Above: University of Texas freshmen in the early 1900s.
“The Education of Women at the University of Texas” was the title of an article penned by UT President George Winston in the autumn of 1898, and printed in the inaugural issue of The University of Texas Record, UT’s first monthly news journal. Winston wanted a new residence hall on the campus exclusively for women. While UT had been co-ed from its 1883 opening – progressive for the time – housing female students on the Forty Acres was unacceptable to many state leaders, who thought the girls would be better supervised by staying with local Austin families. Housing costs in Austin, though, were just as expensive for the women as they were for the men. “For a woman of limited means or dependent entirely upon herself, it is far more difficult to obtain an education in the University,” argued Winston. The employment opportunities for men to pay their way through college did not exist for women, and the absence of moderately priced housing for co-eds was a formidable barrier against women enrolling in the University.
William Prather (photo at right), who succeeded Winston as president in 1899, continued the campaign. He convinced the Board of Regents to include it in the budget that came before the 22nd session of the Texas Legislature in 1901. Eager to assist Prather, members of the State Federation of Women’s Clubs organized a letter writing campaign and made personal visits with lawmakers to urge support for a Woman’s Building. The dorm was still controversial, though, and nearly failed. A special session of the Texas House of Representatives convened in September to consider a bill for University appropriations, and an amendment was immediately proposed to strike out the lines that pertained to the Woman’s Building. A lengthy debate ensued, and the vote on the amendment ended in a tie, which required Speaker of the House R. E. Prince to cast the deciding vote. Prince held the conviction that “the door of opportunity to attend school institutions should be alike open to men and women,” and decided in favor of the dorm.
Opened in 1903, the Woman’s Building was placed on the west side of the campus, purposely located some distance away from B. Hall, the men’s dorm. Designed to be U-shaped, with a courtyard that opened to the south, only the eastern half of the Woman’s Building was completed. Sporting the same yellow buff brick and limestone trim as other early UT buildings, it was topped with a broad-hipped red-tile roof. Its most distinguishing features were a row of Romanesque arched windows framed in limestone on the ground floor, with a similarly arched main doorway that faced east, toward Old Main.
While the facilities were comfortable, residents had to follow a strict code of conduct, especially in matters involving men. Ladies were allowed only three social outings per week, all dates had to be chaperoned, and any male visitors had to leave the dorm by 10:30 p.m. At night, the shades had to be drawn while the lights were burning.
Among the would-be callers to the Woman’s Building was Edwin “Bugs” McCall (Engineering 1907), a lanky, six-foot country boy from the small town of Weatherford, Texas. According to engineering Dean Thomas Taylor, “His first year was devoted to courting the co-eds collectively and borrowing fountain pens individually. He had never seen so many girls in one place in his life.” But Bugs wasn’t as socially sophisticated as some of the other students, and his sentimental suggestions to the ladies often fell on deaf ears. It wasn’t long before McCall became a bit cynical towards the fairer sex.
His fortunes turned dramatically in his junior year, when a beautiful lady named Belinda arrived in his English class. She was well known on the campus, lived in the Woman’s Building, had the distant adoration of the male student body, and was jealously despised by almost every campus female. The young instructor of the class was smitten with her as well.
Part way through the spring term, the instructor asked his students to write an original poem. Belinda presented these lines:
“Chirp! Chirp! chirped the robin,
Coo! Coo! cooed the dove.
In all the world over,
No thought except love.”
The instructor, perhaps with stars still in his eyes, praised the verse for its “pure diction, fine imagery, deep feeling, and sustained intensity,” and promptly submitted the work to the student monthly University of Texas Magazine (known as the “Mag”) to be published.
When the poem appeared, though, Bugs was less than impressed. Borrowing a fountain pen, McCall drew from the experiences of his youth on the farm, and set out to break the maiden’s heart with an outburst worse than hers:
“Moo! Moo! mooed the muley,
Phst! Phst! phist the cat.
My darling Belinda,
What were you driving at?”
McCall’s words were published in the Texan student newspaper, just below a review of the issue of the Mag. Every male on the campus rushed to the lady’s defense, and McCall soon lost his standing among many of his fellows. Finding himself an outcast, Bugs loafed between classes in the rotunda of Old Main, hoping to avoid the scowls of his former friends.
But while shuffling his feet in the rotunda, McCall was surprised to see girls in greater numbers smile at him. Some even stopped to chat. Bugs had become a hero to the campus co-eds, for he “took on that sentimental sissy in English III.” He was invited out in mixed company often, and eagerly accepted. By the end of the spring, “Bugs” McCall was the social lion of the University, though he still had to be out of the Woman’s Building by 10:30 p.m.