Wilcox balanced role of speech/drama professor while serving as Dean of Women

During the holiday season of 1981, Christmas cards were sent out to former Marietta College colleagues of Ruth A. Wilcox.


Instead of extending her warm wishes for the holidays to the many friends she had still connected to the College, the card contained a letter from Wilcox’s nephew, Jack Haddorff, explaining that his aunt had passed away unexpectedly on Dec. 15. He wanted to make sure her friends received the cards she intended to send that year.


“Ruth Wilcox always gave more of herself, her energies, her time than job descriptions could ever portray, and she did so because she cared so very much about the worth and welfare of the individuals,” said the Board of Trustees in a 1975 resolution honoring Wilcox five years after she retired from the College.


For decades Wilcox was a fixture at Marietta. Initially hired in 1946 to help Willard “Boss” Friederich establish the Department of Speech and Drama, Wilcox added the role of Dean of Women to her duties just a year later.


Wilcox had graduated from Dakota Wesleyan University and Northwestern University prior to joining the College. One of the first plays that Friederich and Wilcox produced was Boss’ In the Service of the Empire, with Wilcox playing the role of Queen Victoria. They also co-wrote a textbook entitled Teaching Speech in High School.


In addition to teaching speech, drama and debate, she oversaw the revitalization of the student debate club. She advised students in more than 100 speech and debate tournaments during her time at Marietta.


To honor her contributions to debate and speech competition, the annual forensics invitational tournament held at Marietta is named in honor of Wilcox.


In addition to her role as professor, Wilcox held the challenging position of Dean of Women at a time when students pushed for more personal freedoms at the College. Though the majority of parents polled during the late 1960s were in favor of strict codes of conduct dealing with matters ranging from alcohol consumption to room visitations by the opposite sex to curfews for freshmen women, students expressed their desire for more leniency, particularly with the housing situation for men and women.


“For many older heads on campus who knew Ruth as a professional in her field, knew her abiding concern over two decades for the welfare of her young charges, their sympathies went to a colleague doing a difficult (perhaps impossible) job in trying circumstances,” Vernon McGrew wrote in one of the College’s history books, In the Various Branches of Useful Knowledge. “It seems fair to say that most of them felt she kept her head when many about her were losing theirs.”


Marietta Hall, built to house women students, was originally supposed to be named to honor Wilcox in 1965, but because some of the young women on campus did not like her, trustees wanted to wait a few years before adding her name to the building. After a few years, the building’s name stuck so the change was never made.


“She was tough but fair, always ready to make calls on students in the hospital, ready to sit up all night with sick ones, available to phone the parents when something went really wrong—a cheerful and accommodating person,” wrote McGrew. He added that some students thought she had a spy system on campus to help her keep track of rule-breakers—though that was not the case.


Wilcox retired from Marietta College in 1970. In 1977, the Alumni Association voted to give her Honorary Alumna status, along with providing the similar status to her fellow faculty member, Boss Friederich, Carleton Knight III, and Frank R. Sutton.


After her death, Vernon McGrew wrote the College to be sure campus knew of his friend’s passing: “I knew her for more than 30 years and counted her as a person I was glad I knew and loved.”