Millie West, Trailblazer for Women's Athletics

Millie West arrived at William & Mary in 1959, not as a student but as an instructor, professor, coach, and Women’s Athletic Director. During her 50-plus years at William & Mary, West started the swimming program, worked to increase funding for women’s athletics, became a member of William & Mary Athletics Hall of Fame, and in 2017, was awarded a degree of Doctor of Human Letters from the university.

In her interview, West discusses getting a job at William & Mary after graduate school and attending Thanksgiving Dinner at the home of Dean Lambert. She recalls fondly the process of finding community in Williamsburg through cocktail parties and tennis tournaments. West successfully advocated for adding teams and increasing the budget for women's sports, and observes the current state of women's athletics optimistically, stating: "I think the sky's the limit."


William & Mary

Interviewee: Millie West

Interviewer: Sarah Glosson

Interview Date: July 25, 2016                   Duration: 01:07:46


Sarah:              Well, good morning, Mrs. Millie West. I am Sarah Glosson interviewing her. We are in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Women’s Collegiate Tennis Hall of Fame. And good morning, Millie.

Millie:              Good morning, Sarah, nice to see you.

Sarah:              Nice to see you. Thanks for being here with us. Today is July 25th and it is 10:00 in the morning. Millie, we’re just going to start with a little bit of background about where you grew up and what kind of childhood you enjoyed. Were you involved in sports as a child?

Millie:              Yes. Well, I grew up in Georgia, Cedartown, Georgia, and I was the youngest of three girls in the family, and I was the only one that was really…okay, I was a tomboy. I loved to be outside. I loved sports.

00:00:57          And I guess I occupied all my time playing games and things. And in high school I played basketball as a five foot two, but we were half court rather than the full court then. So I played basketball. I played any sport that the school offered, which weren’t very many.

I was in the band. I played the clarinet for years. I was, I guess with sports, it was sports and music, because I was in the choir, I was in the glee club. Whenever there was any activity outside the classroom, I did it. And I was okay. I was an honor roll graduate of Cedartown High School. And from there I went on to Georgia State College for Women, which is now Georgia College.

00:02:00          And it is primarily a liberal arts school now. Then they did offer a degree in physical education, health and physical education, and I went there because of that. I almost went to the University of Georgia, but changed my mind after going to a weekend at Georgia College, and that sealed the deal for me.

So I graduated in ’57. And all my colleagues were going on to teaching in high school or coaching, and I just didn’t want to do that, so I went directly to graduate school, to the University of Maryland, which my department chair at Georgia recommended because they had a good program and some outstanding professors there. And I got an assistantship, and I also got a stipend for living in a certain dorm.

00:03:00          I really wasn’t a house mother. It was a small home ec facility, very small group, and they cooked and they did all the home ec things there with the people who lived there. And I lived on the third floor and when the director was gone, I was in charge. So that paid for my whole graduate work, plus I got a small stipend.

So then I graduated, and the job at William & Mary came open. And it was again the chairman of my undergraduate that brought it to my attention and recommended me. I didn’t know it until later, but another graduate of my undergraduate school applied for the job, too, and when it came down to the two of us, she was older, maybe five years older. I got the job.

00:03:59          And, you know, I was green as grass. You’ve got to understand I was young, graduate school right away. I taught at Maryland, too, as an assistant, I taught some classes. A full load, really, in comparison to here, when I came here. And it was great experience. I learned a lot.

And then I came here and Marion Reeder was the chairman of the department. And I think I drove her crazy that summer trying to find out what am I going to teach, what is my schedule, what should I do, you know. And she finally said, just calm down, I’ll give it to you in the fall.

So in the summers I always went to a camp. First it was Camp Juliette Low. Juliette Low started the Girl Scouts in the U.S. And then I did that the four years I was at Georgia College.

00:04:57          And then when I was at Maryland, people at Maryland were involved in Camp Allegheny, which was over in West Virginia, and so I went there for two years and met a lot of people. In fact it was there that I met Dean Lambert and Mrs. Lambert because Louise was a camper.

And so everybody was fearful of Dean Lambert, but I liked him, and he didn’t bother me a bit. And I had my first Thanksgiving Day meal at William & Mary was at their home. And he was always nice to me. But he’s stern, and he was a good, but he was a great friend. That was the first introduction to William & Mary.

And I taught tennis and swimming. And everybody taught five classes and coached something, maybe one or two things. So that was during the time from the fall of ’59 to when I became the chairman of the department.

00:06:03          And the department grew, and everything got more and more, and so when I became chairman—first of all I was the acting chairman because the chairman retired early. Martha Barksdale was here, Marion Reeder, two other members of the department and me, so there were five of us, and that was it.

And we taught, worked, and we even had classes on Saturday, if you can imagine. I taught swimming at 8:00 on Saturday morning. You can imagine the enthusiasm for that. And it was men and women. And the men were pretty hard to control, keeping them in the water. But there was one person—there were a couple of people, men, boys at that point, in my classes, and they helped me control the class.

00:07:01          [Cameron Blanford] was one and a couple others were great in those. I enjoyed the guys very much. But anyway, so that was a hard Saturday morning, because I was single and I was out playing some, too.

