Coeds at Mid-Century
In 1939, 700 women students attended a conference on women in the work force organized by the University's Alliance of Women Students (AWS). Presenters told the attendees that all but 30 of the 500 fields of business were now open to women. Students heard advice on publishing, advertising, teaching and government work. Female leaders already working in these fields included medical opportunities, radio, and recreational jobs. However, not all UK women students were interested in a career after marriage. Dean of Women Sarah Blanding remarked to the Kentucky Kernel that “All they [the coeds] are really interested in is a career of marriage.” However, the conference on career opportunities for women was in itself a step forward.
Nearly a decade later, another conference presented by the AWS concerning women college graduates and career paths was held at UK. In 1947, however, attendees were given a less hopeful message. As reported in the Lexington Herald, keynote speaker Myrtle Labbitt, women’s editor of a Detroit, Michigan, radio station, explained that “abnormally high salaries which prevailed during the war for professional women ‘simply do not exist today,’ she said, ‘and all jobs available to women contain a certain amount of drudgery. This was not, however, a reason for dismay for college women. Instead, Labbitt warned the students that in order to land a high-paying and rewarding career, “you must work up to [it] or create [it] and this process involves varying amounts of common, everyday hard work, and often at low salaries.” While many women still aspired to careers and continued to hope to use their college degree to find a rewarding career, the path up the ladder became more difficult after the end of World War II and the end of deployment of men into the armed forces.
Housing rules for white UK female students were also changing at mid-century. From 1904 until the 1960s, female students had been required to live on campus under the supervision of hall staff [or live at home under the supervision of their families]. Junior journalism major Melinda Manning was one of the UK women who, in 1964, took advantage of the new ruling that allowed white women to live off campus. “’You couldn’t pay me to move back into the dormitory,’” Manning said to the Kentucky Kernel article in September 1964. In explaining her reason for moving off campus, Manning said that finances played an important part in her decision, as did the privacy, freedom, and independence that came with living off-campus. Manning explained, “’I enjoy not having to account to everyone for any action…I always resented dormitory house meetings, early morning fire drills, noisy neighbors, and things which interfered with the studying and sleeping I needed to do.’” For white women, independent living on their own without a husband, family, or authority figure was a new idea.