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A Woman's Place...

Women didn't skirt the tough challenges of co-op. According to Mary Blood who entered the program in 1921, she and her fellow "co-eps" packed Crisco during early mornings at a Procter & Gamble factory. They also hauled lumber and became handy with crowbars too.

Date: 8/10/2005 12:00:00 AM
By: Mary Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824
Photos By: Provided by UC Archives

UC ingot  

The ‘20s that roared: The women come marching in
In 1920, no school in the United States yet admitted women into preparatory programs for engineering.  Herman Schneider and UC changed all that thanks to a young Cincinnatian named Ruth McFarlan and her aunt, Anna McFarlan. 

From left in back are Ruby Schoen, Charlotte Atherton, Ruth McFarlan and Margaret Maynard. Seated in front, from left, Kathryn Gillis, Helen Norris and Myrtle Hay.

You see, the aunt was acquainted with Schneider’s secretary and asked the secretary, Anna Teasdale, to approach Dean Herman Schneider on behalf of young Ruth who wanted to study engineering.  The upshot: Come fall 1920, seven young women – with shoulders broad enough to bear the sobriquet of “co-eps” and even “co-eppettes” as they were called – entered the UC co-op course as either chemical engineering or commercial engineering (business) students, the only two programs pried open for them in the College of Engineering.

These women – and those who followed after them – couldn’t skirt the challenges they faced in braving the stronghold of gears, grease and manhood.  Of these seven original girl “gearheads,” four stayed the course.

1950s: “What the heck are you doing in engineering?”
Without the aid of a slide rule, I estimate my having been asked this question at least one hundred times in the last two years…. On every Registration Day, I am met with the now-familiar query, “Are you still here?  I thought you would be married by this time….”  One of these fateful days, I’m going to brush aside the restrictions placed on me by my convent upbringing and utter, “What the */! do you care?”  Of course, that will ruin the impression I’ve made of being a good-natured, sweet co-ed who had mistakenly stood in the wrong line on registration day…. I suppose it will show me for what I really am – a normal, happy-go-lucky girl with a shattered sense of humor.
Mary Lou Brueckner, 1958 

Alone at lunch
There was a certain amount of social isolation caused by my being the only woman in the department… Men and women rarely ate lunch at the same table.  Generally, the [secretarial] women worked together, knew each other well, and ate together at lunch.  The [professional engineer] men did likewise.  This put me in an awkward position.  Though the men were friendly in the office, I did not feel entirely welcome at their lunch table.  Yet, I did not know any of the women, and they usually had different lunch hours than I. 

Most puzzling was the attitude of some of the women toward me.  One of the secretaries was consistently reluctant to help with my work although she was always eager to help the men.  Another woman, who apparently assumed I was incapable of doing my own work, asked if I enjoyed my job of tracing the men’s drawings.    
Linda Wallace, 1975

Return to main page of "Co-op Special Report."
Return to main page of excerpts from The Ivory Tower and The Smokestack.

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