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Celebrating Women’s History Month

(Left) Photo from the Textile Exposition and Style Show held at the-then School of Textiles (1929).

Dear Wilson College Community,

Welcome to Women’s History Month! 

United States presidents have made annual proclamations designating March as Women’s History Month since 1995, according to the Library of Congress. It’s a time to learn about the challenges women have faced and how they have fought for equity, as well as to celebrate the historical achievements of women in the United States. 

The textile industry itself boasts a rich history of successful women who pushed textile art, manufacturing and chemistry forward. This has its roots all the way back in the Industrial Revolution, where women made up the majority of the labor force in textile plants and mills. 

We invite you to learn about the role that women in the Wilson College of Textiles have played and continue to play in our college’s achievements, as well as ways you can seek community and support on NC State’s campus. 

Women’s History “Firsts” at the Wilson College

1899: Women designated as “Special Students”

The Board of Trustees decides to admit women to NC State University (then called North Carolina A&M), deciding women will be classified as special students, except in textiles courses, where they can be enrolled as regular students.

1932: Lillian Tyler Jones becomes the first female to earn a graduate degree from the School of Textiles.

Jones earned a Master of Science in Textiles. Her thesis studied “the effect of some wet and dry cleaning and stripping and spotting reagents on the relative tensile strength of some acetate and viscose yarns.”

1936: First women undergraduates in NC State textiles enroll.

The first women undergraduates in textiles were Eleanor Mae Greene and Virginia Lee Reinheimer, who received Bachelor of Science degrees in Weaving and Designing.

A scan of a black and white photo shows five rows of students standing on the stairs for a posed group photo in front of the School of Textiles. "Textiles" is engraved above the door to the building behind them.
Group portrait of textile students on steps of Nelson Hall, North Carolina State College School of Textiles (1943).

1963: Frances Massey becomes the first woman instructor in the college.

A scan of a newspaper clipping with a photo of Frances Massey and a caption that reads: Mrs. Frances Massey, Instructor in the Department of Textile Technology, demonstrates hand weaving to a group of Boy Scouts during a recent "Open House" in the School of Textiles.

Hired as an instructor, Massey ultimately became the first female faculty member in the college, retiring as an assistant professor.  In the 1970s, she also became the first female member of Phi Psi national textile professional fraternity.

1970: First co-eds head North Carolina State University Textile Chapter.

Scanned image of a black and white film photo. From left to right: Secretary Martha Ingram, President Sharon Mabbatt and Treasurer Gwendolyn Beasley all hold a booklet and read from it.
From left to right: Secretary Martha Ingram, President Sharon Mabbatt and Treasurer Gwendolyn Beasley.

New officers of the Student Chapter of the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists are all women for the first time in the history of North Carolina State University.

1982: Pamela Banks-Lee becomes the college’s first Black female faculty member.

Pamela Banks-Lee

Banks-Lee retired in 2022, after mentoring countless graduate students and conducting research to advance the field of textiles for audiology.

2010: Cynthia Istook becomes the college’s first female full professor.

Dr. Cynthia Istook

Istook also became the first female to be appointed to a named professorship and is currently the Cornelson Distinguished Professor of Textile and Apparel Design.

2014: Nancy Webster becomes the first woman to receive the Wilson College of Textiles Distinguished Alumni Award

Webster (B.S. Textile Technology ’75) has held multiple executive positions at industry leaders like Target, Thomasville Furniture and more.

2016: Nancy Cassill becomes the first woman named associate dean of academic programs.

Nancy Cassill stands in the reading room on the top floor of James B. Hunt Library.

Nancy Cassill started working in the Wilson College of Textiles in 2000 and served in a variety of leadership roles. She was also the first female full professor recruited into the college.

2017: Ellen Rohde becomes the first female president of the North Carolina Textile Foundation Board of Directors

Ellen Rohde

Donate to the Textiles Diversity and Inclusion Fund

Find resources and community

Women’s History Month is the perfect chance to learn and connect. Here are just a few of the opportunities offered through NC State: