She made a fine mother to the father of our country, but when it comes to contemporary young men, Mary Washington is not much of a draw.
With that logic, the board of Mary Washington College has decided after years of debate to change the school's name. Not enough young men, the college said today, want to go to a school named for a woman.
Provided that the Virginia General Assembly approves, the state-supported school will be renamed "Washington-Monroe College in Virginia." Officials said they believe that by adding the name of James Monroe, the nation's fifth president, the school will erase the image that it is an all-female institution and gain more male students.
"We're still honoring Mary Washington, the mother of the father of our country, and James Monroe . . . who has strong historical ties right here in Fredericksburg," said John A. Kinniburgh, the school's rector.
"The image conveyed by our name does not convey the reality of what the institution is," said William B. Crawley Jr., executive assistant to the school's president.
Mary Washington, founded 75 years ago as a school for women, has been coeducational since 1970. But, women still outnumber men at the campus of 2,700 undergraduates by about 3 to 1, and, while many young men may like those odds, college officials do not.
A recent survey of 300 college-bound Virginians, conducted by the Southeastern Institute of Research, found that one big reason many men are not looking at Mary Washington is that the name connotes that the school is for women only.
Monroe was a logical choice to change the image, school officials said. He began his law career here, and the school runs a museum of Monroe memorabilia.
Administrators today stressed that the name change is just one step designed to enhance the college's future. "People fail to see that this is just one part of a comprehensive study" that the college has been carrying out for the past two years, said Crawley.
Still, on campus, the name change issue has attracted the most controversy.
"A lot of students and others here seemed to think it was a dumb idea, that it wasn't really necessary," said Steve Griffin, an assistant professor of art.
"They're saying: 'Why change? A lot of coeducational colleges are named after men; why can't one be named after a woman?' "
Karen Rhodes, a sophomore, urged her classmates to be practical: "I consider a college a business, and if that's what they need to attract more students, then they should do it. Besides, women are always complaining that there are not enough guys here. So they really should be in favor of this."