NORTH CENTER — Lane Tech College Prep women graduates gathered outside their old high school this week to unveil a plaque honoring the first 386 female students admitted 50 years ago.
Chicago Public Schools allowed the first cohort of girls into Lane Tech in September 1971, integrating the school after 60 years of teaching boys. Met by protests, microaggressions and outright misogyny, the girls joined more than 5,000 boys at 2501 W. Addison St.
The plaque will be installed at the school’s main entrance facing Western Avenue.
“These resilient young women proved that academic excellence has no gender boundaries, and established their rightful place in the school of champions,” it reads.
Debra Bailey Williams, class of 1975, said the moment was “monumental.”
“But I also think that it will be good to do some interrogation of and reflection on what has changed what hasn’t changed yet,” Williams said. “Having the courage to talk about some of those things that may not be easy.”
These changes were made in part due to the Space Race, but the resulting drop in enrollment prompted then-Supt. James Redmond to recommend Lane Tech go coed. By the 1970s, Title IX was being debated in Congress and the ACLU of Illinois was pushing the district to adopt a coed model.
“There was a real resistance from administration, from faculty, from parents, from students,” said Michelle Weiner, a 1976 grad and president of the Lane Tech Alumni Association. “The school’s advisory council, which would be like today’s local school councils, sent a six-page letter to the Board of Education arguing the school should remain all-male.”
When girls were allowed in, 1,500 male students marched on the Board of Education chanting, “We don’t want no broads, hey.” Concerns that Lane’s male students would bully or otherwise act out against the female students proved unwarranted. In February 1972, the Tribune reported, “Lane Remains Calm.”
But some of Lane’s first female students still experienced daily microaggressions from male students and school staff for years, Weiner said.
“You just grit your teeth, drop your shoulder and kept moving. There weren’t the kinds of supports that we have today. It was a different time,” Weiner said. “Believe me, misogyny was not gone after the first 12 months of female students at Lane. But it was those first 386 girls who really took the incoming fire. Some were even escorted to their classes by law enforcement on their first day.”
Fifty years after the first girls walked in, Lane is led by a woman principal. Edwina Gholston Thompson, class of 1999, also is the first alumna to hold the position.
“Lane has never and will never be the same because you were here. I am here because you were here. And countless other students, who identify as future women alumna, will pass through these doors because you were here,” Thompson said. “Thank you for your sacrifice. Thank you for your fearlessness.”
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