‘Tech Night Girl’

For decades, the Evening School of Commerce was the only place at Tech — and indeed among any state institution of higher education — where women could attend undergraduate classes. And they weren’t always welcome. Playing off of the school’s fight song, they were subject to remarks like “Nell of an engineer” and “I’m a Ramblin Wreck from Georgia Tech and I keep my lipstick near,” according to a 2002 article in BuzzWords, a publication of Georgia Tech’s Alumni Association.

Before the Evening School started downtown, two women, Beth Wall and Eula Lang, enrolled in the School of Commerce in 1912 when it was housed at Lyman Hall on main Tech campus, but they did not graduate. Women were only allowed by the state government in 1916 to attend graduate programs at the University of Georgia and technically, women were not allowed to attend any undergraduate classes at any state institution until 1920, when the Georgia General Assembly legalized it for the Evening School’s downtown location only, BuzzWords reported in 2002.

But women first arrived at the Evening School, under the radar, in 1917, and it was women who helped to keep enrollment steady at the Evening School as men were called into action during World War I. Women represented 26 percent of the Evening School’s freshman classes during the war, while women represented only 10 percent of the student bodies of other
commerce schools in the southeastern United States.

The Evening School’s first female graduate, Annie Wise, a Hungarian immigrant who attended Columbia University and the University of Paris, graduated in 1919 with a bachelor’s degree in commerce. She also became the first female graduate from any state-supported college or university in Georgia. She would later go on to become the school’s first female faculty member as an instructor in commercial science and was principal at Commercial High School of the Atlanta Public Schools.

Women who attended what became Georgia State, like the other working adult students of the school, were tough and determined in obtaining their education. In The Technite, student E. Louise White wrote in 1926 about the “Tech Night Girl,” noting that the women of the school were “… no longer the little [ladies] who sat demurely obscure in grandmother’s days, she is rather a personage who has enlightened, enobled and enriched civilization … it is a better, greater world that gives to her today an equal chance to grasp those golden opportunities that have at last poured her dreams into the melting pit of equalization and realities.”

Juliet Dowling, one of the last women to graduate from the Evening School of Commerce before the newly created Board of Regents separated it from Georgia Tech, ordered a man-sized graduation ring when she obtained her degree in 1932.

“I figured I’d done a man-sized job, graduating from Tech,” she said, according to Tech Topics.