And I will say this, that when I was coming to William & Mary, people said, you’re going to William & Mary, Williamsburg? That is the dullest place in the world. Well, I never found it to be so, ever. And during that first year I met people like Jimmy Ukrop, that group that hung together. They were seniors, I believe. They were. They graduated in ’60. So I met a good group of students. But it was just a great time those early years. But it was hard on Saturday morning.

00:07:58          So one of the first things I did when I became chairman, I changed the classes to double classes, Monday/Wednesday, Tuesday/Thursday, and no Saturdays. So it was hard to teach a class to beginners in an hour. You know, you had 50 minutes. And so we had an hour and a half, and that made a big difference, and it worked out fine. I didn’t have to go to the swimming pool in Blow Gym, please.

And the whole student body was only 1,800 students then, which was different than now. And so I knew all of the women and most of the men, a few of the men that I taught anyway, and the athletes.

00:08:54          So everything went fine, and we had a lot of fun. The staff grew a little bit. When I went up to my first year after not going back to Camp Allegheny I was invited up to Sargent Camp, which was part of Boston University, to teach in Sargent Camp, which was located in New Hampshire.

And that was a place that they took all physical education, physical therapy, and all the people in the medical part of Boston University to Peterborough, New Hampshire to teach them skills. So I went for swimming, not tennis, but swimming. And I met Joy Archer, Pat Crow, Carol Hausserman, and a lot of other people, and they ended up coming to William & Mary after I was here to be on the staff, and Joy and Pat retired here.

00:10:01          So others came in, but it was a core of us there that was just great. It was a great experience for me. Also, it was my first northern experience, and it was the first time that I taught African Americans swimming. Now that is hard if they’ve never been in the water because they get in the water and they sink. They’re all muscle and they just go to the bottom, so I had a chore of keeping them afloat.

Well, it ended up at the end of that time at Sargent Camp we were great friends. But I always had my pole or life saver there to get them out. But we were great friends, and that was a great experience for me. Of course William & Mary had no blacks at all. And when I was hired, I was interviewed by President Chandler.

00:10:58          And this was known among all the young faculty, that he said to me, well, you’re from the South so you understand our situation here. Which meant we’re not integrating. We’re totally segregated. And of course I just said yes, I’m from the South, and that’s about all I could say. But it was a real joke among the young faculty. We would say, well, we understand that, but then our husband doesn’t, he’s black. You know, just to be funny.

But he was stern and so was Dean Lambert. We couldn’t even have a meet against someone who had black students on it. We couldn’t go. I remember the dance group wanted to go down to Hampton University and they weren’t allowed to go. But they went anyway. You know, sometimes you just balked the plan and went and did what you knew was right.

00:11:58          We weren’t allowed to go to the Country Club of Virginia with the tennis team for a long time because of that aspect. But anyway, we grew and we learned and we changed. But we had a great time because I was just an instructor, and I was assisting Martha Barksdale with the tennis team. She was doing hockey, she was doing everything. And so I assisted her and took over from her, really, when she said you can do it.

And in the beginning we only had tennis in the fall. We grew to have tennis in the fall and spring. Marion Reeder had one swimming meet because in 1964 DuPont was opened, and it was a large group of women that came, mostly from northern Virginia, and they were all very active, and a lot of great swimmers came.

00:13:02          So we started. Marion did one meet and then I did. I took over the team the next year, so I was coaching tennis and swimming and teaching a full load, and also finally being head of the department.

Sarah:              Before we talk about your time as department chair, Millie you’ve had a really remarkable career. You’ve received many, many accolades and awards over the years. We would probably be here all day if I listed them all. In fact in the room where we’re sitting right now, in the Hall of Fame, there’s a plaque on the wall that lists many of the highlights of your career. Among them you’ve been named an honorary alumna of William & Mary and been awarded professor emeritus status. You helped establish this Hall of Fame here at William & Mary. You mentioned early on that you were a tomboy.

00:13:58          I want to learn a little bit more about the young woman who became this much lauded woman with a long career. I want to learn a little bit more about you from your college days. I know that when you were in college in the ‘50s women were often discouraged from participating in sports, weren’t they? It was sort of considered unladylike in some circles.

Millie:              Right. Women don’t sweat, they perspire. [Laughs.]

Sarah:              That’s right. So did you encounter any of that sort of discouragement?

Millie:              Well, because I was at a women’s college I didn’t. And because we didn’t have varsity sports, but we had a lot of sports, and I participated in everything. We had play days. That’s what they were called then. And you’re right. But Georgia, which was…Georgia State College for Women, we were called Jessies. And there was a men’s college there, too, and they were called Jimmys. But we had a strong intramural program.

00:15:00          And we traveled to Florida State and Atlanta and we did a lot of all kinds of sports. So I did every sport that was available. If it was softball, swimming, tennis, volleyball, everything. I did all of them. And it was a very strong competitive thing.

So when I came here, and they already had some varsities—the varsities had started in the 19…the first ones really were in 1920—it was great. And we were one of the few. The other school in Virginia that had women’s sports was James Madison. And a graduate of William & Mary headed that department. Her name was Caroline Sinclair, and she was a very strong, short, little person that was very powerful.

00:15:58          But back to—I just played everything. I was outdoors every day. I was at the pool every day, all day during the summer. And you had to take a break from the pool in those days because if you ate you couldn’t go in the water. You know about cramps and things. And so I played tennis. I didn’t have any instruction on either one. But I did go out—the tennis courts were right there, and they were clay—and played there. So I just did that.

