Two years after Shannon Faulkner won her legal battle to open the doors of an elite military training college to women, the first female cadets admitted under a United States Supreme Court order were due to enrol this week.
This month has seen the last stand of the all-male establishment at South Carolina's Citadel, and a second state-supported academy, the Virginia Military Institute.
VMI's governing board has finally voted by the slender margin of nine to eight to admit women in the face of a Supreme Court ruling last June. Attempts by VMI alumni to make the college private, and thus avoid the court's jurisdiction, had failed. The Citadel had capitulated earlier, only three days after the court's decision.
In a parting shot, the VMI board ruled that women cadets must meet the same fitness standards, wear the same uniforms, and accept the same crewcuts, as men. US military academies typically score women's fitness differently from men and allow their hair to grow a few inches. "It would be demeaning to women to cut them slack," VMI superintendent Joseph Bunting told a news conference. The US National Organisation of Women and civil rights groups immediately condemned VMI's stand.
The Supreme Court had ruled that under the equal rights clauses of the US constitution, neither the Citadel nor VMI could continue to bar women while accepting state money. There are still three all-male colleges in the US and 84 all-female, it is reported, but they are private institutions. VMI, founded in 1839, relies on Virginia's taxpayers for $10 million in funding a year. It trains 1,200 cadets annually under spartan conditions, living in barracks whose toilets and showers have no doors. They are expelled if they marry.
A scheme by angry alumni to buy the college from the state foundered when the likely cost - at least $200 million - became clear. About 80 women have requested information on applying, and the first will be admitted in the autumn of 1997.