Fifty Years, Fifty Women

 Fifty Years, Fifty Women
 Fifty Years, Fifty Women

In observation of the 50th anniversary of female students being admitted to Georgia Tech, the Alumni Magazine spotlights 50 women as representative of the thousands who have attended since the first two coeds were admitted in the fall of 1952.

In 1919, Annie Teitlebaum Wise became the first woman to graduate from Georgia Tech's Evening School of Commerce — and its first faculty member. In fact, she was the first woman to graduate from any state-supported university in Georgia.

Ella Wall Van Leer, the resolute wife of Georgia Tech President Blake Van Leer, knocked down barriers from the state Capitol to the Board of Regents to open the Institute's doors to women. She marshaled the support of the Women's Chamber of Commerce and spearheaded a successful petition drive to overturn the statute barring female students from Tech.

Dorothy Crosland, who ran the Georgia Tech libraries for 44 years, stood firmly with Van Leer. In early 1952, Crosland wrote a letter to the Board of Regents. "Should women be barred from contributing to the advancement of science and industry in the state? Cannot Georgia do as other states and make provisions for women who want to study architecture and engineering?"

Elizabeth Koenig Armsby was secretary to presidents at Georgia Tech from 1944 until 1965. She vividly recalls the battles fought to secure the admission of women. "Colonel and Mrs. Van Leer and Dot Crosland fought doggedly and their determination paid off. It was achieved only by blood, sweat and tears," says Armsby.

Van Leer and Crosland helped pave the way for Shirley Clements Mewborn, EE 56, the first woman to major in electrical engineering at Tech, one of the first two women to graduate and the Alumni Associationís first — and to date only — female president.

Diane Michel and Elizabeth Cofer Herndon became the first two women to enroll in classes at Georgia Tech in the fall of 1952. Michel became the first female to make it through the Institute from start to finish when she was awarded an industrial engineering degree in 1956.

Herndon was a 30-year-old widowed mother when she arrived on campus. She later married a fellow Tech student and withdrew from classes when pregnancy made it difficult to navigate the campus.

Anne Brown, who left Tech after one year, became the first woman to lead cheers on the sidelines at Georgia Tech football games in 1953.

Paula Stevenson Humphreys, Text 58, became Tech's first majorette. She had to agree to play an instrument, so she also became Tech's first coed in the band.

The day after her four-year stint was up in the Air Force, Martha Moss Quo signed up for a whole new kind of duty tour. She spent five years as Tech's first female GI Bill student, earning a bachelor's degree in textiles in 1958 and a master's degree in textiles in 1960.

Jean McDowell Ray, Chem 65, pulled a fast one. She wanted a chemistry degree, not available to female students at Tech, so she turned in the standard change of major request form using only her initials. It received rubber stamp approval. A few days later, however, the head of the chemistry department summoned her.

Undaunted, Ray reviewed the chemistry curricula of all the public universities in Georgia, then requested admission to the Tech chemistry department from the Board of Regents. In January 1963, her request was approved.

In 1966-67, all academic departments at Tech were officially opened to women.

Among the other firsts, Ivenue Love-Stanley was the first African-American woman to earn an architecture degree from the Institute, in 1977. Amy Wepking Opfer, ME 81, became the first female student body president, in 1978. Patrise Perkins-Hooker, Mgt 80, was named the first female African-American member of the Georgia Tech Alumni Association board of trustees, in 1989.

Helen Gould, IE 82, became the first woman to serve as student body vice president and as president of ANAK. Lisa Volmar, IE 86, was elected as the first female driver of the Ramblin' Wreck, in 1984.

Kathy Harrison, Mgt 89, became Tech's first female All-American athlete after she dominated the Atlantic Coast Conference women's track and field championships, in 1987. Allison George, Mgt 88, is the first woman to serve as director of communications for the Georgia Tech Athletic Association. In the spring of 1987, Susan Davis, Biol 91, became the Institute's first female Buzz.

Marie Hill Gerlach, ESM 83, was Georgia Tech's first Marshall Scholar. Kisha Ford, Mgt 97, became the first Georgia Tech player to be drafted by the Women's National Basketball Association when the New York Liberty selected her in the fourth round of the 1997 draft. Fifth-year student Tiffany Massey is the first female African-American to lead The Student Government Association.

The sky was the limit for Jan Davis, Biol 75, who became Georgia Tech's first female astronaut aboard a space shuttle, in 1992. A veteran of three space shuttle flights, she has logged more than 670 hours in space.

Only the second woman to pilot a space shuttle, Susan Still Kilrain, MS AE 85, made astronaut history in 1997 as a member of the first shuttle crew to fly back-to-back flights. A shuttle flight in April 1997 was cut short, so NASA sent the whole crew back into orbit three months later.

Sandra "Sandy" Magnus, PhD 96, is a mission specialist on the October shuttle crew delivering, installing and activating the S-one Truss to the International Space Station.

The Lettie Pate Whitehead Evans Administration Building is the only structure on the Georgia Tech campus named for a woman.

Evans was never a student at Georgia Tech. Neither were either of her husbands. But her death in 1953 resulted in the Lettie Pate Evans Foundation, which over the years has given more than $340 million to the Institute.

As far as we know, Georgia Tech has produced only one romance writer — Anne Bushyhead Frankenfield, CE 76. Writing under the pseudonym of Nicole Jordan, she has just released her 16th historical romance, "Ecstasy." She began writing as a stress buster during her eight years at Procter & Gamble.

Displaying both brains and beauty, Sandra Adamson Fryhofer, ChE 79, won the 1976 Miss Georgia pageant while a Tech student and went on to earn a medical degree then become the youngest — and second female — president of the 115,000-member American College of Physicians-American Society of Internal Medicine.

