Feisty and intelligent advocates: How women shaped The Rocky Mountain Collegian

A column published on March 29, 2018, for women’s history month. See the original article from The Rocky Mountain Collegian. // 

In 126 years of publishing The Collegian, we’ve seen some pretty badass women. Now, at the end of women’s history month, we’re celebrating our majority women editorial board, staff and readership.

In 1891, two women served on The Collegian’s first editorial board out of a team of six, 26 years before the 19th amendment was approved. Luckily for them, Colorado and the Collegian were ahead of the time. Colorado women got the right to vote in 1893.

Celia May Southworth, who was part of this first editorial board, was described as, “a feisty, intelligent advocate of college journalism,” in an account of The Collegian’s history. She wrote several essays and poems about womanhood in the workplace without sacrificing her identity along the way. According to “The Collegian’s First 100 Years” history, her writings show that she believed a woman could compete with a man in any field, and probably better than him. Her essays embrace femininity as a power rather than a detriment:

“There is a vital principle now lacking in our government,” Southworth wrote in 1891. “This is the womanly quality which springs from the mother-heart.”

She encouraged women to “have a higher ideal in life” than marriage, but she didn’t want to sacrifice her femininity in the process. She simply wanted to be. How to do it all? Southworth wrote: “Choose friends who are brave enough and noble enough to rise above the social rottenness of the day.”

Women continued to have a strong presence at the Collegian for the next century and on, while the rest of the world was still catching up. In the 1910s, the paper would typically give pages over to campus groups at the end of the year, including the women on campus. They used the opportunity in 1917 to run a poem called “The Colorado Aggie Girl,” in which they described themselves this way: “She’s pretty and she’s witty, and she’s nice to talk with too. / She’s charming, clever, brilliant in her style.”

In 1945, Jean Herdman, a copy editor at The Collegian, pitched the idea for CAM the Ram as the new mascot with her husband-to-be, the editor at the time. The campus liked the idea.

In 1955, husband and wife Floyd and Connie Shoemaker ran The Collegian as editor and managing editor. Connie wanted to major in journalism, but it wasn’t offered at the university. So, with the help of her husband, she invited high school journalism students to visit the university, therefore pressuring the University to create a department based on interest. The practice became a tradition for the journalism department called J-Day. Thirteen years after the first J-Day, Floyd was invited to become the first chair of the program.

“Finally, after Connie was unable to fulfill her dream of majoring in journalism, such a department was started,” Floyd Shoemaker wrote in “The First 100 Years.”

The newspaper has historically been the most powerful institution on campus and the only voice for students. In its early years, editorials called on students to get more involved and organized on campus. In its later years, editorials pushed political boundaries.

So, following in Southworth’s “feisty” footsteps, Vicki Hays, the Collegian’s managing editor, moved off campus without permission in 1964. At the time, the university did not allow women to live off campus unless they were married or in “approved” housing. Women also had a strict curfew of 11 p.m. (men could stay out as late as they wanted).

That wasn’t going to work for Hays, who often had to be at the paper well past 11 p.m. to it to press the next day. She illegally moved to an off-campus apartment that was not on the dean of women’s approved list (a list allowed the university to monitor how late women were out). The university gave her the option to move back or be expelled.

Hays chose neither: Instead, she staged a sit-in demonstration at the Dean of Women’s Office and used The Collegian as a forum to rally student activists. She blasted the administration for accusing her of “squawking” and refusing to “take her medicine.”

“What I stand to gain from my opposition is, at most, the permission to continue living as I am,” Hays wrote in an editorial at the time.

Despite it all, Hays lost her appeal. But not without becoming the catalyst for years of activism from students on equal treatment for women on campus. Men in student government organized around the issue and began pressuring the president to change the rules. In May of 1967, an estimated 2,500 students occupied Moby Gym, beginning at 10:45 p.m. and ending shortly before midnight, so that everyone missed the women’s curfew. At the end of the month, President Morgan began to lift some of the rules, extending the curfew until midnight for weekdays and 2 a.m. for weekends. Eventually, the rules ceased to exist altogether.

Women demanding the same treatment as their peers continued at The Collegian and in journalism. In 1971, Becky Martinez wanted to be a sports writer. Her editor wrote of her, “Women, in that time, did not become sports writers. But someone forgot to tell Martinez that, and off she went, covering CSU sports.”

Today, 10 out of the 16 members of The Collegian’s editorial board are women. All top three positions (editor-in-chief, managing editor and digital production manager) are filled by women. Compared to our industry, like The Collegian editors before us, we’re ahead of our time. Today, the average U.S. newsroom is 63 percent male, according to the American Society of News Editors in 2017. Only 4 percent of U.S. newsrooms have all top three positions filled by women.

I often say that when I step forward, I step for 126 years. Women at The Collegian step for Celia, Aggie Girls, Jean, Connie, Vicki and Becky. We aim to be brave and noble enough to go high when society goes low.

We step for the next 126 years of feisty, intelligent, advocates of college journalism. Happy Women’s History Month. Off we go…

Collegian editor-in-chief Erin Douglas can be reached at editor@collegian.com or on Twitter @erinmdouglas23

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