In my novel, The Education of Eve, my main character attends the University of North Carolina during the years 1916-1918. It is a time of great change at the university, as the number of female students grew each year, and these “co-eds” strove to break through gender barriers and be included in campus activities. As I conducted my research of primary source materials, I found that one co-ed, Anna Liddell, was on the editorial staff of the Tar Heel, the campus newspaper. Granted, she was not the first. Mary McRae, the first female admitted as an undergraduate at UNC, was associate editor in 1898. There were a few after her, but I modeled my main character’s achievements after Anna’s. She was not only an associate editor, but she also earned her certificate in journalism (they did not have a degree for the subject at that time), and was awarded an honors certificate in language and literature upon graduation.
While reading through articles of the Tar Heel, I came across one in particular about co-eds that was very telling of the experience of women on campus. None of the authors of the Tar Heel articles were named during this time period (this particular article was featured in the October 27, 1917 edition). I cannot say for certain that this was penned by Ms. Liddell, but given she was the only female staff member, one could guess that she was, or knew the author personally. The article was entitled “Coediquette.” Below is an excerpt:
Are co-eds human beings? It would seem at first thought that they are human. They have the outer appearance; they eat, sleep, walk, and perform the other common functions of ordinary man and yet-there is an essential difference…An alien air hovers about them. When they appear on campus, all conversations among the groups nearby ceases…furtive looks are exchanged, and there is a general tension that gives way only with the retreating foot steps of the unfortunate woman…who though she may be brilliant intellectually would gladly give her all for a drop of that milk called human kindness which seems to be at a premium so far as she is concerned.
This is a plea for a more generous spirit. Here she is and here will probably be many more like her in the days to come. Why not accept this fact and show the community that we are not in the shackles of conservatism and prejudice! Be natural. If you can’t be natural, then be artificial enough to act in such a manner that a fellow student won’t feel entirely out of place when in the neighborhood of other students. Try to find in the co-ed something more than the girl, a curiosity, an individual, say, in search of the same thing you are–that thing which the University has to offer to those who seek truth.
Recently I learned more about Anna Liddell’s life. After graduating from UNC in 1918, she went on to earn her Master’s from Cornell, and then returned to UNC to earn her PhD in 1925. From 1926 to 1962 she taught in the Philosophy and Religion Department at Florida State College for Women (which later became Florida State University), and served as the department head. She passed away in Tallahassee, FL in 1979. Florida State has her collection of papers, spanning from 1902-1961, including correspondence with friends overseas fighting in World War I while she was at UNC.
Sources: UNC Archives, Florida Memory Project