And when I got to college, because they had a physical education major, it was very active. Had a great dance program, too. And I did not play in the band or carry on my music after that. I just did sports. And we did have something in college that were the… Freshmen and juniors were sister and sophomores and seniors, and we had this competition they called the Golden Slipper.

00:17:01          And it was all…you had to write it, you made up songs, and I was one of the leaders, my roommate and I, my suitemate and I were the leaders of all the singing, a lot of singing, a lot of playing. But it was a great experience for me. And also I felt privileged that I had some leadership roles then. If I’d been somewhere else I might not have had those opportunities.

Sarah:              So when you arrived at William & Mary in 1959, there weren’t a lot of women on faculty at that time.

Millie:              Right. They were all in physical education, I think.

Sarah:              Right, right. What were your first impressions of campus when you first arrived here?

Millie:              Well, I thought it was pretty staid. The women were great, but they had to wear raincoats over their shorts to physical education classes.

00:18:02          They had to sign out for everything. They had to do everything proper and they had to be chaperoned for everything. And I remember when I was at Maryland I was pinned to an SAE, and SAEs at Maryland and William & Mary had this big function every year, once here and once at Maryland. Well, I went to Maryland, I was there, and I went to that party.

Well, when I got back down here, Dean Lambert had put all of those students—he found out about it—on probation. Some of them got kicked out because they hadn’t signed out properly or they traveled in a car without a chaperone. And it was just so different. Even from my women’s college it was different. But, you know, you did what you…that was the way I was brought up. You followed the rules and you didn’t balk too much.


Sarah:              Why do you think William & Mary was so much stricter about those sorts of rules than your women’s college had been?

Millie:              I think it was the administration and the dean of women and the dean of men. So that’s all I can put it to. Or maybe that’s what every college across the country did. I think we were pretty much followers in everything. We didn’t lead in those days. We were sort of a couple of years behind everything, and those rules were set.

But you can talk to any—you’d find that out from some of the early graduates of how stiff it was, and how you had to sign in and out, and you had house mothers. And it was just…that was funny for me. But it didn’t bother me. I had a great time. I loved it, and I was happy.

00:19:59          I met my future husband at the end of my first year here. Several other people were in between that time and when we got married in ’66, but I never found that I was socially out of step or didn’t have anybody to hang around with, you know. It was just great. So I thought it was great, and it didn’t bother me.

I heard about—it scared me. Like if… I remember one time a student was out late and couldn’t get in the dorm. You know, they’re locked. You don’t have a key to get in. So she stayed at my apartment. I had a roommate. But she spent the night because she didn’t know what to do. Well, I was scared to death that that was against the rules, you know. But nothing happened. But anyway, that’s the way I felt about it.

00:20:57          And our chairman of the department was very strict and stern. She wasn’t playful, let’s say. You know, it was pretty much business all the way.

Sarah:              Do you have any sort of fondest memories from the first years that you were here as you were establishing yourself in the community, and, as you said, you met your husband? Do you have sort of a favorite memory from that time?

Millie:              On campus or off campus?

Sarah:              Either one.

Millie:              Well, you know, I just, I fell right in with a group in town and on campus. And at that point the young faculty hung around together. We had cocktail parties at different homes and we got together, we played together. And so those were my happy memories. And at one point when I was coaching tennis I set up a tennis tournament or match between the faculty and my team.

00:22:03          Because there were a lot of faculty members that played tennis. And it was great, and they loved it. And Jack Edwards would have been one of them. He would have said how fun that was. There were a whole group of faculty, men faculty, no women, but the women who played tennis. And that was a great thing, I think. But I just got to be friends with a lot of people, and I crossed over to campus a lot. But I think I had a good social life.

And I remember, too, that in town there was no alcohol by the drink at all, anywhere. And there was one club at the Inn called the Golden Horseshoe. It was in the basement of the Inn, which I think is now administrative offices. But anyway, it was the Golden Horseshoe. It was the Horseshoe, is what we called it, and it was down there.

00:23:00          It was great. And you had a locker. So that was where I had my first date with my husband. It was a blind date and it was set up by a student, if you can believe it. She was dating someone who was older, worked in town, and she said to me are you—she took my tennis class—are you engaged, are you going steady? No, no. Would you be willing to date a friend of my friend?

So that’s the first date I had with Marvin, and we were at the Golden Horseshoe down in the basement. And I’m just so sorry that’s gone because that was a great place that everybody congregated. And other than that, you know, it was just great meeting all the young faculty, too. And I personally played tennis with a lot of them on the side, the men.

Sarah:              So I guess that first date with your husband went pretty well.


Millie:              Well, it did, but it didn’t stick, let’s say. I got engaged to somebody else between that and almost married him. But I’ve had some other romantic times, but he won out. Or maybe I won him in the end. He was finished. He graduated from William & Mary and he went to dental school. He was in the service. He went into the army because he was in ROTC, so he was drafted right away for the Korean War.

And he came back, went to dental school and opened an office here. And he had been here a year when I came, so I met him early on, and he was just establishing his practice, and he really wasn’t real quick to jump into many things.

00:24:56          That was sort of—I considered that Marvin was a real asset to me. He was the salt on my tail because he kept me from flying away on crazy things that I might want to do. And I was willing to try anything, really, except drugs. I didn’t drink then. But he taught me how to drink beer. And so, you know, it was just…it was a learn—I grew up, let’s just say.

