Words by Shaun Treat
TWU has a long history of making history, and this week saw a new chapter inaugurated as Texas Woman’s University in Denton unveiled its first official mascot for the school. First TWU mascot, you say? Yep, it’s a long strange story that we’re more than glad to tell you about since it illustrates the school’s uniqueness from its very beginnings back in the day.
Even before it first opened for classes in 1903 as the Girls’ Industrial College, a school for women in Texas was one heckuva barn-burning fight. Throughout the 1890s, several Women’s organizations had lobbied for higher-education opportunities through a state-supported college, but rampant sexism and fiscal frugality consistently defeated all legislative attempts. It wasn’t until the Texas Democratic Party accepted the cause as its platform in 1901, when trailblazing Texas suffragettes dug in their heels and mobilized votes, that the idea found legs. Through some aggressive campaigning, Denton was selected as the site for the school in 1902, intended as a place where young women could receive a practical education, including training in the domestic skills that they would later need as wives and mothers. Opening in 1903 with 186 enrolled students and a faculty of fourteen, and a board of regents that included 3 women, the institution was basically a junior college for vocational training that combined a traditional literary education with instruction in the domestic sciences, child care, and practical nursing skills. TWU has its own suffragette hellraisers to thank, like Annie Webb Blanton, for cementing the university as a powerful progressive force during the early days of the 20th Century.
The name of the institution was changed to College of Industrial Arts in 1905, to Texas State College for Women in 1934, and then finally to Texas Woman's University in 1957. The changes in name also signal the numerous social changes and institutional evolutions as the school grew. What didn’t change, however, is persistent battles rooted in sexism and misogyny that often stymied the university’s development. Believe it or not, once upon a time it was thoroughly believed that bicycles and women’s sports were corrupting forces that turned demure girls into radical lesbians or rabid feminists. The education of women, it should come as no surprise, was – and maybe still is, in some backwards circles – a dangerous idea. TWU didn’t have its first female president, Mary Evelyn Blagg Huey, until 1976.
So here is where the story of TWU’s first mascot becomes really interesting and maybe even important. As we’ve written about before, TWU has a pretty fascinating history with mascots mostly because they’ve never really had one… at least, not officially. Y’see, women playing sports was controversial long before Title IX became Federal law, just ask UNT’s own Beulah Ann Harriss. Easily-offended sexist-menfolk-in-charge have a long history of banning women’s sports and policing women’s bodies, stretching right up into our latest Texas legislative session. So, of course, having a sports mascot would at least imply a more egalitarian view that womenfolk could be jocks too, and just maybe do everything a man could do… including a TWU softball pitcher who struck-out “Mr. October” Reggie Jackson three times or an intrepid reporter who won a Pulitzer Prize! All of which is precisely why TWU finally at long last claiming their own mascot is kinda a big deal.
There is also more a bit of poetic timing, since this year has marked the loss of TWU’s iconic Wimberly Bridge even as one of the biggest films of the year WONDER WOMAN was also notably directed by a woman while breaking box-office milestones. It’s maybe no coincidence that the Greek goddess Athena – also known as the Roman goddess Minerva – is the wisdom-bestowing patron deity to both Princess Diana and Minerva’s own little owl. The Owl of Athena is indeed a fitting mascot to make a place amongst the traditions of Texas Woman’s University, an avatar for wisdom-seeking knowledge, gender equity, and mature philosophical enlightenment in times of change or uncertainty. As the German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel once wondered in The Philosophy of Right (1820): “The owl of Minerva takes its flight only when the shades of night are gathering.” We therefore look forward to this exciting dawn of a new era for Denton’s beloved TWU!