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Women's Rifle Team

Coe Girls' Rifle Teams: Shoot 'em up, Girls!

"If a woman can vote, she can shoot," quotes military authorities in the January 20, 1922 Cosmos. Construction had begun on a fifty foot indoor rifle range on the west side of the third floor of Williston Hall. The RO.T.C. encouraged rifle teams of both men and women to form. The article was enthusiastic for the women's rifle team: "Any woman who has ever handled a gun can vouch for the statement that shooting has a distinct fascination, say the R.O.T.C. officers, so ladies, get out your war togs, and make ready for participation in the new all-college recreation and sport."

And this the ladies did. That school year thirty-one girls picked up rifles and began shooting in Williston Hall under the direction of Major C.P. Titus. They were divided into two teams for the sake of practice and competed against one another. The 1924 Acorn includes a photo of sixteen girls dressed in tights, knee length skirts and white blouses with matching scarves around their necks. All are posed with approximately three-foot long rifles. They are all smiling.

One of the first competitions held was between Sergeant J.C Seay, U.S.A., serving with Coe R.O.T.C. corps and Miss Carol Jones, '23, the student instructor of women's athletics. Miss Jones was the winner, though according to the January 18, 1923 Cosmos the sergeant fired with his rifle upside down. Miss Jones received a box of candy for her efforts.

There was only one known unusual occurrence in the shooting range, as Lieut. Smith stated, "we try to avoid the unusual because in this case it would mean that someone would get shot" (Cosmos February 12, 1941). The event and the shooting range were clearly detailed in the April 12, 1923 Cosmos:

It was a somnolent afternoon of early spring...in peaceful scenes like this sudden disturbance always comes. Williston hall on this afternoon was no exception. All of a sudden a terrific crash was heard. The walls of the old brick pile quivered and reverberated from foundation to gable...Had an earthquake occurred? Were the Reds at work to blow up the Coe R.O.T.C? Such proved not be the case.

Captain John B. Harvey, U.S.A. had merely crashed through floor of the rifle gallery into the Williston garret into the French classroom of Mr. Cone below!

To imagine, Faithful reader, the scene as it actually occurred, let us conjure for you a swift word picture of the setting of the catastrophe. The gallery occupies the whole floor of the Williston attic. At one end beneath the sloping roof are the rifle pits. At the other end are the targets. Between the two there is no floor; bare rafters and plaster lie exposed to view. The targets are controlled by pulleys so that seldom, if ever, does one need to venture into the shooting alleys.

When one does walk out into this area, he must make his way precariously by treading softly from rafter to rafter, taking care not to step into the plaster and lath of the ceiling below. But Captain Harvey had not stepped from beam to beam. He had trod upon the treacherous morass of plaster. Hence his suddenly violent exit through the floor. . .

As the captain felt himself precipitated through the French room ceiling in to space, he secured with surprising agility for one of his bulk, a toe hold on one of the rafters. As a result when all of him but his head and one foot had disappeared his flight was terminated.

The toe hold held: the grip of gravity relaxed. The French room possessed few attractions for an army officer: no one was there to enjoy his acrobatic fancies. So he clambered painfully back into the gallery above. When once again on secure ground he hastily sounded "retreat" and retired to the military office below for reorganization and consolidation of his position and morale.

With a new coat of plaster on the French room ceiling, both the men's and women's teams returned to campus in full force for the 1923-1924 school year. The men were under the direction of Serge Seay and Robert Monteith, '25, assisted Major C.P. Titus in coaching the women's teams. A number of matches were scheduled for both teams, and the women were allowed one day a week, Friday to practice in the firing range.

One day a week was enough time for the girls to become skilled shooters. They were taught the same prone positions as taught by the U.S. Army, as well as kneeling, sitting and standing positions. Women were divided into teams of five and were supervised under one of the five captains. A final team of ten members was chosen each year to represent Coe in matches against other colleges. It was these ten girls that competed against the men's Company A team in April of 1924. The results were reported in the April 10, 1924 Cosmos:

When the last shot had been cleared away it was found that Company A's representative had been roughly handled by the so-called weaker sex. As the match ended the lead held by the women was approaching one thousand points, the final score being 3060 to 2130.

Not content with one smashing victory, the girl's rifle team began challenging other company teams. In these matches, each team shoots on a certain date and mails its score to the other team. If these scores are questioned, the targets are sent to the challenging school. Practices were held weekly, and the teams were supervised by the manager and five captains. Each of the captains was responsible for five members, and a final team often members was chosen each year to represent Coe in matches with other colleges. From 1929 to 1936, women's rifle marksmanship was under the direction of the Women's Athletic Association (W.A.A.), whose purpose was to "promote interest and participation in all women's sports" (1933 Acorn). Beginning in 1937, the team was part of the R.O.T.C., and was under direction of Sergeant Francis D. Purgh.


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