That was probably my fondest thing, is I grew up here. And I learned, and I learned so much from being here and from all the people here. And I guess maybe ’70 I got invited to join the Williamsburg Garden Club, and that expanded my friendships, too. And all of those people were from all walks of life, and some from William & Mary spouses. I can’t remember anything specific except a few things that came later that I was so pleased with.


Sarah:              So it was also rare for a woman, given how few women there were on faculty, it was rare for a woman to be chair of a department. I mean, you mentioned that the physical education department—

Millie:              Well, they had no other choice because we were all women.

Sarah:              Right.

Millie:              So I became the chair, and really first…I mean…well, what, acting first and then the full. And we interviewed a lot of people for the chairmanship from outside, and I’m not sure exactly how it happened. But that year that I was acting, I was supposed to be the chairman that year, but Dean Paschall was married, of course, to Agnes, and Agnes loved Martha Barksdale.

00:26:58          And she had been so great for her that she said she’s been here a long time, she ought to be the chairman. So I stepped back and did the work and Martha was the chair. I’d already been doing budgets and things like that. So Martha was the chairman and that worked out fine. Marion Reeder had retired. And so that’s just the way that happened. That was sort of unusual.

But then I became the chairman. And then the chair right away, there were so many things to do, like changing the length of the classes, dropping Saturday classes, because all of our teams by then were traveling some. And I was still coaching tennis and swimming. And I was head of intramural and head of physical education, and head of women’s athletics.

00:28:00          It was a lot. And so over time I sort of shed one thing or another. I shed teaching. We hired somebody for intramurals. And then it just went on. And then this is ’69 that I’m the real chair. ’72 comes Title IX. And it had no teeth.

But being active in the AIAW, which was the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women, I had been involved in that. It was normal that I learned all about it early on, so I was on my soapbox from then on. And that probably was the focus of everything I did then. Women had nothing. During the time that I was just teaching, we had no money. It was incredible.

00:28:57          I remember the tennis balls got so dirty from clay courts that I took them into Jefferson Dorm, which was where the gym was, and my office, and washed them. That’s how we got by. We had no equipment. You bought your own racquets to use, everything. And that’s phys ed students, too. But in order to have enough balls for my classes, I washed them.

And then one year I dyed them because the men were taking them. So we would know which balls were ours and which should not be off the court. We shared the courts always. And so those are some little things. We had nothing. And we weren’t paid extra or anything to coach. And as I said, we had no uniforms. We didn’t have uniforms until into the ‘70s.


Sarah:              So tennis, swimming for women. What other physical education opportunities were there for women, or sports teams for women at that time?

Millie:              Well, there were a ton of them. You mean for women at William & Mary?

Sarah:              At William & Mary.

Millie:              It was hockey, lacrosse. I’m trying to think now because of… Fencing. Badminton. No track. No volleyball. No outdoor things in physical education like mountain, you know, skiing, all the stuff that we could do on Matoaka. Had no canoes. And we added all that. Right away we started adding and we hired people to coach.

00:30:59          People on staff took over some of those positions, but as soon as we could we hired people specifically for sports. But we had 12 sports back then. We kept adding. Winter camping, canoeing.

Sarah:              So in other words, prior to Title IX there were some opportunities, but just not a lot of funding, is what it sounds like you’re describing.

Millie:              No funding, and not much…not anything much in state for varsity type things, so you had to go out of state and travel quite a bit if you did it. But it was mostly sports, sport days, things like that that we did. But we had varsities. We used to go to Suffolk. They had a great tennis program. We’d go over to Suffolk. Then we went to Richmond and played. We played high schools.

00:31:56          But after a time, the NCAA and AIAW banned us playing high schools because it was deemed a recruiting edge. And we weren’t recruiting. Here at William & Mary, at that time, we worked with all the students who were here. We didn’t recruit athletes. We just took those students who applied and got in on their own. It was much later that we started recruiting.

Sarah:              So as Title IX was being first discussed, before it had really been signed as legislation by President Nixon, what kind of conversations were going on around you that you were aware of and part of about Title IX?

Millie:              Well, at William & Mary I was speaking to every group I could and talking to people about—to the development officer also. I remember getting—Warren Heemann was our first development—see, we didn’t even have a development officer. Warren Heemann was the first.

00:33:01          And so I was on his back all the time about… I got one note from him and I asked for something from development or increasing the budget, and he said, good grief, Charlie Brown. You know, it was just unheard of. And I was really, I became the enemy in a great sense because I kept just hammering on the fact that women needed more.

When I took over the department—and this is fact—we only had $19,000 for the whole phys ed, recreation and athletics for women. Even though we’d been in the business since 1920. And so the first year I asked for quite an increase. I got called over to who was then the controller’s office—there was no vice president of business—to say you have asked for a 25% increase in your budget, and men have only asked for 5.

00:34:07          Quickly I said just give me the men’s budget and I won’t ask for any increase. Well, we got the increase that I asked for. And, you know, we didn’t have any… That was well before the legal. This is ’70, ’71, all of that before Title IX. And Title IX wasn’t well known, and I think people on campus had no idea what it was, and they just said, well, we don’t know what it is. And by ’76 it had some teeth. And we were investigated twice during my time for…by… I mean, students had filed a claim about inequities with women. And one was a rider, equestrian, and one was a basketball player.

