball history at Davidson to reach the Southern Conference finals. In these oral history interviews, Dywer asks candid questions about topics including the realities of student athletic life at Davidson, the impact of Title IX, and the journey to the 1999 Southern Conference. 

1999 is at the midpoint between 1972, the year that Title IX was passed, and today. By listening to the stories and perspectives within these oral histories, we can learn more about the complicated legacy of Title IX at Davidson College.  

While navigating this display case, consider:  

What is Title IX? A) Title IX is a legal obligation towards women’s sports that college administration upholds at the risk of losing funding for men’s sports or men’s teams memberships to athletic conferences. B) Title IX is a significant step towards equality between women’s and men’s athletics that gives female athletes the opportunity to dedicate themselves to the sport they’re passionate about.  

Can both be true?  

Figure 2) Jennifer Roos, Assistant Coach for the 1998/99 team, was also a member of the 1991/92 inaugural Division I women’s basketball team during her time as a Davidson student.  

In this excerpt, she discusses her views on the funding behind women’s basketball from the dual perspective of a student and a coach. [33:07] 

[Click here to access Roos’ complete oral history audio/transcript: https://davidson.primo.exlibrisgroup.com/permalink/01DCOLL_INST/1lben0i/alma991025209482805716 ]

Figure 3) John Filar was the first women’s basketball coach after the varsity team was brought back in 1992, and the first to coach Division I women’s basketball at Davidson College.  

In these excerpts, John Filar speaks about the difficulty in transitioning from a team club to Division I in order to join the Southern Conference. [8:57] He then talks about Title IX and how the college’s desire to move men’s basketball into the Southern Conference affected the women’s team. [10:21]  

[Click here to access Filar’s complete oral history audio and transcript: https://davidson.primo.exlibrisgroup.com/permalink/01DCOLL_INST/1lben0i/alma991025209482705716]

Second Half of Display Case Two.

Figure 4) Jessica Montrella was a senior in 1999 and a center on the women’s basketball team. She was a star player on the women’s basketball team during her time at Davidson, surpassing 1000 points scored over her college career.  

In these excerpts, Jessica Montrella speaks about her time as a student athlete at Davidson College. [28:45] She then talks reflects on what she had to sacrifice to play on Davidson’s newly Division I team. [34:21] 

[Click here to access Montrella’s complete oral history audio and transcript: https://davidson.primo.exlibrisgroup.com/permalink/01DCOLL_INST/1lben0i/alma991025210483305716]

Figures 5-7:  

Figure 5) Image of more players on the 1998/99 women’s basketball team, including Kelly Copeland (#15), D’Erica Taylor (#30), Bethany Schott (#40), Leah Uhernick (#25), Janna Magette (#20).  

Figure 6) Guide for the 1999 Southern Conference. Featuring John Filar and Jessica Montrella in the bottom right corner. (Courtesy of the Davidson Athletics Department). 

Figure 7) Article from the March 3, 1999 edition of the Davidsonian, “Montrella-less ‘Cats fall to ASU in finals.” The 1998/99 team finished their winning season by losing the Southern Conference final to Appalachian State University, 69-78. Montrella suffered an injury before the final game that prevented her from playing, and in the article’s image she stands on the sidelines with Coach John Filar.  

Click here to access the “Women’s Athletics at Davidson College, 1999” oral history collection: https://davidson.primo.exlibrisgroup.com/discovery/collectionDiscovery?vid=01DCOLL_INST:01DCOLL&collectionId=81316843600005716  

Behind the Display: Title IX and the History of Women’s Basketball at Davidson

Display Case One.

Hi! This is Ellen Huggins, current JEC archives fellow. In honor of the 50th anniversary of coeducation and Title IX at Davidson College, the Archives and Special Collections are looking back on the history of women’s athletics and the impact of Title IX. This exhibit was originally meant to highlight one of the newest additions to our oral history collection, a series of recently released interviews recorded with staff and players belonging to the 1998-1999 Davidson women’s basketball team. The exhibit eventually evolved into a deeper look into the history of women’s basketball at Davidson and how the trajectory of the varsity team has been affected by the college’s relationship to Title IX.  You can use this post as a way to navigate the exhibit, or just as a way to learn more about the research that went into the exhibit making process!  

Case One: History of Women’s Basketball at Davidson College (1973-1986)

First Half of Display Case One. Figures 1-5.

(Timeline) 1973- Board of trustees votes for basketball to be one the of the first varsity sports for women at Davidson College along with field hockey. 

