Purdue Libraries archives exhibit to feature Purdue, U.S. Coast Guard pioneer Dorothy Stratton

January 9, 2012

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Purdue University's first full-time dean of women who went on to become the first female commissioned officer in the United States Coast Guard will be celebrated with an archival exhibit at Purdue.

Purdue Libraries' Division of Archives and Special Collections will feature "Behind the Mast of Women's Leadership: Celebrating the Legacy of Dorothy Stratton." The exhibit will be displayed through March 30 at the Virginia Kelly Karnes Archives and Special Collections Research Center. The center is located on the fourth floor of the Humanities, Social Science and Education Library in Stewart Center.

Stratton died in 2006 with a remarkable list of pioneering accomplishments for women.

In 1933 she became the university's first full-time dean of women, overseeing the construction of three new women's residence halls on campus. During her time at Purdue, a liberal science program for women in the School of Science was created, as well as an employment placement center. She helped establish the Housemother Training School that gave intensive training to fraternity and sorority housemothers from across the United States, and her office hired Amelia Earhart as Counselor in Careers for Women. A scholarship named in Stratton's honor supports women's participation in Purdue's Naval ROTC program.

In 1942 - during World War II - Stratton took a leave of absence from Purdue to create and direct the Women's Reserve of the Coast Guard, also known as SPARS. She was promoted to captain in 1944 and was awarded the Legion of Merit medal for her contributions to women in the military upon retirement in 1946. She is credited with the acronym SPARS, which the Women's Reserve was called.

In July 2010, first lady Michelle Obama christened the Coast Guard Cutter Dorothy C. Stratton to honor her accomplishments.

Stratton also served as the first director of personnel at the International Monetary Fund, followed by service as executive director of the Girl Scouts of the USA. She was the United Nations representative of the International Federation of University Women and chair of the women's committee within the President's Commission on Employment of the Handicapped.

"This exhibit is a testament to the woman who used her own strong abilities to help develop in others the humanistic spirit to fight fascism, sexism, and discrimination wherever possible," said Jonathan McConnell, graduate assistant for Archives and Special Collections and curator of the exhibit.      

The display will showcase documents and photographs from Stratton's time as a Purdue dean in the 1930s and '40s and also from her role as first director of SPARS during World War II.

"We have many interesting photos from the SPARS training camp and deployments, as well as recruiting pamphlets and posters," McConnell said. "Captain Stratton became the highest-ranking woman officer in the Coast Guard and was the subject of many public relations photos and press releases, which will be on display."

Speeches and articles written by Stratton on the importance of liberally educated women in the fight against the forces of fascism and inhumanity also will be exhibited, he said.

Writer: Jim Bush, 765-494-2077, jsbush@purdue.edu

Sources:  Jonathan McConnell, jmcconn@purdue.edu

                   Stephanie Schmitz, 765-494-2904, sschmit@purdue.edu