40 Years of Women in the TAMU Corps of Cadets Part 1

Discussion in 'Publicly and Privately Funded Military Colleges' started by Lawman32RPD, Feb 23, 2015.

  1. Lawman32RPD

    Lawman32RPD 5-Year Member

    Jan 29, 2011
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    Panel talks about how far women have come in the Corps of Cadets
    BY SAM PESHEK sam.peshek@theeagle.com | 0 comments

    Emotions overtook Don Roper when he reminisced upon a spring day 40 years ago.

    It was then that Roper, the first commanding officer of Company W-1, realized integrating the first group of women into the Corps of Cadets was worth the struggle.

    "The first year had many challenges," Roper said. "The highlight of that was on Military Day in March of 1975 that was a march in on the old Simpson Drill Field that was the first public debut. At that point we knew that we had made it."

    Roper and nine women representing each era of the 40-year history of women in the Corps told their stories of perseverance to current and former female cadets in the Sanders Corps Center on Saturday morning as part of a weekend-long celebration of the milestone. Corps women held an informal gathering Friday night in Duncan Dining Hall, toured renovated Corps dorms Saturday morning, held a mentorship luncheon later in the afternoon, a banquet in the evening and took part in a "throwback" run in PT gear Sunday morning.

    From classes 1977 to 2013, the nine panelists fielded questions and served as a living timeline for the nearly 100 women in attendance to show how far female cadets have come over the past 40 years. Win Jackson-Houwen, Class of 1977, was one of the cadets to join the fledgling W-1 Company and sat next to Roper on the panel. She said the resistance women received from all sides, age differences within the company and the "hell" that their male commanders endured from their peers enabled them to unite and make history.

    "Something fell away when we ran together the first time as a unit. We could withstand all the flak that was thrown at us," Jackson-Houwen said. "All of us running together, girls and guys as a unit, that's when I knew we would make it."

    For one hour, panelists delivered anecdotes about having to drive to Houston for senior boots because local shop owners refused to serve them, doing pushups in pencil skirts on Kyle Field and late night motivational talks, among many others. Looking back, Sharon Fontanella, class of 1979, said she wasn't bitter, but thankful for the tough course the first classes of Corps women traveled.

    "I learned a long time ago that some of the stupid stuff that happened when I was here, it wasn't about me. It was about what I represented to people and I never took it personally," Fontanella said.

    "I maintained my focus on my education and went into the Army. I did those things despite some of the stupid stuff, but it made me stronger and I'm better off because of it."

    Inez Sookma, member of the class of 1987 and Squadron 14, gave young female cadets in the audience parting wisdom.

    "You can either take what every day gives you and say it sucks, or you can take it and learn from it and be resilient and persevere and have integrity in what you do every day," Sookma said. "Take that lesson and apply it to what you're doing in life."
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  2. Lawman32RPD

    Lawman32RPD 5-Year Member

    Jan 29, 2011
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    Former female cadets reflect on difficulties in early Corps days
    By ANDREA SALAZAR andrea.salazar@theeagle.com | 3 comments

    Ann Stone Sheridan had not given serious thought to joining the Corps of Cadets when she enrolled at Texas A&M in the fall of 1974 until an argument with her boyfriend changed that three weeks into the school year.

    "He said if I felt women in the Corps were so great, why didn't I join?" Sheridan said recalling the argument in the library. "I didn't say anything to him, walked into the Trigon and signed up."

    With that, Sheridan, 58, became one of the first women to join the Aggie Corps of Cadets, which had, until 1974, been exclusively open to men.

    That fall, 51 women made up the first female unit, Company W-1. Today, almost 300 female cadets serve in the Corps.

    Earlier this week, as former and current cadets prepared to celebrate four decades of female inclusion, Texas A&M's oldest student organization named a woman as its Corps commander for the first time in its 139-year history. Alyssa Marie Michalke, a 20-year-old ocean and civil engineering major from Schulenberg, will assume command of the 2,238-member Corps of Cadets during Final Review on May 9.