00:35:03          And we got investigated. But some things happened, but not a lot. And then in all of that time everybody just hated to see me coming because I was begging for money. That’s how I got into some fundraising, too, because we needed it. And it was like it was my quest to get money for women who had nothing. And so I was on that. And my husband got very tired of it, too. And everybody did, I think. And I did have…I do have some scars, and I did make some enemies.

But now the administration is very different because, first of all, because they had to. And I can remember in ’85 being on the search committee for the athletic director, and I said to him how do you feel about Title IX?

00:36:01          And he said, well, we really don’t know what it means. This is ’85 or ’86. I said we know what it means. It’s a law. So anyway, some things changed, but not willingly for a long time.

Sarah:              So that was a pretty long fight then.

Millie:              It was a long fight, every day, really. And the faculty, my staff, they were behind me all the way and helped me a lot. They were out there also. You don’t do these things by yourself. So they were all behind me. And a few men were there. Not men’s phys ed or athletics, but other faculty. They were really for our program, I felt, then.


Sarah:              So you found some supporters in—

Millie:              Oh, yeah, and—

Sarah:              —unusual quarters, maybe?

Millie:              That’s right, I did. And they were… I’m sure there are a lot of them who would still feel it’s important. The thing that nagged the faculty, probably, was when we started recruiting and we had admission slots for men and women. Men had had them forever to get in without the top credentials. Women didn’t have that. And so then once we started having a few, because the men had it, the women got some.

The faculty saw the women who had been dressed in skirts and things come in workout uniforms or warm-ups, you know, and they didn’t like that much. They thought that was not the usual. And right, because all of the women back in those days did wear dresses and skirts, and they were very well groomed.

00:38:03          And the faculty saw that and they thought, well, all these athletes are ruining the campus. So anyway, it worked, and now, by the time I retired from athletics, really, our budget had increased several million, and it’s growing still. And, you know, I guess probably what I did, if I did anything at all, I moved it up and made a foundation, and it has grown well beyond me now.

And it’s so good that opportunities are just wonderful for women here. And men. And you needed it. I don’t think they saw that need then. But people, students who were coming here had had all kind of athletic experiences. They’d been in high schools that were fabulously strong in sports.

00:39:02          So it was sort of a push that they had to. The other thing that I’ve seen that’s changed besides the funding are the facilities and the growth of the student body.

Sarah:              Were there any sort of unintended consequences, do you think, of Title IX and the growth of opportunities for women?

Millie:              In men? Well, I think the men would say definitely that the women have taken away from us. I never thought that had to be. It’s just even things up. Add to both. You know, don’t take away from one to give to the other. And that was the way that the men’s program, administrative men, looked at it. And I never felt that that was it. But we deserved, and I didn’t get off of that soapbox for a long time. But now it’s not needed.

00:40:00          I feel so fortunate for those who followed me because it was in place, and they just have to run the program and make it as best they can. They don’t even fundraise now. We have a core of people who fundraise for men and women, mostly men. But we now have a woman who’s focusing totally on raising money for women. Everybody does, to a certain extent. It’s not all they’re men and these are women. They all do. But we’ve never had a person who really focused on that.

So I might have gone off of your question, but anyway. It’s good. The program is terrific now, I think. And it’s because of the coaches more than anything. They are excellent. And they are focused on their job. They want the best they can give and they expect the best from the students.

00:41:03          I don’t think we have anybody here that says this is first. It’s academics and it’s true. It’s not made up. It is not just hearsay or part of your vocal saying. It is true that you’re a student first and then faculty.

Now there have been some times when the faculty hated women’s athletics so much that they didn’t give even an inch, like let them take an exam early or late or whatever, and I thought that was not good. We won some battles with the faculty in that we kept the… There was a requirement to have four semesters of physical education, and you had to be able to swim. That was one. And then if you could opt out, if you were on a varsity, well obviously you were active and good enough to be athletic—I mean, to carry on athletics in your later years.

00:42:07          I mean, that’s the whole point of it. And the swimming, all of that has been dropped now. I don’t even know if it’s an alternative at all to have. I don’t know if they have any activity classes. But I think a lot of people will tell you that that was really important. And the swimming component was very important.

Sarah:              How did you go about working out some of those differences with the faculty about expectations for athletes?

Millie:              Well, it was really more one-on-one trying to say, you know, and getting the administration, the dean of faculty and some of those people to say you’ve got to be a little more lenient. They’ve got to be away on this day and if you’ve chosen to have an exam or lecture that day, that’s important.

00:43:03          So it evolved without too much fight there. The real fight was the funding. And I can remember delivering one of my last things. I reported, as women’s athletic director I reported to the board, directly to the board. I didn’t report to the men’s athletic director, I reported to the president and the board. So it gave me an opportunity to air some of these things. And I think they were very…they listened well and they were very good about making some things happen.

Sarah:              So how did you go about increasing those budgets so significantly? So you started with about $19,000 as an annual budget for all of physical education and athletics, that’s right, and then it went up to over a million while you were athletic director. So how did you go about making that happen?


Millie:              Just by inching up and also raising some money. We had…really, I guess, just talking and talking and showing the fact that we had no equipment, we had no uniforms, and we had no travel budget, we had no vehicles. As Marvin said, I wore out five cars taking my teams around. We had the Green Machine for big groups, and it would break down all the time on trips.

