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#79 Women Blazed the Trail at Norwich

Jeff Dobbin 200 Things about Norwich, This Week in History

79-photo-highest_ranking_woman_to_date_1979Norwich University officially became co-educational in 1972 after merging with Vermont College. Two years later, Norwich admitted women into its Corps of Cadets. These women paved a path for future Norwich Women and found their way through a tough program of academic excellence, physical challenges and social change. Their story is one of courage, endurance and often humor.

The 1974 landmark was one year before the U.S. Service Academies, including West Point, admitted women by act of Congress. Among the Senior Military Colleges, Norwich admitted women into the Corps the same year as Texas A&M and one year after the University of North Georgia and Virginia Tech. The Citadel and VMI would maintain all-male Corps of Cadets until the mid-1990s.

Following the merger with Vermont College, that institution’s female and civilian students officially came into the fold as groundbreaking members of the Norwich community. Since VC was then a two-year college, its students became eligible to take classes toward a four-year degree at Norwich. Before long, they petitioned President Loring Hart to be allowed to live on the Northfield campus, rather than bussing between Northfield and Montpelier. From there, it was a natural progression to allow women to participate fully in all aspects of life as a Norwich student, including joining the Corps of Cadets.

79-photo-rook_week_1978In the fall of 1974, eight women entered the Corps of Cadets, some as rooks and some as upperclassmen.

In December 2016, there were 645 female undergraduate students at Norwich, of whom 248 were members of the Corps. The current regimental commander, Erin Gats, is the fifth woman to hold that post. And Norwich women are now making a bigger impact than ever in our armed forces, with the 2015 announcement that all combat roles would be fully integrated.

University records documenting a wide variety of women’s history and experience at Norwich are available through the University Archives. Many thanks to the staff of the Sullivan Museum and History Center, whose work on the 2015 exhibit “Women of Norwich: Trailblazers and Torchbearers” contributed to this article.