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A non-profit publication of the Office of the University Relations of Virginia Tech,
including The Conductor, a special section of the Spectrum printed 4 times a year

Tech woman pioneer dies

By Clara B. Cox

Spectrum Volume 18 Issue 18 - January 25, 1996

Ruth Louise Terrett Earle, the first woman to get a degree in engineering from Virginia Tech-then called Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College and Polytechnic Institute-died on Nov. 28, 1995, of respiratory failure at an extended care facility in Arnold, Md. She was 91.

Earle was the last surviving member of the first five women to enroll in 1921 as full-time students at Virginia Tech. She graduated in 1925, along with two other women who had enrolled the year Virginia Tech began accepting women as full-time students and opened all courses, except military, to them. Those three were the first women to attend Tech as full-time students for the duration of their college degree programs. One of the five, a transfer student, graduated in 1923-the first woman to graduate-and another one left school at the end of her sophomore year.

At Virginia Tech, Earle majored in civil engineering and was the first female member of the student chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers. She is listed as a member of ASCE in the 1923 Bugle, the only coed whose name appears in the yearbook that year. A resident of Alexandria, she was the only coed from out of town to enter Virginia Tech in 1921. The other four already lived in Blacksburg, as did seven women who were attending the school part time.

The male cadets opposed the admission of women and continued to harass them once they arrived. Any coed who walked by the barracks could expect to have water dropped on her head, accompanied by a barrage of comments. Earle apparently was determined to show the cadets the error of their ways, dressing in a cadet uniform and climbing to the top of a water tower to usurp a traditional test of cadet manhood. According to the 1925 Tin Horn, a yearbook printed by the coeds since The Bugle would not include them in its pages, "After `Rat' Terrett showed that she was determined to stick, her would-be tormentors fled."

The 1925 Tin Horn also says that Earle "stirred up an enthusiasm for basketball," and the coeds formed their own team, which they dubbed the Sextettes and later called the Turkey Hens. Earle was captain of the team, which played Blacksburg High School, Radford College, Concord Teacher's College, and the YMCA of Roanoke.

The women charged the cadets exorbitant admission fees to the games, but many still attended. According to a coed's diary, the cadets rooted for the opposing team.

In addition to her leadership of the basketball team, Earle served at least one term as chair of the women students, who, denied membership in most of the men's organizations, formed their own.

After graduating, she worked in a Washington, D.C., architect's office for six years. She married Sherod L. Earle in 1931.

Earle returned to work in 1950 as a statistician for the Chesapeake Bay Institute of Johns Hopkins University. She retired in the 1960s.

A member of the Society of Women Engineers and the College Woman's Club of Annapolis, Earle bred dachshunds and exhibited them on the East Coast, including the prestigious Westminster Dog Show in New York.

She was buried December 1 in Brentwood, Md.