Figures 1 and 2) In this oral history excerpt, Emil Parker talks about Davidson College’s trustee board’s conception of the first female athletic award in the 1970s, the Rebecca E. Stimson award, and the difficulty of naming the award without a legacy of female athletics at the college. (click here for Parker’s interview). Stimson was a student at the time of the award’s creation, and she speaks about her mixed reaction to being the namesake of the award in her oral history interview, collected as part of the “Women’s Oral History Project.” (click here for Stimson’s interview).

Figure 3) Davidson College’s plan to comply with Title IX circa 1973, which includes how to divide the newly created women’s athletic programs into divisions and club classifications. Davidson College’s plan for the women’s basketball program was for the team to be a part of the AIAW (Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women) league as Division III. (You can listen to Emil Parker’s oral history for more information on the college’s experience while in the AIAW.)  

Figure 4) Images from women’s basketball at Davidson while the team was a part of the AIAW, or the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women, in the period between 1973-1982. (Both images are circa 1975, courtesy of Davidson Archives and Special Collections). 

Figure 5) Promotional brochure from the 1980/81 season of Davidson women’s basketball, as an AIAW program. According to the program, one of the benefits of being a part of the AIAW Division III team was that it was a non-scholarship program. This meant female athletes were able to play basketball on a competitive level but could also join other sports teams at Davidson which many female athletes like Rebecca Stimson, who lettered in three sports during her time at Davidson, took advantage of.  

Second Half of Display Case One. Figures 6-8.

1982- The NCAA began to accept women’s sports into their divisions, and the women’s basketball team switched from the AIAW as a Division III team to the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) league as a Division III program.  

One reason for Davidson College’s push for women’s basketball to leave the AIAW and become a member of the NCAA was to join the Southern Conference tournament, which held its first tournament for NCAA women’s basketball in the 83/84 season. (click here to learn more about the history of the Southern Conference)

1983- The women’s basketball team joins the Southern Conference in 1983, along with the women’s tennis, field hockey and swim teams.  

Figure 6) Second set of pictures: Pictures of women’s basketball program while a part of the NCAA, or the National Collegiate Athletic Association, post 1982. (The image of the team player is from 1985, and the team picture is from 1984, Courtesy of Davidson College Archives and Special Collections.) 

1986- Women’s basketball team wins the Division III State Championship.  

Figure 7) From the 1985/86 Davidson College Quips and Cranks yearbook, “Ladycats Achieve Winning Season.” Despite winning the state Division III championship that year (see the Davidsonian headline above, “Lady Cats take first home victory”), the 1985/86 women’s basketball varsity season would be the last at Davidson until the team’s reinstatement in 1992.  

1986- The women’s basketball team is cut from the varsity basketball program due to budgetary constraints and inadequate resources to maintain a competitive team. 

Despite an elevated level of interest in the women’s basketball team and the program’s continued success, women’s basketball was cut as a varsity sport at Davidson College in 1986. This change was possible because Davidson College already had six varsity sports for women other than basketball, which was enough to retain their Division I NCAA membership. The varsity women’s basketball team was brought back in part as the result of a 1991 rule change by the NCAA regarding women’s sport divisions. (click here to learn more about the history of NCAA divisional regulations).

1991- Women’s basketball is brought back to Davidson with Coach John Filar as a varsity NCAA Division I team.  

Figure 8) Image of Coach John Filar from the 1992 Quips and Cranks yearbook, with the women’s varsity basketball team of 1991/92. The caption reads, “Coach Filar is excited to bring women’s basketball back to Davidson.” John Filar’s oral history was collected in 1999 by Eileen Dwyer for her senior research project, “History of Women’s Athletics at Davidson College, Grassroots Movements and Institutional Support,” and is featured in the following case in the exhibit. (click here for the Womens Athletics oral history collection).

Interested in the history of women’s athletics and basketball at Davidson? Check out these entries currently in the Davidson College Archives and Special Collections Encyclopedia: Women’s Athletics, Women’s Basketball.

Guest Blogger: Kseniia Koroleva, Fulbright Scholar, “Feminist movement and the Soviet Union: Tatyana Mamonova”

Kseniia Koroleva majored in education at Murom University. Prior to arrival to Davidson, she taught English as a foreign language in Russia. She is a Fulbright scholar and has been at Davidson since 2020. She works as a Russian teaching assistant for the Russian Studies Department and is involved in the Humanities program.  

