Women Played Vital Role In SMU Beginnings

To help celebrate the 2011 centennial of SMU’s founding, SMU Magazine introduces a series of articles that chronicle the University’s past. The articles will continue through 2015, when SMU celebrates the centennial of its opening.

Although most of SMU’s founders were men, women students, faculty and donors played a vital role in the beginning of Southern Methodist University. During the first school year in 1915-16, women made up 21 percent of the student body. Of the 37 professors and instructors, five were women.

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SMU’s first student: Flora Lowrey from Hillsboro, Texas

Flora Lowrey from Hillsboro, Texas, was the first student enrolled. She matriculated into SMU as a senior. As she recalled for “Reminiscences,” letters written for SMU’s 50th and 75th anniversaries, women entered SMU on high moral grounds. “Unladylike behavior, lack of decorum, was our enemy. Fortunately there was no problem of smoking, drinking,” Lowrey said. Chewing gum was considered a serious offense that received restriction to campus for a few days.

She also remembered the women’s basketball team: “Girls with hair flowing free, big hair bows, and middy blouses, worn with voluminous bloomers.”

Another early student, Ermine Stone, who entered SMU in 1917, recalled, “We had a strong team, practically professional, it seems to me now.”

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Students in 1917 enjoy a class banquet.

Margaret Hyer, President Robert Hyer’s wife, served as unofficial dorm mother. They lived in the Womens Building (now Clements Hall), and President Hyer said grace before dinner with the women students each night. Mrs. Hyer alone gave permission for small groups of men and women (never couples) to leave campus for downtown Dallas.

SMU’s founding donors included Alice Armstrong of Dallas, who provided part of the land for SMU. Outside Dallas the largest financial donors were women.

The first woman employee at SMU was Dorothy Amann, hired in 1913 as Hyer’s secretary. At first, Amann, Hyer, Bursar Frank Reedy and two bookkeepers worked on the fourth floor of the Methodist Publishing House at 1308 Commerce Street in downtown Dallas. In July 1914, they all moved to Dallas Hall, which was only half finished. There were no sidewalks, no sewage connection, no heat of any kind and only bottled water.

Just before the opening of the University, Amann transitioned into her role as librarian. She opened boxes of books, mainly religious ones, and put them in makeshift wooden shelves in the library in Dallas Hall. The first year a preliminary catalog was begun listing 7,000 books. Amann eventually took library classes at Columbia University in New York City and stayed with SMU long enough to open the new Fondren Library in 1939. [Another bit of trivia: Amann also suggested the name “Mustangs” for SMU’s mascot.]

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The women’s basetball team from 1920.

Students Flora Lowrey and Ermine Stone worked in the library for 10 cents an hour. Lowrey became a teacher in Dallas; Stone became the librarian for Sarah Lawrence College.

Mary McCord was hired in 1915 to teach speech and retired in 1945 as a full professor. She prepared many young men in public speaking for the ministry as well as sponsored the debate club and various orations.

McCord is best known, however, for founding SMU’s theatre company, the Arden Club, in 1916. She was honored in 1933 by the establishment of the McCord Theatre Collection. McCord Auditorium in Dallas Hall also is named for her.

The Arden Club performed many of its plays, mostly Shakespearean, in Arden Forest, now the site of the Perkins School of Theology quad. The first play performed for the first Commencement in June 1916 was As You Like It. The play went well, but the chiggers attacked the audience and actors alike, according to Goldie Capers Smith ’20, the first woman editor of the Rotunda.
– Joan Gosnell, University archivist

To see more images of SMU during all phases of its history, visit SMU Campus Memories, part of the Central University Libraries Digital Collections.


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Although most of SMU’s founders were men, women students, faculty and donors played a vital role in the beginning of Southern Methodist University. During the first school year in 1915-16, women made up 21 percent of the student body.

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