Deborah Wagnon, IM 76, won the Miss Atlanta title in 1976, then earned her law degree from Stanford in 1982. An entertainment attorney, she is now head of the entertainment practice for Cornelius & Collins, a 60-year-old law firm in Nashville, Tenn., and also works with Fox Law Group in Hollywood.

Mercedes Dullum, Biol 75, a cardio-thoracic surgeon in Washington, D.C., is among only a handful of specialists who do minimally invasive heart surgery.

Sally Lam Woo, ChE 67, the owner of Oriental Art in Atlanta, has one of the largest collections of hand-painted silk screens and scrolls in the country, as well as books and accessories for Ikebana and feng shui, handmade silk wedding kimonos, porcelain and pottery.

Janet Wylie, CE 77, president and CEO of Engineous Software, says although the business atmosphere has changed and more women have come into positions of power, things haven't changed dramatically yet.

"I've been on nine boards of directors and on almost every one I was the only woman," she says. "I don't think about it anymore, but when I was coming up things were very bad. Sexual harassment was rampant, but things that were earth-shattering to me then I can laugh at now."

Janice Nease Wittschiebe, Arch 78, M Arch 80, is a principal in Richard + Wittschiebe Architects of Atlanta. She has continued to be active as an alumnus and is a vice president on the executive committee of the Georgia Tech Alumni Association, chair of the Georgia Tech Advisory Board and a member of the Georgia Tech Foundation. She is a member of the College of Architecture's Development Council and Program Advisory Board and is past chair of the college's advisory board.

Margie Lewis, NE 79, withdrew $10,000 from her savings account in 1993 and launched Parallax, an engineering and environmental management company, out of her home.

The company's focus is inspecting nuclear power plants, putting safety procedures in place and cleaning up nuclear and hazardous waste. Because of the heightened threat to national security since 9/11, Lewis says her company has doubled in size to 200 employees.

Deborah Nash Willingham, ISyE 78, is Microsoft's senior vice president for human resources. Still she makes time for Georgia Tech. She has served on the Georgia Tech Advisory and Foundation boards, the Alumni Advisory Board for Industrial and Systems Engineering and as a commencement speaker. She was named to the College of Engineering Council of Outstanding Young Engineering Alumni in 1996. Fortune magazine has listed her among the country's most powerful businesswomen.

Andrea Arena, Mgt 89, runs 2 Places At 1 Time, a concierge company she started in 1991 at age 24 with her $5,000 savings.

"I guess it was kind of gutsy, but if you're going to do it, do it when you're 23 or 24 and you having nothing to lose," she says. "I had a rented apartment and partial equity in a Honda Accord. I figured the worst-case scenario was that it would be a total failure and I'd go get a 'real' job like my classmates. I think ignorance is bliss. The possibility of failure didnít enter into my mind."

Marsha Everton, AB 73, says her Georgia Tech education helped mold her into a savvy businesswoman.

"A science-driven education really helps you learn how to use your curiosity productively. It really teaches you a lot about how to take a situation, break it down, look at it from many angles and put it back together," says Everton, the first female president and CEO of The Pfaltzgraff Co. in York, Pa.

As an engineering student, Liliana Maldonado, MS SANE 80, found herself so fascinated with water management that she made it her specialty. She received the 2002 Hispanic Engineers National Achievement Award for accomplishments by Hispanic-American professionals in science, engineering and technology.

Linda Griffith, ChE 82, has been promoted to full professor at MIT. Her research to develop a "liver chip" earned her a spot on a recent episode of the PBS series "Scientific American Frontiers."

Gena Abraham, CE 92, MS CE 99, PhD 02, loves the construction industry. She has returned to Georgia Tech as a teacher to instill that passion in students. Her decision to shift gears came as she was entrenched in the $63 million state Capitol restoration as chief engineer for the Georgia Building Authority.

"Teaching seemed to be the next step. I felt I could make a difference in an industry that I really love, that I could make a bigger difference here than anywhere else," Abraham says.

Mary Kay Cabell led the way for female Tech instructors when her husband was transferred to Atlanta in 1960. She had just earned her PhD in mathematics from the University of Virginia and she wanted to teach. She was hired as an assistant professor for the 1960-61 academic year.

Mary Nell Santacroce directed her first of 47 DramaTech productions in 1949. Dubbed "Coach" by DramaTech students, Santacroce served as director until 1966, when she returned to full-time acting.

An All-American basketball player at North Carolina, Bernadette McGlade was hired as Georgia Tech's first full-time women's basketball coach and director of women's sports in 1981 at the age of 23.

In 1987, her sister, Agnus Berenato, was hired as an assistant coach by Athletics Director Homer Rice.

When McGlade assumed full-time administrative responsibilities in 1989, Berenato followed her as head coach. In 1997, McGlade left Tech to become an associate commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Sue Rosser was named Georgia Tech's first female academic dean in March 1999 heading the Ivan Allen College. Terry Blum, dean of the DuPree College of Management, is the first woman to be seated in an endowed chair at Tech. Jo McIver was named Georgia Tech's first female registrar in February 2000. Gail DiSabatino became the first female dean of students in 1995.

Laura Scott Willis Pace, Biol 91, remembers sitting in a Georgia Tech cafeteria reading while her mom, Mary Scott Willis Christfield, MS OR 78, attended class.

So Pace personalizes the Ramblin' Wreck song. At football games, she amends the lyrics of the rousing ballad, singing at the top of her voice, "Like her mama used to do!"

©2002 Georgia Tech Alumni Association


John Boyd: Architect of Modern Warfare