Contributed by Samantha Rich
When it comes to NC State history trivia, many students may be quick to identify Jane McKimmon and Mary Yarbrough as the first women to receive degrees from NC State. However, students may not be familiar with the name Ada Curtis Spencer, the first female to graduate from NC State after entering as a freshman.
Spencer, a Raleigh native, entered State College in 1926 as journalism student. As a freshman, Spencer donned the mandatory freshman cap and carried matches for upperclassmen alongside hundreds of male freshmen. Students soon realized that women like Spencer would one day become a major part of the student body. A 1929 Technician article declared, “Our campus is quickly becoming filled with co-eds. It will be only a matter of time until they will be as numerous as the boys.”
In 1929, only four campus buildings were equipped with “toilet facilities” for women, including D.H. Hill Library (now known as Brooks Hall) and Holladay Hall. In an effort to make female students feel more comfortable on campus, the college introduced a “rest room for women” in the Southeast Seminar room of the library in 1929. The rest room contained tables, “comfortable chairs,” and a mirror. Perhaps Spencer spent time in this room in between her classes or while preparing for an exam.
In 1929, the Technician noted that Ada Spencer was the “most popular co-ed” on campus. It is possible that Spencer’s popularity was linked to her stunning academic record and her involvement in student organizations. In the summer before her senior year, Spencer took summer courses at Columbia University where, according to Technician, she received an ‘A’ on all her coursework. Technician declared, “Such an achievement is regarded quite excellent, considering the standard of that university and that many teachers and professors of journalism strive for lesser grades.”
Spencer also was a pioneer of the State College Women’s Student Government, serving as the temporary chairman of the women’s government committee. According to Technician, “Miss Spencer was appointed as the head of the committee on choosing the flower, the motto, and also the name for the baby organization.” Ada Spencer was also a member of Phi Kappa Phi honor society, the Leazar Literary Society, and Pine Burr honor society. At the time of Spencer’s graduation in 1930, approximately sixty female students were enrolled at NC State, most of who were enrolled in the School of Education or in the journalism program. Ada Spencer successfully paved the way for the thousands of women who have followed in her footsteps.
Technician (21 September 1929, 28 September 1929, 26 October 1929)