(opinions) Tech's female pioneers

A stack of Virginia Tech Bugle yearbooks, Feb. 9, 2020.

“To the PIONEERS whose courage has inspired us to greater deeds, and whose guidance has directed us to happier paths and made pleas-our college days: This, the 1929 Tin Horn, is dedicated.”

So begins the 1929 edition of Virginia Tech’s Tin Horn, a yearbook created entirely by women students at Virginia Tech after they were restricted from joining the Bugle, the official yearbook. I first learned about this female-powered yearbook in an interview with the current editor-in-chief of the Bugle, Molly Crews. 

Crews tells the story of the yearbook at Virginia Tech: “The Bugle started when the Virginia Tech campus was only men. When women started to come on campus, women were not allowed to be in the Bugle. They created their own version which they called the Tin Horn. It was kind of a spoof on the Bugle. Now, we’re actually a predominantly female staff.” 

In an act of defiance against the limitations posed on them, Virginia Tech’s earliest female students created the Tin Horn. It lives on in our library databases, where four editions of it (1925, 1929, 1930 and 1931) are made available. 

The 1925 edition depicts various “campus scenes” such as the “Library Tower” and “1st Academic Building” with simple doodles. The colored outlines of each section are done in a wobbly fashion, emphasizing the amateur but authentic tone of the text. They finish by asking readers “to lay the faults to the imperfections of our instrument, for only shrill and discordant notes can be produced by a tin horn.”

The 1929 edition begins with a collection of 12 photos of the campus, showing the academic buildings, dormitories and greenery. Peering at the small black and white scenes, it’s an unrecognizable Virginia Tech. 

This strange, foreign campus is further detailed in “A Co-Ed’s Diary,” where an author of the Tin Horn tells her experience as a female Virginia Tech student through a series of diary entries. Her first entry begins with disappointment:

“September 17, 1926 … (I) expected at least politeness at college. But I was destined to be disappointed. It didn’t take me long to become disillusioned about V.P.I. I s’pose one can hardly blame the boys for feeling about us as they do. It must be a nuisance to have co-eds in classes …”

She continues to write about their cold welcome to Virginia Tech. “Some of the professors didn’t appreciate us any more than the boys did … One of the professors was even so inconsiderate as to say that our class of co-eds was dumb.”

In this same entry, she writes about how men have been throwing water at them from their windows as they pass by.

“Up went the windows and down came the water ... We became exceedingly alert and quick movers, in fact we became so efficient in dodging water that we decided to extend our athletic ability even further, and as a consequence of this we had a basketball team ... Of course we weren’t in the Athletic Association, so we couldn’t expect support at our games. A few of the boys did come and always rooted for the opposing team. Not very sportsmanlike, but maybe some day it will be different. I wonder?”

I wonder if she could have dreamed that years later, the editor-in-chief of the Bugle would be a woman, running a mostly female-staffed yearbook. I wonder if her class of five female graduating seniors, all majoring in home economics, could have imagined that today, 12,534 women are undergraduate students at Virginia Tech, with majors in business, engineering, science and liberal arts. I wonder if she knew that while she paid respects to previous pioneers, she was a pioneer herself, leading the way to the wonderful, diverse campus we have today.

Maybe she did dream of this. Four years after her first entry, in 1929, she writes one of her final entries before graduation:

“January 25. We played Radford to-nite and it was wonderful! Not the score, because they beat us as usual, but the way the boys came out and rooted for us. I never dreamed so many boys would come to a co-ed game.”


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