    Looking back at her first year in the Corps in 1974, Ceil McKinney, Class of '78, said she knew a woman would someday lead the organization. It was just a matter of time.

    "We didn't have uniforms so we knew it was going to take a while to happen," said the 58-year-old Aggie, who served 12 years in the Navy after graduation.

    During their first semester in the Corps, Sheridan, McKinney and their fellow female cadets had only black name tags to set them apart and no unified dormitory to share.

    They donned their uniforms -- a polyester blouse and skirt, Army green jacket, black beret, black leather shoes and a black shoulder strap-type purse -- for the first time on Jan. 20, 1975.

    "Now I'm real. I look like I'm supposed to. I really am in the Corps," McKinney remembered thinking upon receiving her uniform.

    But the outfits brought their own challenges, as the female cadets were "no longer invisible," McKinney said.

    "It gave them a visual of the Corps and the change, and so instead of just the Corps guys who were upset, you also had student body people who were not happy," she said, noting that people made their opinions known verbally "with words you wouldn't want to write home" and by taking it out on the women's property.

    Despite the hostility, however, the cadets had support from many, including Don Roper, Company W-1's first commanding officer, who volunteered for the role upon learning in the spring of 1973 that women would be admitted into the Corps the following semester.

    "The whole next year passed through my mind within minutes [of the announcement]," Roper said. "The expectations, the challenges, the difficulties, I knew I could handle each of those things."

    "I felt like W-1 and women in the Corps must succeed, and I wanted to offer my services," he added.

    He doesn't remember having any competition for the job, although he did emphasize that at least nine other male cadets gave of their time to serve in upperclassmen leadership roles for W-1 while meeting the responsibilities of their own units that year.

    The Corps followed the Minerva Plan written by six junior cadet sergeants -- John Chappelle, Steven Eberhard, Daniel Gibbs, Rickey Gray, Frederick Martin and Terry Rathert -- to guide the organization's transition over the next five years.

    “Upon considering the fact that women will, in the future, be charged with upholding the reputation of Texas A&M both as members of the civilian community and the military, we fail to see any rational reason by which we can justify withholding the finest training available to equip them for this task," the document read as it laid out a plan to change a nearly 100-year tradition.

    The junior cadets had met in secret the previous fall to put their plan together, choosing to name the document after Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom, said Sam Houston Sanders Corps Center Curator Lisa Kalmus.

    "What a great icon and something certainly telling for it to be named Minerva," Kalmus said, noting that the students took a "proactive approach" in developing their own guidelines.

    The Minerva Plan made Texas A&M the second senior military school in the country to admit women into the Corps. Virginia Tech did so in 1973, and the service academies would follow suit in 1976.
    Just a decade earlier, in 1963, A&M's board of directors allowed women to enroll on a "limited basis" before permitting them to enroll in unrestricted numbers in 1969. Wives and daughters of professors had been allowed to study at the university before 1963 but they were not allowed to receive degrees.

    Standing ovation

    By the spring of 1975, the female cadets had uniforms and were one semester closer to obtaining housing at Spence Hall.

    Looking back on the struggles of that first year, Roper pointed to a moment during his unit's first public appearance at Simpson Drill Field during Military Day that stands out as one of the most memorable.

    "As we marched around toward the reviewing stand, we received a standing ovation the whole way," he said, his voice cracking. "We made it."

    "Everything we did and learned and all the challenges they overcame were worth it on that day," he added.

    The Corps went on to admit women into the Aggie band and its special units in 1985, following a lawsuit, and integrated all units in 1990.

    McKinney and Sheridan both said they would do it over it again if given the chance.

    "If I stop and think about the fact that I started something that has continued and has grown to 300 female cadets, that's amazing," McKinney said. "There are 10 times as many women there now as there were when we left our freshman year. Someone had to get it started and we were it. It's an honor."
  3. Lawman32RPD

    Lawman32RPD 5-Year Member

    Jan 29, 2011
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    Former cadets share stories of being women in Corps

    By JOSHUA SIEGEL josh.siegel@theeagle.com | 1 comment

    Ruth Ann Schumacher, the first female company commander in Texas A&M’s Corps of Cadets, remembers her first march-in in 1975. As she describes it, her heart was in her throat and she had no idea what to expect. She wonders what it will feel like for A&M’s recently named first female commander when she leads the Corps for the first time.

