academic journey symbolizes an era of liberation for thousands of like-minded women at Woman's College
Alice Irby Woman's College
did not cry.
parents left her
standing on the steps of Cotten Hall at Woman's College
of the University of North Carolina on her
first day as a college student, she
could have been forgiven had she
wept and clung to them.
It was not an easy time in America's history.
The year was 1950 - the year President Truman ordered the building of the hydrogen bomb, the year McCarthy began hunting Communists, the year the Korean War began.
And it was an era in which it was unusual for women to uproot themselves from their families, strike out on their own, and go to college.
But no, Alice
did not cry.
yearned to escape the farming fields of eastern North Carolina.
wanted to take courses that were unusual for women at the time - political science and economics.
She considered Duke and WC, and WC won out because "not having boys around" would be more conducive to studying.
That evening, after her
parents left, Alice
raced to register for courses in the gymnasium, blindly signing up for professors whose reputations were unknown to her
wasn't concerned with boys in her
Like other women at WC
in Greensboro, she
was on fire and ready to blaze new trails.
friends sunbathed behind the dorms - out of public sight - and had food fights and ate ice cream at Yum Yum's and learned the rules of bridge.
also passed out on her
typewriter from exhaustion, pulled all-night study sessions with pots of coffee, knocked on her
professors' doors with questions at dawn, and read stacks of books until her
"It was a place of great opportunity," Alice
learned early that discipline is a quality that marks successful people.
At least, her
mother certainly thought so.
chopped block after block of wood - at 10 years old.
said a bad word, especially darn, her
mother washed out her
mouth with red pepper.
Respect and self-control were cemented into Alice's personality by the time she
was a teenager.
family prided themselves on their gumption, too.
father was a "self-taught and self-made man," who opened his
own furniture store before World War II.
brother taught himself how to build a car at 16 years old.
When it came time to choose a college, Alice's father told her
to go wherever she
would find a way to pay.
chose Woman's College
, just like her
loved the structure of the school, which required that students take two years of English, science or math, and history, and spend two years studying a foreign language.
Freshmen weren't allowed off campus for the first six weeks of school.
befriended other women during the daily 6 p.m. dinner (students were assigned to sit with the same group for the entire semester), and they held competitions in Jackson Library
to see who could read the most magazines.
learned golf and archery.
She gained entry into the prestigious honors society, The Golden Chain, and was part of the group that voted the first lesbian into the club - a decision administrators never questioned.
sophomore year, Alice
longtime boyfriend, Claud.
That year, 1951, marked the first time Alice
petitioned for change.
Since Claud had joined the Navy
wanted to remain in the dorms, where married women were not
allowed to live.
appealed the school's rule and won.
And when her friends asked her why she was coming back to college - why didn't she want to stay at home and wait for her husband? - Alice replied, "To get an education."
When class was out, Alice walked to Professor Warren Ashby's house to watch the news and discuss the political climate.
friends saw the famed writers, they struck up conversations.
In 1954, right before graduation, Alice
and Mary were eating dinner at Sunset Restaurant when a friend ran up with a copy of a Greensboro newspaper.
But they didn't know the decision would alter the course for the university and inspire a decade of turbulence and change - much of which Alice
would play a key role in.
In 1959, Alice
took a job as director of admissions at WC
Smart, from Raleigh, was a fast learner who, unlike Alice
, did not favor numbers or diagramming sentences.
Meanwhile, Alice was touring the state as the newly appointed director of admissions, searching for other black women who could succeed at WC.
did not mince words with the chancellor.
"If these young women are expelled from this university or college because of a permission slip when something major is going on, I just don't feel that I can remain here," she
, still the director of admissions, backed the decision.
knew the integration was inevitable and made sense economically.
In 1963, men were admitted and the college's name officially changed to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro
"Something was lost," Alice
In a time when women were still treated as unequal, they'd lost something they could claim as their own.
Alice, newly divorced, left in 1962 for Princeton, New Jersey, and joined the Educational Testing Service.
She was promoted to executive, and later landed a job at Rutgers University as the vice president for student services, the first woman vice president at a major university.
The New York Times
wrote an article about the occasion and called her
"the hard-working Mrs. Irby."
ambition came at a cost socially.
Other mothers on the block didn't know how to relate to Alice
, remembers her daughter, Andrea Irby.
to have confidence, and that if she
worked hard enough, nothing was impossible.
Things were rarely easy for Alice
frequently because the bureau couldn't believe a single mother made that much money.
travels as an executive, Alice
was once refused a seat on a plane because she
was a woman.
held up the plane for hours, demanding a copy of the policy stating women couldn't fly on executive flights.
returned home, Alice
and a friend drew up a letter to United Airlines
, threatening to sue for discrimination.
suspended the "executive flights" two months later.
In 1998, Alice retired and moved to Pinehurst.
grew closer to her
fellow alumnae, especially Mary Bowers.
Frequently, the women make trips back to campus and reminisce over their time at WC
In October 2013, Alice
and 29 other women gathered at UNCG
for a dinner in their honor.
The program was named "Women of Distinction.
and the other women received a bouquet of yellow roses and standing ovations, Chancellor Linda Brady stepped to the podium.
I grew up in the same town as Alice Joyner Irby
mother was my French teacher in high school.
younger sister ,Margaret, was and still is a really good friend of mine.
has always been an amazing individual; and I am so very proud of her
I thoroughly enjoyed the article about Alice
that was in the North Carolina State magazine
in the January 2014 edition.
is so deserving; and I'm sure anyone who has known Alice
is proud of her