When someone thinks of a Meredith student, they often picture late night Cornhuskin’ practices, a close sisterhood and the Onyx. The description of a Meredith student is constantly evolving, which is evident when looking through old Oak Leaves editions. Over the past 128 years, the Oak Leaves yearbook has documented the changes at Meredith and also in American society.
In 2019, it is hard to believe that Meredith published a yearbook that had no mention of a class ring or of a single tradition, but the yearbook of 1910 also represented a different time for women. Oak Leaves was first published in 1904, and the earliest volume found in the library, 1910, shows a very different culture than today’s Meredith. For example, during the 1920s, Oak Leaves began to include class categories. The superlatives consisted of generic categories such as “most athletic,” but a surprising category found in earlier yearbooks is the “most attractive” superlative. Living in an environment that now so heavily promotes inclusivity makes it hard to imagine that Meredith students once voted on who was the prettiest woman in their class.
Another striking difference of the early yearbooks is the lack of diversity among students and faculty. Although Meredith has not had a scandal in its yearbooks similar to one surrounding a racist photo in UNC Chapel Hill’s 1979 yearbook, Oak Leaves is evidence that for a long time there were no minority students enrolled. The 1925 yearbook has only one page dedicated to featuring the minorities on campus and those minorities were classified as workers. According to the Archives, it was not until 1968 when there were minority students enrolled at Meredith. In 1971, Gwendolyn Matthews Hilliard received the first degree obtained by an African American at Meredith. Although minorities have been welcomed at Meredith since 1968, the student body continues to be majority white. Kelley Marshall, ‘92, said the diversity on campus when she attended in the late ‘80s and ‘90s was “probably not like it is now,” though she does “remember a girl from Iran in [her] class.” The fact that Marshall remembers only one international student being on campus is a far cry from Meredith today, but it is evidence that the college has made strides to improve the diversity of its students.
On another note, the most popular majors at Meredith consist of Business Administration, Biology, Psychology and Communication, according to the Office of Institutional Advancement. A majority of these majors did not exist in 1943, or if they did exist, they were not highly populated programs according to students’ majors listed in the yearbook. Looking at students’ majors in the 1943 and 1957 volumes of Oak Leaves, many students majored in Home Economics and Education, as women were pushed to pursue these career paths in the ‘40s and ‘50s and were given less options compared to today’s students.
Although being a stay-at-home wife or teacher are both still respected jobs today, the current major choices show a wider range of options. As women started to gain more opportunities in the labor force, Meredith began to offer more majors to reflect the changing roles of women in society. Instead of going to school to get a degree predetermined by gender norms, Meredith students are coming to college to start a career in any field they choose. Meredith has always strived to educate women and recently students have been choosing majors which have been traditionally male dominated.
Looking through old Oak Leaves, it is evident that Meredith’s culture has evolved to encompass a student body which embraces diversity in many ways. Meredith has changed significantly over the years, but one thing has always stayed the same: the bond of the sisterhood. Marshall reminisced of her time at Meredith by saying, “I developed wonderful friendships and had adventures I never dreamed possible. I love the beautiful campus and feeling home away from home there.”
By Ashley Ricks, Staff Writer