    “And I wonder if Alyssa [Michalke] will experience the same — the same feelings, the same thoughts, the same stress,” Schumacher said.

    Schumacher will be in town this weekend for A&M’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of women being the Corps and hopes to meet Michalke.

    “We’re so very pleased for her, so very proud of her,” she said. “She is the face of the Corps today and the fact that a woman could rise to top is outstanding.”

    Schumacher, A&M class of 1977, would go on to become the first woman commissioned from A&M to join the armed forces, serving four years as a finance corps officer. As a member of the first class of women cadets in 1974, times were different. The first all-female unit, W-1, didn’t have a dorm or uniforms when they started. Schumacher said it was a “very rough” time. She said integration into the Corps might not have gone as smoothly as it could have, but prefers to focus on the current progress and place of women in the Corps.

    “The men who more or less volunteered to be our advisers had as much to risk as we did,” she said, “and it was just a very tender time, a very tenacious time and the fact that Alyssa, after 40 years, could be the Corps commander, it’s the be-all, end-all for us. It’s a celebration. … You have to remember this is Texas in the mid-70s. I mean, Texas A&M started as an all-male institution. Women had only been living on campus for a few years. So, now woman being in Corps, it was a huge deal.”

    Schumacher grew up in a military family and moved frequently. She was living in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania before coming to A&M. Her father was an army officer. Her brother, Joe Schumacher, class of 1975, she said, would always “come home with these wild stories” and she wanted to be a part of that at A&M. She came to A&M in the fall of 1973, but was excited about having the opportunity to join the Corps the following year.

    “So, I saw it from both sides,” she said. “I had a wonderful time my freshman year. I was one of those sweet, young things and I went to Aggie football games, but I saw it as something neat and I wanted to be part of something special. Once Congress passed the law that they had to accept all women, that was the door, but we went under the door. The door wasn’t quite open.”

    For today’s celebration, Schumacher said she is trying to gather a few keepsakes to share with some of her old classmates. One of those is a letter dated Sept. 12, 1976, from a retired Air Force colonel, Thomas Hines, who had seen the W-1 unit march. The final line of the letter reads, “Please pass on to all the members of W-1, a job well done — you all have achieved a place under the Aggie sun.”

    “It was so touching that somebody took the time because when we would step outside of the dormitories, cadets would hiss or boo,” Schumacher said. “Our jaws were set. We looked so determined. We probably could’ve eaten nails.”

    Gaining acceptance on campus was a battle Schumacher said would take time. She is quoted in the 1977 Aggieland Yearbook: “Perseverance is persisting in an undertaking in spite of opposition or discouragement. I experienced the beginning of something new and unpopular. It won't end when I leave, for there are others who will persist.”

    Reflecting on that quote now, she says, “Look at the women in the Corps now: confident, competent, courageous young women. I couldn't be more proud.”

    Gail Sedberry, the first African-American woman to be a cadet, says it is "well past time" for a woman to lead the Corps.

    "From my standpoint it had to happen. I felt that even within the first four or five years that easily could have happened because the women were talented enough, it just wasn't accepted yet," Sedberry said. " … That easily could have occurred 30 years ago, but it takes some people longer to accept those types of changes."

    Sedberry was one of seven future cadets to attend the first orientation meeting held in 1974 and part of the group that came up with W-1's chant, "Love 'em or leave 'em, Minerva's Finest." She was originally selected to be the first woman commander of W-1, but said because of her race, she was not able to serve in that role. She nominated Schumacher for company commander instead.

