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Woman's or Women's: What's in a name?

How many times have you seen or heard the university referred to as Texas Women’s University? It’s a somewhat understandable mistake – after all, we educate many women (and men) – but our name is Texas Woman’s University. Woman. Singular.

TWU began in 1901 as the Girls Industrial College, and later became the College of Industrial Arts. In 1934, the institution’s name again was changed, this time to the Texas State College for Women. Why then, in 1957, did the name change from a college for women (plural) to Texas Woman’s University?

Apparently, it was a nod to history.

In “Clarifying the Terms ‘Woman’ and Women,’” a 2019 ThoughtCo post, the author notes that in the 18th and 19th centuries, the term “woman” was used to refer to all women in general, just as “man” was used to stand for all men in general. She also points to historian Nancy Cott’s writing that “Nineteenth-century women’s consistent usage of the singular woman symbolized, in a word, the unity of the female sex. It proposed that all women have one cause, one movement.” (From “The Grounding of Modern Feminism”)*

Phyllis Bridges, PhD, TWU Cornaro Professor of English and author of multiple books on the university’s history, shed a little more light on the name change.

She noted that when then-president John Guinn was contemplating changing the institution’s name from Texas State College for Women, “he wanted to emphasize that we had grown into university status. He also wanted to move dramatically away from the notion of a finishing school for ladies.”

At the time, “ladies” was a term for women who did not work outside the home, she explained.

“Dr. Guinn wanted (our students) known as future leaders of Texas, persons in the professions,” Bridges said, adding that Guinn recruited Pauline Beery Mack to lead the university’s research institute and expanded the nursing program into Dallas and Houston.

“He was in a quandary about the new name,” Bridges said. “He called in Dr. Autry Nell Wiley, chair of English, and sought her advice. She studied the history of woman’s and women’s in usage and advocated for the name ‘the Texas Woman’s University.’ Dr. Guinn accepted her advice and took that name to Austin.”

Bridges noted that, over the years, “the” has disappeared from the university’s name.

“I keep it because it is the full legal name we were given,” she said.


*Hat tip to Christopher Johnson, the chancellor’s chief of staff, for finding the article.