So that’s the way it happened. It’s just finally making people aware of what was going on and how little we had. It’s just you inch up a little bit, and you get a little bit of fundraising. I got into fundraising pretty early.

00:44:59          And the first person on board really gave scholarships, which was really in the ‘70s. Everybody else, other universities were giving scholarships, but we didn’t. And that wasn’t the priority with us. We needed some infrastructure, if you will, to do that first. And that was one of the talks I gave to the board. These are the things we need. Scholarships will come last. We need these things first.

And I think that kind of conversation to the right people helped. And I met with Tom Graves. You know, I was here under five or six presidents. Some were more open than others. But Graves was here during Title IX. And his assistant was Carter Lowance. Did you ever hear that name?

00:45:56          Carter Lowance came and was assistant to the president. And he was just a wonderful person, so diplomatic you didn’t even know it if you were fired. You’d leave his office and he’d smile at you, and he’d just dumped you, practically. But he was great. And he’s the one that we got more tennis courts, and we got more facilities because they built buildings.

You know, when I came we had 12 clay courts out there on Barksdale Field, which are now the foundation of buildings. And he’s the one that I cried, practically, to him and walked out of his office thinking, well, this is a dead deal, and we got six new courts. We got the hard courts there. But over time, six courts, six courts would go for foundations for buildings. And Andrews Hall, the foundation for that were the first hard courts that we got.

00:46:57          So then came the Adair Courts. But that was sort of a fight, too, because they had to fill that area. But Carter Lowance was one of the people who helped in all of that. And he served in Virginia under five or six governors, so he knew how to handle politicians, politics, and he knew how to get things done. He and his wife lived here for a long time. They were people, more than the president, they were people who helped me.

Sarah:              Interesting. You’re mentioning building tennis courts and other facilities. I mean, obviously the campus grew substantially during the 1960s. So just as you’re putting in all this work to really get expanded opportunities for athletics, particularly for women’s teams and for physical education, campus is building. You mentioned advocating for tennis courts. What other things were you involved in as the physical part of campus was growing?


Millie:              Well, we did everything in Adair Gym. And more than facilities, I was advocating adding teams. We added the track, we added the volleyball, we added gymnastics. We had badminton, as I said, early on, maybe. But these were all sort of fun sports, you know, they weren’t really varsity sports. But then we became varsity level because of the AIAW, and, finally, the NCAA.

And so it was more program-wise as the student body was growing that I was more interested in. We used Matoaka Lake. We bought canoes. We added that. We changed Adair Gym, to a great extent, making more room for things. We had the pool there, which was inadequate, really, for varsity, but it worked.

00:49:03          The thing that was different then was the staff did everything. If I had a swim meet, they were the ones who made it all happen. They were the timers, they were the judges, they were everything. It didn’t matter if you were field hockey coach, you were part of that, too.

And the way that really the funding started was I started… Well, actually, Karen Arwe was the first woman to come into the department to help raise funds for women. And she, one year, did the Pro-Am. It was a golf tournament using LPGA pros and amateurs. And so we did that one year, she did, Karen.

00:50:01          And then she left and I took over. We were paying a lot for pros and we didn’t make much at all, maybe 2,000 that year. So I took over and got Joe Plumeri interested, and we did that for 24 years. And that program alone raised almost 3 million, if not over 3 million. And we got LPGA pros. We paid them. People paid to play with them. And it really grew. The first year, as I said, maybe we made 2,000, the first year ten, 20, and it grew. It doubled just about every year until the last year we were making 270,000 for that two day event. And so those are the things that I was involved in.

00:50:55          Then there was the Wightman Cup. The Wightman Cup started in ’85, and a former William & Mary graduate brought it here. And I was the local person that would get things that they needed. And so we were offered 20%...25% of any sponsorship we raised. All of that was for women’s athletics.

Sarah:              Wow.

Millie:              So we made a lot of money that way. And that stopped in ’89. But we had it in ’85, ’87 and ’89. Maybe we had it in ’83, too, because…that’s right. And so then I started going to the part that was in London and met a lot of those people from the LTA. But that money was really…that money and the golf tournament money is what gave women a good start.

00:52:01          Plus there was a person—Martha Barksdale had a great friend who was Constance Applebee. She was English, and she started field hockey in this country. They called her the Apple. And she would come over every year and she would visit William & Mary. She was a great friend of Martha’s. And she would coach the team, too.

Well, when she died, she left a third of her estate to William & Mary, women’s athletics, and that was, at the time, about $300,000, which, we started an endowment for women. Then all of the Pro-Am money went into that, all of the Wightman Cup went into the endowment. So we have several endowments for women that we had before we got individual people giving.

00:52:58          Then comes Mark McCormack. He came along. Had never given anything to the college. He was interested in tennis and golf. And he gave $100,000 for men’s and women’s—maybe just men he meant that, but I said to Warren Heman, we’ve got to have part of this money. You’ve got to divide it between the men and women. So he did. He gave two-thirds to the men, a third to the women.

Well, over time he was so pleased with what the women were doing with their money that it was two-thirds women and one-third. And he also stopped giving money to golf because it was off campus, it had no following, so that money went to men’s tennis. And when he died in ’03, he was funding 11—no, eight full scholarships in tennis.

