Flipping through a folder of archived photographs in the Rose Library, I was surprised to see a young woman in a group identified as the Oxford graduating class of 1950. This was three years before the board of trustees agreed to admit women to Emory College as residential students, and several years before the first female residential student showed up at Oxford.
The only woman among 25 men, she stands in the center of the front row looking demure under her sun hat but confident in the appropriateness of her place. She knows she belongs there. Who could she be?
I turned to my 91-year-old friend Harold Wilson Mann to see whether he might remember her. After earning three degrees from Emory, he taught history and directed the glee club at Oxford in the 1950s. His stint there didn’t begin, though, until a couple of years after this photo, so he had not crossed paths with the mystery student.
University archivist John Bence told me that Oxford course catalogs at that time listed students in the two-year college curriculum. Digitized and available online, the catalog published in March 1950 includes a “register of students” with three women’s names: Dorothy MeGahee, a second-year student, and Virginia C. Davis and Dorothy J. Dodson, both first-year students. MeGahee was listed as hailing from Covington, Davis from Toccoa, and Dodson from Austell. So perhaps the graduating woman in 1950 was Dorothy MeGahee.
Not only the catalogs but also the old Oxford yearbooks are now digitized and online. Sure enough, in the 1950 Memory, I found her. “Dot,” she was called.
She had quite the full dance card: editor-in-chief of the yearbook, vice president of Phi Epsilon Upsilon literary society (the Few Society), officer of the International Relations Club, and president of the Coed Club–whose membership included all three of the female students.
A further chapter in these women’s story turned up in the archives. As I looked through more photos, I happened on one of the three of them with Dean Virgil Eady.
Turning it over, I found the women’s names and hometowns and this text:
Dodson and Davis will be sophomores [in] the coming term. MeGahee graduated in June, 1950, and is now enrolled in the Emory summer school. According to Dean Eady no more coeds will be enrolled at Oxford. The above will be allowed to graduate.
Little did Dean Eady suspect that many more women were on the way.
Dorothy MeGahee went on to graduate magna cum laude from Emory with a degree in nursing and later earned a master’s degree in nursing administration from the Medical College of Georgia. She married her classmate Hamlin Callahan Jr. just after graduating from Emory College and apparently remarried at some point, to a man named Davis. She was working as the supervisor of the Warm Springs Foundation Hospital in Warm Springs, Ga., when cancer claimed her. She died at the young age of 50, in 1982, and is buried next to her parents and brother in her hometown of Covington.
Gary S. Hauk
Thanks to University archivist John Bence for locating the digitized 1950 course catalog and 1950 Memory yearbook.