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The first women to join the Cadets

Thirty years ago, I was among 50 young women who walked onto the Quad of Texas A&M University’s Corps of Cadets to meet our new commanding officer and upperclassmen. On that September afternoon in 1974, we became the first women to join the Corps.

This weekend, over 100 of us will meet again on the Quad and join with current cadets (162 of them women) to celebrate the 30th anniversary of women in the Corps.

Women were admitted into the Corps under the Minerva Plan. Named for the Greek goddess of war, the plan had secretly been written the previous year by juniors on Corps Staff, the senior and junior cadets in command of the Corps. It was the ’70s, and since women would be admitted into ROTC programs nationwide, the Corps acted proactively — and grudgingly — to admit women.

The Minerva Plan made the women’s unit a detachment to Corps Staff. All women, regardless of academic class standing, would enter as “fish,” and the unit’s upperclassmen would be male cadets until phased out over the first four years.

Don Roper, Class of ’75, was among the juniors in staff leadership positions who learned of the plan in March 1974. Don volunteered to become the first CO (commanding officer) of the first women’s unit. He doesn’t recall that he had any competition for the job. Other brave young men were recruited to fill the detachment’s junior and sophomore adviser positions.

Young women seized the opportunity. I was among a handful of A&M sophomores who had learned that there was a special camaraderie shared within the Corps. To us, the Corps truly was the spirit of Aggieland, and we wanted to become a part of it.

Ceil McKinney learned about the opportunity at one of A&M’s weekend orientation events. She liked the idea. She wanted to be a veterinarian. Instead, she graduated with a commission in the Navy and served as an officer for 12 years.

Ann Stone Sheridan was arguing about women’s rights with a cadet in the library when he said, “If you think women in the Corps are so great, why aren’t you one?” So she marched to the Trigon (military science building) to sign up. Ann had come to A&M to become a veterinarian, with no plans for a military career. But she signed a military contract as a cadet, earned her degree in agricultural engineering, served four years on active duty in the Army and spent 18 years in the Reserve while she worked as a professional engineer for the city of Houston.

Women entering the Corps in 1974 did not find a welcome mat laid out for us. We were scattered around campus, living in different dorms or in apartments. We had no uniforms. (Didn’t anyone know we were coming?) To begin functioning as a unit, we met weekday afternoons at 5 on the Quad for drill, physical training, “campusology,” and the general harassment that every fish needs. After all, this was why we were admitted to the Corps. It is the harassment — the challenges — that upperclassmen compel their fish to meet that builds the character for which Aggies are known.

Because the Corps members ate together in Duncan Dining Hall, we eventually began to eat evening chow in Duncan after drill. This gave everyone indigestion but was another step toward inclusion in the Corps.

The A&M student newspaper, The Battalion, gave us a handle that first week of drill that we still call ourselves. A front-page photo showed us in our jeans and T-shirts in formation on the Quad with the caption “W-1 Waggies.” That was good for quite a laugh all over campus among professors, civilians and, of course, the guys in the Corps. But we made the name our own. We called ourselves Waggies. After all, it was better than the name “Maggie” for female Aggies, and “Waggie” set us apart. As if we needed anything else to set us apart.

When we at last received our uniforms (somewhat resembling khaki-brown paper bags) in the spring of 1975, we heard that the powers-that-be began to rethink some provisions in the Minerva Plan. As a detachment to Corps Staff, the women would march in review directly behind Corps Staff, with the rest of the Corps following us. That wouldn’t do, so W-1 became a real outfit assigned to 3rd Battalion.

The Minerva Plan was accelerated in the spring of 1975. Instead of having male advisers for four years, we women would rise to fill the ranks. So, we upperclassmen received our proper rank after Parents Weekend in April 1975. I was a sophomore, and the next year I would become the first woman first sergeant of W-1. We got our first fish that year, members of the Class of ’79. Ruth Ann Schumacher Burns was one of my classmates, and she would become the first woman company commander of W-1 in 1976-77. I was glad she got that job instead of me. She interviewed well and looked good in newspapers all over Texas.

Other changes in the Minerva Plan eventually would come. The plan stated that “no women, under any circumstances, will ever be offered membership in the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band.” Women would not wear senior boots or carry a saber. Women would not be admitted to organizations if participation would not be “in good taste,” or if activities were “of the highly strenuous type.”

Today, women of good taste are wearing senior boots, strenuously marching in the Aggie Band and serving on Corps Staff, and they have been for years. It is a tradition at A&M to start new traditions. We are looking forward to meeting the Waggies who accomplished their own “firsts” and started new traditions after we left. And we are excited about meeting the current women cadets who are making their own traditions in the Aggie Spirit that they will carry with them for a lifetime.

• Claire-Jean Korzenewski graduated from Texas A&M University with a geology degree in 1977.

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