The beginning of perestroika and glasnost’ (movements for political reforms and reconstruction) under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev empowered the Soviet people to express their views and opinions more freely. Subsequently, it resulted in many suppressed social and political issues coming to the surface. The surge of openness in the Soviet Union galvanized new discussions and forums around the political and social challenges of the Soviet government. To educate Davidson college students and the general public about current developments in political, social, and economic aspects of the USSR, the Dean Rusk program sponsored a two-day conference on October 10 and 11, 1989 [1]. 

A clip from the September 20, 1989, Davidsonian

The conference brought together many prominent speakers from different fields. One of them was Tatyana Mamonova. She was the first feminist and advocate for women’s rights in the Soviet Union. Tatyana’s criticism of the governmental system regarding women’s rights was seen as a threat by the Soviet ruling party. It led to Tatyana being interrogated numerous times about her Woman and Russia journal and connections with other feminist authors [2]. Eventually one morning KGB forced her to leave the Soviet Union in 1980[3]. Despite all that, Tatyana continued her feminist work.

Cover of the Woman and Russia journal

The Soviet conference held at Davidson college allowed Tatyana to share in depth about challenges that women in her native country had to face. She stressed how forcing the mothering role on women constrained them and immensely limited their participation in social and political spheres of life [4]. Tatyana’s talk made it possible for those who attended the lecture to see how the portrayal of the Soviet Union as an equal society was fundamentally wrong. 

A clip from the October 19, 1989, Davidsonian

Undoubtedly, there were more career opportunities for women during the Soviet times. However, as a result, women had to take on many more duties combined with their already excessive household and childcare responsibilities and men kept on holding their privileges [5]. Thus, the changes in the current at that time governmental system caused greater exploitation of Soviet women and created new unreasonable expectations of their performance at work and at home.  

Today we can see a rising appreciation of women’s contributions in different professional fields and many more people recognize that mothering duties should not be defined as a women’s obligation and the only possible role for their self-realization. Unfortunately, a lot of women in Russia still feel like they have to conform to the old patriarchal system and work much harder than men in order to be taken seriously in their occupations. 

Cover of Tatyana Mamonova’s book, Women’s Glasnost vs. Naglost; shown with permission of the author.

[1] “Reform or revolution in the Soviet Union today?” Davidsonian [Davidson, NC] 20 September 1989. p.3.

[2] Mamonova, Tatyana, Sarah. Matilsky, Rebecca. Park, and Catherine A. Fitzpatrick. Women and Russia: Feminist Writings from the Soviet Union. Boston: Beacon Press, 1984. p.215-216.

[3] Afkhami, Mahnaz. Women in Exile. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1994.p.158.

[4] “Soviet women still fighting for rights”. Davidsonian [Davidson, NC] 19 October 1989. p.3.

[5] Mamonova, Tatyana, Margaret. Maxwell, and Margaret Maxwell. Russian Women’s Studies: Essays on Sexism in Soviet Culture. 1st ed. Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1989. p.168.

Guest Blogger: Kseniia Koroleva, Fulbright Scholar, “Life under the Soviet regime: Alexandra Tolstoy”

Kseniia Koroleva majored in education at Murom University. Prior to her arrival at Davidson, she taught English as a foreign language in Russia. She is a Fulbright scholar and has been at Davidson since 2020. She works as a Russian teaching assistant for the Russian Studies Department and is involved in the Humanities program.  

The newly formed Soviet Union was surrounded by many contradictory views and opinions on the global arena. Due to heavy propaganda and censorship, it was next to impossible to find out about the real horrors of Bolshevism. Thus, the guest speakers specifically from the Soviet Union drew a lot of attention here in the US. Their lectures were a rare opportunity to debunk some circulating myths and rumors for those who wanted to learn more about the USSR.

The desire to learn more about the political system of the Soviet Union was also widespread among Davidson students. The lecture committee made it possible to hear from guest speakers what it was like to live under the Soviet government. One of the first speakers to cast light on the reality of the Soviet regime was Alexandra Tolstoy, the youngest daughter and the secretary of Count Leo Tolstoy.

