Let’s not stop with GenderOn Tuesday evening, March 19, the Nautical Advisory Council (NAC) of the Port Washington Public Library (PWPL) hosted a program called Kings Point Women: Breaking the Gender Barrier. Jennifer McCabe, the curator of the exhibit of the same name, presented the excitement and challenges of being the first Federal academy to accept women among its ranks.
Professor Joshua Smith, Professor, Department of Humanities and Interim Director, American Merchant Marine Museum, who worked with Jennifer over many months to bring their creative product to fruition, introduced Jennifer.
Jennifer has worked with several museums including the Fairfield Museum and History Center, the Camp Nelson Heritage Site, and the University of Kentucky Special Collections where she created the exhibit "UK Women: Leaders in Time," celebrating the alumna of the university throughout the twentieth century. Jennifer has also taught as an adjunct professor at the USMMA and Univ. of Kentucky.
One might wonder why KP accepted women in 1974 as opposed to another time. Well, in 1972 Congress passed Title IX of the Equal Education Amendments Act, which states "no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."
The government gave KP about 6 months to prepare for the arrival of the women. And, as you can imagine, that was very little time to figure out how to assimilate the women into an all-male community.
Ms. McCabe, with many facts, photos, midshipmen's quotes and a wonderful sense of humor, highlighted the "challenges" facing KP, the only service academy in the US that accepted women. She spoke of the difficulty in establishing guidelines regarding the treatment of women. The faculty decided that all midshipmen would be treated the same as much as possible. Thus, "equality equals sameness" was applied when it came to uniforms, buzz cuts, curriculum, etc.
The Academy decided that the title "midshipmen" would be used for both men and women.
What about athletics? Could and should women play all sports - and what about safety? Some sports were denied the women but one midshipman commented on her experience with rugby, "The boys mostly went easier on us when it came to tackling, but I still took some hits. In fact, the hardest I was ever hit was by a woman."
Sailing was popular with the ladies. "The waterfront was a place to escape Academy life stress. I not only loved sailing with my team but also was relieved looking at the Academy from the water. Sailing was my savior." -Nancy Wagner '78.
Consider for a moment KP Sea Year, which is part of the fabric of Kings Point and "a cornerstone of the Kings Point curriculum." What about the uniques dangers for women assigned to a ship for a year? Should they be trained for Sea Year differently than the men? And what about ship Captains who didn't want "any women" on HIS ship?
As you can see, rules and guidelines were a definite challenge, and remember, the Faculty only had 6 months to prepare!
These and other stories and experiences are all outlined in KP Women: Breaking the Gender Barrier. There is also a terrific exhibit, located near the cafeteria. Why not stop by and see what it was like for these courageous women who managed to thrive at KP and have very successful careers?
Many thanks to Prof. Joshua Smith for bringing Jennifer McCabe to KP to curate this exhibit. We all know USMMA leads in many ways, but many may not know that KP stood out, front and center, for accepting women when no other service academy did - and for figuring out how to make their years at KP positive.
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