Top 50 Hokies Spotlight: Breaking Barriers
In our next Top 50 Hokies Spotlight, we wanted to take a look at a group of Hokies who walked so numerous others could run.
These Hokies were often the first of their gender or race to achieve something while students at Virginia Tech and have paved the way for numerous others to do the same.
Here is a look at some of the most notable “Trailblazers” in Virginia Tech history.
First Female Students
Mary E. Brumfield, Billie Kent Kabrich, Lucy Lee Lancaster, Carrie T. Sibold and Ruth Louise Terrett were the first women to enroll at Virginia Tech, known then as Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College and Polytechnic Institute in 1921.
Since its founding in 1872, the school had functioned as an all-male institution. This changed for good when these five women made the bold decision to enroll at VT.
Most women in the area who attended college during that time went to Radford University (then known as The State Normal and Industrial School for Women at Radford).
Instead of taking the traditional route and attending Radford, which at the time primarily functioned to train school teachers, Brumfield, Kabrich, Lancaster, Sibold and Terrett attended a primarily industrial and technical college in VT.
Brumfield was the first to graduate in 1923, marking the first female graduate in Virginia Tech’s history.
Now, thanks to these brave women, 43% of VT’s nearly 35,000 student enrollment is female.
First African American Students
In 1953, Irving L. Peddrew became the first African American student in Virginia Tech history.
His chosen major, Electrical Engineering, was not offered at Virginia’s primary all-black college at the time, Virginia State. This was the main reason for VT to decide to partially desegregate the university.
Not only was Peddrew the first African American student at VT; he was also the only African American student to attend a historically white public university in the former Confederacy.
However, Peddrew still experienced quite a bit of discrimination. Despite being accepted as a full-time student, Peddrew was never allowed to live on campus.
As the weight of racism mounted, Peddrew could stomach it no longer, leaving Virginia Tech after his junior year.
One of the next African American students to attend Virginia Tech was Charlie L. Yates.
Yates started and finished his undergraduate career at VT, becoming the first African American graduate in 1958.
Not only did he graduate, but he was one of only six honors graduates in Mechanical Engineering that year.
In 1998, Virginia Tech built Peddrew-Yates Hall, named in honor of these two barrier-breaking men. As they themselves were unable to live on VT’s campus, they now have the honor of hosting groups of students in a residence hall of their names.
First Female Cadets
In 1973, a group of 25 women became the first female members of the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets.
Led by the first two to enlist, Deborah J. Noss and Cheryl A. Butler, the 25 women formed an all-female squadron.
Not only were they the first of their kind at VT, but they were also the first women ever to be admitted to a corps. This even included the service academies, such as West Point, the Naval Academy and VMI.
These 25 women served their country, their university and women everywhere extremely well. They opened the door for numerous other women to receive ROTC education at the top institutions in the nation.
First African American Football Player
The final Trailblazer we are shining a spotlight on is John Dobbins, the first African American member of the Hokie football team.
Dobbins was a standout at nearby Radford High School, where he was also the first African American football player.
There, he scored the first touchdown in their current stadium, is a member of their Hall of Fame and has a recreation field named after him.
Enrolling at VT in 1969, Dobbins spent his first season on the freshman team.
Then, during the 1970 season, Dobbins was moved up to the varsity squad, starting at fullback and returning kicks. Dobbins finished that season third on the team in rushing.
Unlike the African American students that went before him, particularly Peddrew and Yates, Dobbins found acceptance from his teammates and, for the most part, the university.
However, those that saw Dobbins play would likely say he was severely underused during his time at VT.
In addition to playing fullback, which is a much more blocking-heavy position than his natural tailback position, the Hokies transitioned to a much more pass-heavy offense towards the end of his career under legendary quarterback Don Strock.
Dobbins fans weren’t the only ones who saw his talent being underutilized, as Duke University made a hard push to convince him to transfer.
However, this was to no avail as Dobbins showed he was a Hokie through-and-through.
Legend has it, Duke sent a driver to pick Dobbins up and bring him to Durham to try to convince him to transfer. Instead of getting in the car, Dobbins hid until the driver gave up and went back home.
Thanks to Dobbins, African American athletes have ample opportunity to shine as Hokies, not just in football, but in every other sport as well.
Some of the greatest all-time Hokie athletes are African American, and this is due in large part to the bold steps taken by Dobbins as well as Peddrew and Yates before him.