00:54:04          And he said I will… By this time the building is in the works, you know, we’re talking about building an indoor tennis center, because what we were doing then, we were going to Center Court in Newport News for indoor practice. And you know the weather around here, it is very unpredictable. So we’d have to go down there, and we couldn’t have all the courts, so I’d have to take a few at a time and practice, come back, get the next group, and we really needed it.

And Mark always said what is it going to take to get this tennis program in the top ten in the country. I said the thing we need, we need an indoor tennis center. We can piece together scholarships, but we can’t piece together a building.

00:54:56          So he…that’s the point that he kept funding. He did not, after that point, fund any scholarships, but he gave us 3 million for this building, and the building cost about three and a half million, which we had to raise. It was a point where the building sort of, the president—and it was Sullivan at that point—he stopped. He said you can’t spend any more. And I said we have to do this. We’ve got to do this. And I will raise the rest of the money, but we’ve got to continue. We can’t cut this off now.

So he allowed the budget to go and it went to three and a half. And we raised that money because it was a good time. We sold seats, we sold sponsorships, we did everything, and we raised the three and a half million dollars—we raised a half a million. I can remember being at the president’s house when Mark and Betsy came and we burned the note that we paid off the tennis center.

00:56:02          So between Mark and Joe Plumeri, we really made headway, and they made a huge difference in my life. And he was…he loved this building, Mark did.

And the reason the Hall of Fame happened is that Verkuil went down to the University of Georgia for a seminar and he visited—he was a tennis player. He still is, I’m sure. He visited…played on the Georgia courts. They had a great person who was an advocate, like I was for here, for men’s tennis down there. And he…Paul played on the courts, and then he visited the men’s tennis hall of fame, which was there at Georgia and funded by a famous…I can’t think of his name right now, but I will.

00:56:59          But they’d gotten money from him to establish it. And so I went down there and visited a couple of times. And Verkuil came back. And that’s after we got it. But Verkuil came back and bugged me. I mean, I still answered to them. Have you gotten the hall of fame yet? I knew there was no money there. And ITA didn’t have any money.

Finally I gave in and put in a big for it, and we got it, of course. And that was in ’88. And it wasn’t until ’95 that we opened the building and we had the first induction of the hall of fame. So I’m sure I’ve left out a lot of the things you wanted to know, but anyway. The people here, alums, students, have been the most important part of my life here. They’ve made it happen.


Sarah:              You’ve talked elsewhere, in other interviews, about feeling like you’ve gotten more from William & Mary than the college has sort of given to you. Could you elaborate on that?

Millie:              Well, I don’t know how to elaborate exactly except that this is where I learned. You know, they taught me so much and they gave me the opportunity to do the things that I thought needed to be done at the time. So they let me alone. And I remember one of the presidents spoke at a meeting and they said I’ve just been told that you either love her or you’re scared to death of her, so that’s sort of the way things went. I just didn’t get off of that thing, of the dean. But I grew up. I learned how to work. I became politically savvy on campus and not to push, not to be too militant.

00:59:00          And that’s the kind of thing that I meant, that I grew up here. They taught me so much. And that’s what I say to students, you know, you’ll get a lot, but you won’t get…William & Mary will give you a lot more than you’ll give William & Mary. Of course that’s turning now. All of the students and alums, they’re giving so much. They’re so generous. I think it’s wonderful.

Sarah:              I agree. What advice would you give to anyone currently on campus, young people looking to build programs for under represented groups on campus? What advice would you have for them?

Millie:              Be a leader. Don’t be afraid to take chances. And I think I’m not the only one that ever said that. Don’t be afraid of taking risk. You’ve got to do that. There are people who will never stick their neck out to do things. And you have to just not think about your own. You have to think about the purpose and what you think is right for that, for the program.

01:00:03          And that’s all I would give them. I could give them connections, I could. Now I’m sort of out of that. But I know I had a lot of students who would come for advice, men and women, on how to get into sports, how to get into this and what to do. But I could open a few doors, but other than that it’s their will to do something, and that’s all I could do. It’s just this is what we’ve done here. Take that as a springboard and try to do more.

Sarah:              What do you think are the biggest changes you’ve seen on campus since 1959? If you had to name one.

Millie:              If I had to name one, I would say probably facilities and growth of the student body.

Sarah:              Mm-hmm.


Millie:              Those facilities were real important going back. You know, you had the basics, but now everybody has great facilities. And so if you’re going to bring, attract students, you’ve got to have right at the top also.

Sarah:              Is there anything you’re nostalgic for from—

Millie:              Pardon?

Sarah:              Is there anything you’re nostalgic for from older iterations of William & Mary’s community or the Williamsburg community?

Millie:              Well, it would be that as a group, early on, we all, women in particular, we all worked as a unit. And now, even if you’re a coach of whatever, now the coaches really run their own program. They only get together as a group when they’re called for a meeting, and they don’t really hang together on every project. I’m not sure about the half marathon.

01:01:59          I know I ran that, I was over that at some point, and we all helped. But mainly the track coaches did it. And so I would say that the camaraderie is something that I miss. And we never had a faculty club here, you know, a facility.

And I think that that was something, when Tribe One got converted from a hotel, I said to the president and several of—that would be a great opportunity to form a faculty club where they could come meet, get a drink, have a meal. And every other college has it. Why don’t we have something like that that brings people together? So that’s still not anywhere in the near future, I don’t think, but we missed an opportunity there, I think.


Sarah:              What do you see as the present state of women’s athletics? Is it a bright future, do you think?