    "I understood it, and when I was asked to step down, I did have a problem with that, but I also understood where it was coming from and why it was occurring," Sedberry said, "and I'm so glad that Ruth Ann took it. I'm so glad that something good came out of all of that. … It was a brand new venture that Texas A&M was going through, especially with the Corps. And perhaps, at that time, it was a bolder move than they thought they could make."

    Sedberry, who now works as an elementary school psychologist in Florida, left school during her senior year in the fall of 1976 and, because she had signed a service contract, was required to enlist the following year in the Navy. She said she enjoyed "every minute" of being in the Corps, despite leaving early. She served in San Diego and was assigned to a Special Boat Unit. She says she was the "first female of any race, assigned to that naval command." Her father served as an officer in the Army, which is what drew her to the Corps. Sedberry's naval unit wore fatigues, so she was able to wear the jacket her father wore when he served in Vietnam, something she is proud of.

    One story that sticks with Sedberry, she says, is when "the guys watered our dorm." Sedberry said one of the male cadets took all of the taps and handles off the sinks in the women's dorm and left the water running over night.

    "There must have been an inch of water on the floor," she said, "and we immediately woke everyone up and started mopping and sweeping, and most of the freshman were down on their hands and knees with hair dryers."

    That prompted Sedberry and other cadets to start writing letters to "all of the high school ROTC units in the state of Texas."

    "And that's how we ended up recruiting for the incoming class in 1976. That was one of the largest freshmen groupings at that time. So, we wrote them and they responded.

    "There were a lot of women, a lot who dropped out, but still, that gave us a fine base for the coming years."

    One of the cadets in that 1976 class was Thelma Roman-Hales. Unlike many early cadets, she did not come from a military family, she said, and joined because her father thought it might be a good way to get a dorm on campus.

    "It was difficult. It was a difficult time … nobody tells you, 'Oh by the way, there's a large number of people opposed to you joining,'" she said. "Somehow friendships and perseverance paid off."

    Roman-Hales, class of 1980, was a part of the first class of women to wear boots in the Corps, after her classmate Melanie Zengraf sued the school over gender discrimination.

    "So many people said, 'Why did do it? You're paying money to take abuse,'" she said. "I can't let them win. They want me to leave because I'm a girl and I can't let them win.

    "... When you have groups of people in large numbers, their dislike and hatred for you just being there, it makes you question, 'Wow, maybe they're right. Maybe I shouldn't be here."

    By her senior year, though, with boots on their feet, Roman-Hales said her class was "unstoppable."

    "We knew we had earned our place. We're wearing boots. We're getting bigger and continuing to grow," she said.

    Walking across the stage at graduation, Roman-Hales said she felt like a different person than the 16-year-old who came to College Station.

    "The discipline, the strength, the ability to be heard without being obnoxious … and above all persistence. You're dealing with a group of women who didn't give up the first time, the second time, the third time when something good didn't happen," she said.

    Roman-Hales, who met her husband in the Corps, went on to serve 30 years in the Air Force, earning the rank of colonel. The training she received at A&M allowed her to excel right away, she said.

    About 17 years after graduating, Roman-Hales remembers her niece calling her and telling her, "I just got accepted to A&M and I want to be in the Corps just like you, and I want to be in the band." The moment gave Roman-Hale goosebumps.

    Her experience was totally different than mine from the very beginning, and she loved it until the day she left." she said. "… For me, that was a defining moment, I know now why I did it. I finally know why I did it."

    Roman-Hales said she is looking forward to a weekend of reconnecting with old friends and was pleased to see Michalke earn the top spot in the Corps.

    "It's very rewarding. It is what should have been all along and I'm sorry it took so long, but I'm very happy it finally has come," she said. "It's just very rewarding. There's no other way to describe it. When the announcement was made, I was just giddy. Oh, this is so cool. This is incredible. And looking back and going, 'Wow!' It's very rewarding. It's sweet. That's a better word. It's just sweet."
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  4. kinnem

    kinnem Moderator 5-Year Member

    Oct 21, 2010
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    I merged what was three threads dealing essentially with the same topic into 1. I left redirects in place for the next day so people will end up on the single merged thread if they click on one of the others.

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