Eyes Right

One Texas Ex remembers her time in a 1960s student club at the intersection of ROTC and beauty pageants: the Cordettes.

Eyes Bright

On  the wall leading to my upstairs office is a photograph of me at 19 wearing a green Army uniform. I am posed beneath a poster of a young soldier in combat gear standing amid blazing smoke and artillery fire with his hand raised as if in greeting. The only words on the poster are “Of the troops and for the troops.”

My sons know that their father was in the Army Reserves for several years, but they are still a bit unclear as to what Mommy did in the war.

So am I.

I was not a particularly introspective or analytical coed when it came to joining organizations during my four years at UT in the early 1960s. Sororities encouraged scholarship and competed with one another for highest GPA, but I mainly remember their exhorting us to raise the group’s profile by being  “active” on campus, which I did by joining a string of Student Union committees.

An additional pursuit which required fewer meetings and less effort was becoming a beauty queen, a belle, or a sweetheart. This recognition garnered far more attention in the Cactus yearbook than the effort merited. But at the time, women were still in short supply on campus, comprising slightly more than a third of the student body, and our unraised consciousnesses had few misgivings about being objectified. These were the days when upholding the myth that Texas had no homely girls was a native-born female’s patriotic duty. It sometimes meant rising at 5 a.m. for grooming rituals that required more Adorn hairspray than a body should ever breathe.

Representatives of various student organizations annually bestowed the title “10 Most Beautiful” to 10 great beauties (Farrah Fawcett was one), and if you were number 11, 12, or 13, there were other venues for dazzling. The Texas Cowboys and Silver Spurs had sweethearts, as did some of the colleges.  Top of the heap was the title “Sweetheart of the University,” which required some strategic campaigning among reliable voters like the girl-starved males in the School of Engineering and perhaps, a memorable surname. Who could ignore the beautiful smile of the aptly named Jessica Darling?

Which brings me to why I’m wearing the uniform.

Eyes Right

Originally called “sponsors,” the Cordettes (either a play on cadet or Corps-dettes) are described in the 1962 Cactus as bringing “a little color and glamour” to the otherwise olive drab all-male Army ROTC.  The group’s stated purpose was to assist in entertaining visiting dignitaries and planning a military ball. A dopey 1961 editorial in the Daily Texan explained our presence this way:

“When the ROTC marches on the Intramural field weekly, they have a troupe of fine-looking women sitting on the sideline and sort of looking pretty. It seemed as if the women were there to remind the men why they are marching. ‘Here it is boys; here’s what you’re fighting for.’ This is the real reason they’re marching…to protect all these things that we are blessed with—like beautiful women, and cars, and trees, and flowers, and free thought, and opportunity for everybody, and all—but especially beautiful women.”

All I remember is that once a week, I put on my dark green slim skirt, jacket, and high-heeled shoes, polished my brass, headed for the Intramural Fields on Speedway, and received a snappy salute and “eyes right” from guys in the Military Police battalion on parade.

That’s what Mommy did in the war.

Photo courtesy Cactus Yearbook. 




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