Celebrating Women’s Legacies at DePauw

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March is Women’s History Month, a time to look at the contributions and achievements of women, past and present, and to celebrate them with joy and pride. DePauw University is home to women who have paved and are continuing to pave the way for women to be bold, authentic, and seen. 

In June of 1867, after much chatter and several meetings, the board of trustees voted to “receive female students into the regular college classes of the University.” In 1871, Alice Allen, Laura Beswick, Bettie McReynolds Locke, and Mary E. Simmons were the first women graduates of Indiana Asbury University (now DePauw University). Currently, the percentage of women (52%) on this campus exceeds the percentage of men (48%), so DePauw has progressed significantly since the original admittance of female students.

Bettie McReynolds Locke, one of these four women, is a major name in the Greek Community. Locke’s brother was a Phi Gamma Delta (Fiji) at DePauw and he and Bettie had a close bond. However, when she asked to join his fraternity, he said that she could only become a social member. This meant that she couldn't be initiated and was barred from the rituals that bind the chapter together. Because of this, despite major pushback from her brother and his friends, as well as from professors and the community, Locke created America’s first Greek fraternity for women, Kappa Alpha Theta (Theta). She was a trailblazer for women’s social opportunities and acceptance into the Greek community.   

Lily Fuchs, a junior and president of DePauw’s Kappa Alpha Theta Chapter, emphasized that Bettie and Theta’s history inspire her because of her identity as an immigrant. Fuchs immigrated to the United States from Belgium at six years old and described how Bettie and the other women’s ability to settle and create Kappa Alpha Theta in their four collegiate years inspires her 

“Learning that these four women were able to plant their roots somewhere that was not necessarily welcoming to them was very inspiring to me because I feel like I never really set my roots down anywhere,” Fuchs said.

Fuchs relayed how the history of Kappa Alpha Theta made her feel on her visit to DePauw as a high school senior as she stated, “It made me think that maybe I will be able to find my people when I'm in college.”

Fuchs acknowledged the need to continuously celebrate Locke within Theta’s chapter. She described the chapter’s annual tradition of taking the freshman to (voluntarily) kiss Locke’s grave, which is approximately five minutes from campus, among other traditions pertaining to Locke. She also detailed the ways that the Kappa Alpha Theta chapter encourages and uplifts women just like Locke did in her time at DePauw. 

Fuchs said, “We have sister of the week and we base it off of our sister’s achievements from the past week, and women in our chapter can vote others to become sister of the week. Last week, a sister was voted sister of the week for getting a really good internship. We try our best to know everything that is going on in each other’s lives to make sure everyone feels celebrated.”

Not only have women at DePauw made strides in social opportunities, but also in academia. Dr. Lori White, current president of DePauw University, is the first woman of color to serve as president on this campus. In a recent Instagram post, with her notably majority female cabinet, she celebrated women’s history month by “acknowledging the women who have contributed to DePauw’s history.” She noted the women who had gone before her including both the first women students and Bettie Locke.

Dr. White emphasized that what encouraged her to accept the opportunity of being a college president was that she didn't see someone who looked like her in DePauw’s presidential history. She wanted to create a way for other women and inspire them. 

White said, “I hope that students see me as someone who is a champion for their own leadership because this is one of the things that I have prided myself on in my career.” 

She currently serves as a mentor to a group of women that she calls her “freedom train,” women in higher education who are aspiring to serve in leadership positions. She encourages women to turn off the voices in their heads that say they can't do something or need other qualities/experiences to achieve a specific goal. 

White said, “The advice I give to women is first of all we have all the capabilities of achieving whatever our dreams are. We need to confidently lean into them.” 

She smiled when talking about how positively she has been received by DePauw students, staff, and alumni. White doesn't believe her gender has been an issue in her role as president, which is significant compared to not too long ago before 1867, when women weren’t even accepted as students on this campus.

“Hopefully I’m not going to be the last woman of color in this role, hopefully I’m not going to be the last person of color in this role (even though I’m the first) and some years from now, we won't even be celebrating that, we will just be celebrating that we have an awesome person who is the next president of DePauw,” White said.

Women have made strides on DePauw’s campus and are continuing to do so. Being “the first” encourages other women to aspire to achieve more and break existing gender stereotypes. From the first female students to graduate from DePauw University to Bettie Locke to Dr. Lori White to the women currently on our campus who are “the first,” may we acknowledge their strength. Women of DePauw, may we know them, love them, and celebrate them always.