Millie:              Well, great. And I think it’s unending. I mean, I think the sky’s the limit. And I think that the students are more skilled. They know how to work. They are the people, when they graduate, that businesses want to hire because they’re disciplined, they know how to focus. And when I was chairman, I remember having a lot of different businesses come in asking to meet with the athletes because they were the people they would want to hire.

And if you look at where those athletes are now, you know, I think there’s no end of what can happen with women. The thing that’s scary for men, I think, is they’re taking over too much. They, among our own program, they have more winners than the other programs.

01:04:00          And I remember that ROTC came over and met with the athletes. One of the athletes became head of the ROTC, university. And I’m not sure where she is now, but she had a career in the military and it was great. And doing my own team, I had, my last year of coaching, I had three graduates. Two were Phi Beta Kappa. One went on directly to Duke for law. The other one went to Harvard for the program in public policy. And you can see that throughout.

I had a swimmer who graduated in ’68. She went directly to law school at Texas. She was from Texas. And she worked for the Justice Department doing a lot of things. Then she went to culinary institute and became a chef.

01:05:04          She did that until it almost wore her out. And then she became a naval archeology. So, I mean, that’s the kind of students we have, women. And I think they’re there in men, too, don’t get me wrong. But I have more experience with the women. And there’s just no end to how they can do athletically if we’ll give them the resources. You can’t compete without all the resources of those that you’re competing against.

Sarah:              Do you think there still remain some challenges ahead for women’s athletics?

Millie:              Well, I still think there are. And they’re making some progress in… I mean, just here at William & Mary. The locker rooms are just being redone for certain sports. They all were in the same place originally, and they were all in Adair.

01:06:00          Now they’re in the hall, they’re all over. But there’s still a lot of challenges, I think. And it all depends on the coaches. The administration, their role, in my opinion, is to keep the program honest, within the rules, hire the best people, but the coaches are really the heart of the program. And they recruit the students who go on and could go to the very top. We’re beginning to have a few Olympic athletes in swimming, in track. And I think we’ll get there in all the sports at some point.

Sarah:              Wonderful. So if you had to pick one word to describe the William & Mary community, what word would you pick?

Millie:              And you’re talking about the whole community? Tough.

01:07:03          Tough because there’s so many aspects to deal with, so many pieces of the puzzle that have to be juggled and kept in action and in balance. So I think that’s a tough job, and I think that falls first on the president and on down. And also I think that the communication between all those has to improve. You can’t just operate as one unit.

01:07:46          [End of recording.]


Non-Commercial Use/Fair Use

Special Collections Research Center at William & Mary Libraries welcomes non-commercial use and access that qualifies as fair use to all unrestricted interview materials in the collection. For more information about fair use, see William & Mary Libraries guidelines here.

The researcher must cite and give proper credit to Special Collections Research Center. The preferred citation is as follows:

  •  [Interviewee name], interview with [Interviewer name]. [Interview date], [Name of Collection], Special Collections Research Center, William & Mary Libraries.

  • Example: Powell, Michael K., interview by Carmen Bolt. June 12, 2017, 50th Anniversary of African Americans in Residence Oral History Project, Special Collections Research Center, William & Mary Libraries.


Commercial Use

For commercial use of any sort, including reproduction, distribution, derivative works, public performance, and public display that goes beyond fair use, the researcher must obtain written permission from SCRC by contacting SCRC by email here. Permission will comply with any agreements made with the interviewee, interviewer, or donor of materials. This permission is valid only insofar as Special Collections Research Center at William & Mary Libraries, as owner or custodian of the material, has any rights in the matter. This permission does not remove the responsibility of the author, editor, publisher, or broadcaster to guard against infringement of any rights, including copyright that may be held by others. The researcher must cite and give proper credit to SCRC. SCRC reserves the right to refuse the right for commercial use.

For most unrestricted interviews, copyright has been assigned to Special Collections Research Center at William & Mary Libraries. When the copyright has not been assigned to Special Collections Research Center at William & Mary Libraries, copyright is retained by the interviewers/interviewees, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.



SCRC works to uphold the obligations and legal commitments made to interviewees, interviewers, and donors of material. Some interviews have restrictions imposed by the interviewee, interviewer, or donor; restricted interviews are clearly marked. In such cases, it is the researcher’s responsibility to uphold the restriction appropriately and completely. Researchers may, for example, be required to obtain written permission from the interviewee or interviewer to quote from the interview. Contact SCRC with any questions about restrictions by email here.

Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals without the consent of those individuals may have legal ramifications (e.g., a cause of action under common law for invasion of privacy may arise if facts concerning an individual’s private life are published that would be deemed highly offensive to a reasonable person) for which Special Collections Research Center at William & Mary Libraries and William & Mary assume no responsibility.

Additional Details

If an interview has been transcribed, researchers should quote from the transcript. If no transcript is available, reference to material in the interview should be taken from the audio recording.

For preservation purposes, use of audiotapes or videotapes will require production of listening or viewing copies. If a researcher requires the creation of a listening or viewing copy, the researcher will be responsible for the cost. For more details about audio/visual reproduction policies at the SCRC at William & Mary Libraries, contact the SCRC by email here.

If you are in need of any accessibility accommodations that require the creation of a listening or viewing copy of material, please let us know prior to your visit. You can also find information on the library’s accessibility services here.