Early History of Women's Self Government at OSU

Per a booklet entitled “Forty Years with the Women’s Self Government Association,” the WSGA at Ohio State was born out of a “direct need of the women students of the University,” especially in terms of physical space and, by extension, attention for women students from the University. In the early 20th century, the campus student union was only available to male students—as such, the Women’s Council was originally established in hopes of fulfilling the need for a new and improved space for women beyond the “Gab Room,” a small and “dreary” room set aside for women students. The Women’s Council was officially established by 35 “co-eds” (women students) in early 1909; its leadership was established to be all women students, including both under- and upper-class students, and a leadership board consisting of a president, vice president, treasurer, and multiple representatives from each class. Interestingly, one of the first events held by the Women’s Council (soon to be Women’s Self Government Association) was a “Co-Ed Prom” at which half of the women attendees dressed as men, and half as women. The first year’s events, including Prom and “May Day,” were wildly successful, and garnered the Women’s Council popularity among students and other organizations at the University.

As the group’s success grew, they made the University aware of two needs: a Dean of Women to oversee their organization, and the on-going call for a Women’s Union on campus. In 1912, University administrators voted to allow the first Dean of Women to be hired. However, the money was not allocated for the Women’s Union, and it became clear that the Women’s Council was in need of their own governance association. In December of 1912, all 260 of the female students on campus were held to a vote for women’s self-governance at the University—245 of 260 voted in favor of such a group, while only 15 voted against the proposal. As such, the system of self-governance was “in operation” by February 1913.

In May of 1917, the University legislature passed a bill to construct a women’s building, and the Women’s Council gained both membership and enthusiasm on campus—625 women voted in the council’s officer election, and membership increased as more female students enrolled in the University. Shortly after the big victory, the United States joined World War I, and the women on campus began working towards the war efforts, including collecting tinfoil and creating scrapbooks for soldiers. 

By 1922, the brand new (and first of its kind at Ohio State) Women’s Union, Pomerene Hall, was nearly finished, and Ohio State’s Women’s Council sent representatives to the annual Middle-Western Intercollegiate Association for Women’s Self Government (IAWS) convention at Cornell University. Ohio State hosted the convention the following year (which also happened to be the 10th anniversary of IAWS), and 400 delegates from across the nation attended.

In the fall of 1927, the Women’s Council was renamed to the Women’s Self Government Association (WSGA), and a judiciary board was formed to enforce the group’s rules for women students. That same year, the president of the University, George Rightmire, wrote that “The Women’s Self Government Association shall be granted autonomy and responsibility concerning women’s activities.” This year also yielded a new Dean of Women, as well as legislation regarding women’s co-operative housing on campus. The WSGA continued to grow and gain success, working with and establishing a number of other women’s groups on campus.

The 1940s brought another war period to the nation, and women students moved out of the dorms and the US Army moved in. Ten fraternity houses were occupied by women, and co-ed events lost significant attendance as men on campus were scarce. However, after the war, women moved back into the residence halls, and “an increased interest in effective self-government” on campus was evident. Christine Conaway, former president of OSU’s WSGA and the first president of the Intercollegiate Association for Women’s Self Government, became the Dean of Women, and Ohio State became known as a leader in the national movement for women’s self-governance.

As the 1950s approached, WSGA at Ohio State continued to revise its constitution, ensuring that it was “functional and adaptable to the needs of a rapidly changing student body.” The group was “proud that the women of Ohio State were willing to work for the things they believed in…proud that they pressed that crusade in the face of difficulties.” It’s clear that the Ohio State WSGA not only took leadership on their own campus, but also nationally, working with similar organizations at schools across the nation to further the self-government movement. 


Booklet entitled "Forty Years with the Women's Self Government Association of The Ohio State University 1908-1948"