When They Let Girls In

          My father’s first cousin, James Allen Cox, lives in Raleigh and has played an important role in the development of North Carolina’s excellent community college system for many years. And true to his heritage as a Cox, he has a flair for telling stories. One of the stories that Cousin James tells that I really enjoy concerned when women were first admitted as students to North Carolina State University in Raleigh, then known as North Carolina State College.

          Cousin James was a student at NC State in the early 1950's when women first started attending that university as day students. (Status as on-campus students with their own dormitories was still several years away for the women of North Carolina.) But contrary to present day carping about the admission of the opposite sex into previously same sex schools, Cousin James maintains that letting women in was one of the greatest things to ever happen to NC State. His reasons for this position are immediately obvious to anyone with experience as to how much attention men pay to personal hygiene when there are no women around.

          Cousin James said that back when N. C. State was an all male campus, the chances of meeting a girl on campus who would be a suitable object of romantic interest was best characterized by the expression, “slim and none, and slim just got on the bus.” As such, weekends represented the only real possibility for romantic encounters and the male students adjusted their personal hygiene standards and habits accordingly. Cousin James reported it was not uncommon for students to go the entire week (until Friday evening) without the benefit of a bath or a shave. Further, it was not unheard of for a student to spend the entire school week in the same clothes: sleeping, eating, attending class, studying, or playing sports all in the same outfit. While this behavior was unacceptable under any circumstances, it became especially so during those sultry early days of the fall semester and last days of the Spring semester that were all to common in Raleigh before air conditioning made summer in the South bearable. Or to use Cousin James’ concise summary of the situation, “It got pretty rank in some of those classrooms toward the end of the week.”

          But then, as Cousin James relates, something wonderful happened. Girls of an age that made them worthy of romantic interest not only started showing up on campus, but started attending classes too. Then something even more wonderful happened, the boys started shaving and showering every day. Clean cloths were donned with regularity. The boys even started wearing more stylish clothes as compared to what they had been wearing in an all male atmosphere. These boys had no idea who they might be meeting that day, but they wanted to be ready on the off-chance that the love of their life might stray their way. While Cousin James didn’t mention this, I have learned from other sources that so sudden and complete was the male population’s conversion to the precept that “Cleanliness is next to Godliness” that NC State had to install extra washing machines in the dormitories to keep up with the demand.

          While the debate on the pros and cons of women’s influence on men’s behavior in various setting will continue for as long as there are men and women, I think I can safely assert that James Allen Cox comes down foursquare in favor of the decision to admit women as students to NC State. Footnote