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100 Years of Coeducation at William & Mary

April 30, 2019
By Noah Petersen '19

In the fall of 1918, 24 women were admitted as undergraduate students at William & Mary. During the 2018-19 school year, we are celebrating the accomplishments of more than 55,000 alumnae, students, faculty and staff who have followed in their footsteps. In the coming months we will be featuring vignettes from our fall 2018 cover story on the 100 years of coeducation at William & Mary. This is the third in that series.

Aviation

William & Mary is believed to be the first university with a flight club. From 1931 to 1935, members could join for a yearly fee of one dollar, and in its five years 44 students completed the necessary 20 hours of flight time to earn their private pilot’s licenses. Only one of those 44 was a woman: Minnie Cole Savage ’33 — the first, and last, woman to earn her pilot’s license through William & Mary.

Savage finished her training in a thick corduroy flight suit, lined with a felt interior, obviously cut for a man. Just like the other members, she wore the silver and green flight club patch, and she flew in the nighttime aerial stunts and the yearly Homecoming exhibition. Three times a week, in her baggy overalls, she went to the College airport and worked on one of the four planes with a William & Mary crest. Her name is engraved in a trophy commemorating the flight club and their 1933 victory in the Loening Cup — the highest award for a college aviation program.

A black-and-white photograph shows Savage sitting close to Amelia Earhart during her visit to William & Mary. Earlier in the night, Earhart spoke on the importance of women in aviation, who showed great “zeal and vigor” by participating in a sport then considered a near-daredevil activity. From Earhart, outstanding “zeal and vigor” was only one seat down.

Savage pushed boundaries as a student, an aviator and a woman. The same woman photographed in the Colonial Echo with a coy half smile, wearing a dark sweater and floral scarf, was an enormous groundbreaker. Savage set an example for women at William & Mary — accomplish your goals even if you’re the first; fly to your castle in the clouds.