Alexandra Tolstoy and her father, Count Leo Tolstoy

Alexandra’s lecture was held in Chambers auditorium on 22 March 1937 and was free to attend for Davidson students and the local community. The event was also advertised in the Davidsonian issue from 17 March 1937[1] and brought “one of the largest audiences ever to attend a lecture in Chambers auditorium.”[2]

A clip from a 1937 Davidsonian article advertising the upcoming lecture of Alexandra Tolstoy 

Alexandra wasn`t politically involved. Still, before she came to the US, she was watched by the Soviet government and eventually arrested. Alexandra was suspected of association with the anti-communist movement after unknowingly allowing the Tactical center of the Whites (anti-communist forces) to have meetings in her office[3]. After leaving the Soviet Union, Alexandra strongly believed it was her mission to tell the West about the suffering and devastation caused by Bolshevism. In her lectures, Alexandra stated that her father would be opposed to the policies of the new government[4]. She didn`t shy away from speaking the harsh truth about the dreadful conditions and poverty in which regular Soviet people lived. The topic of education was a focal point of her talks. Alexandra used to lead her private school and shared how in her opinion, the quality of education became worse under the Soviets no matter the increased number of schools. She emphasized that the government didn`t care about the quality of education and forced her to graduate everyone without considering students’ abilities and results. The tour through America allowed Alexandra to share more freely her criticism of the Soviet regime, but even being so far away from her homeland, she still wasn`t completely safe and some Soviet officials followed her to the US[5]. 

Even though the tour attracted Alexandra some unwanted attention, and she also faced a fair amount of skepticism[6] due to her background, she still didn`t abandon her mission and made at least some people walk back and rethink how they perceived the Soviet Union.

[1] “Countess to lecture here. Daughter of Leo Tolstoy To Speak on Russian Revolution”. Davidsonian [Davidson, NC] 17 March 1937.- p.1.

[2]“Russian tells of revolution. Countess Tolstoy, Daughter of Author, Talks on Soviet Regime”. Davidsonian [Davidson, NC] 24 March 1937.- p.1.

[3] Tolstoy, Alexandra et al. Out of the Past. New York: Columbia University Press, 1981.-p.114.

[4] “Russian tells of revolution. Countess Tolstoy, Daughter of Author, Talks on Soviet Regime,” 1.

[5] Tolstoy, Out of the Past, 352 – 353.

[6] Tolstoy, Out of the Past, 349 – 350.

Guest blogger: Samantha Ewing, C’23 English Major “Attitudes Toward Sexual Assault”

Originally from Atlanta, GA, Samantha Ewing C’23 is an English major and Communication Studies minor. She transferred to Davidson in 2020 after spending her freshman year at the University of Georgia. On campus, she is Vice President of SGA, Co Editor-in-Chief of Libertas Magazine, Treasurer of Student Against Sexual Violence (SASV), and a Senior Staff Writer for The Davidsonian.

As the treasurer of SASV for the 2021-2022 academic year, I have become immersed in the fight against rape culture as it plagues college campuses. I would imagine that sexual assault has been prevalent at Davidson since the institution began admitting women in 1972. Yet, it seems that 1990 was the year students began to reckon with the issue as “Rape Awareness Holds Campus Forum” details the founding of the Rape Concerns Committee. 

Excerpt from “Rape Awareness Holds Campus Forum” by Frances Morton (C’ 1993) in the Davidsonian, April 8, 1991.

Encountering this piece in the Davidsonian was disturbing, as it illuminates the history of victim blaming at Davidson. According to the article, the committee showed a film as a part of a forum to increase rape awareness on campus. However, Frances Morton (C’93) describes the film as a narrative fixating on how women can avoid rape, rather than addressing the actions of perpetrators.

Excerpt from “Rape Awareness Holds Campus Forum” by Frances Morton (C’93) in the Davidsonian, April 8, 1991.

Frances Morton, 1991 Quips and Cranks

Women are advised “not to prop open doors,” to “avoid isolated areas and walking alone,” and to “avoid mixed signals.” Each of these instructions frame rape as a consequence for women failing to prevent it, rather than the fault of the rapist; it seems that the committee was not bringing awareness to the issue of rape, but rather, was conditioning women to learn how to avoid it. I was astounded to find such rhetoric from a female student, especially as she was discussing the actions of an organization purposed to combat sexual assault. Additionally, I was shocked to see the word “co-eds” used to refer to female students. Even 20 years after women began to be admitted, they were demarcated into a separate category from the male students, indicating perpetuated division and exclusion. 

The language in this article provides insight into what it must have been like to be a woman on campus in the 1990s. The burden of protection placed on female students is much clearer, as I can now grasp how the community perceived and addressed rape: purely a women’s issue. I can empathize with the trepidation that must have accompanied women, knowing that if they were assaulted, they were the ones that would be held accountable. Being a female student at Davidson in 1991 entailed being othered not just as a student, but as a human being.