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Female Citadel Graduate Recounts Tough Times

THE NATION

Education: Nancy Mace's book details her love-hate relationship with the formerly all-male military college.

November 23, 2001|From Associated Press

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Two years after becoming the first woman to graduate from the Citadel, Nancy Mace is still an object of scorn from those who believe the military college should never have opened its gates to women.

"I usually don't get the hissing, but sometimes I get the looks, stares, glares and comments and the occasional holler," said Mace, whose book, "In the Company of Men," was published this month.

The volume, subtitled "A Woman at the Citadel," recounts Mace's life at the college, emphasizing her first year as a cadet. Mace was one of the first four women to enroll at the state college after it dropped its all-male admissions policy in 1996.

Pat Conroy--whose novel, "The Lords of Discipline," is a thinly veiled account of his experiences at the Citadel in the 1960s--calls Mace's book "a wonderful, timeless memoir of the great test to become the first female graduate."

He also calls it "a love letter to her college and the best book about the Citadel ever written."

Mace, who wrote the book with writer Mary Jane Ross, draws on the journals she kept as a cadet.

She describes Hell Night in which freshmen, called knobs because of their short haircuts, assemble in the dark and get their first taste of the college's Fourth Class System--upperclassmen screaming rapid-fire commands in the dark that are all but impossible to carry out.

She tells of the animosity of some alumni, including one who, always reeking of alcohol, would single her out at football games. Mace says he wiped his muddy soles on her spit-shined leather shoes, whispered obscenities and said she was "ruining his school."

"I would sit at attention while he whispered, my cheeks burning, my eyes smarting with tears as nausea rose and nearly overpowered me," Mace wrote.

Much of the animosity came from women, some of whom walked next to Mace's unit as it marched to the campus stadium calling her obscene names and accusing her of wrecking the college.

Mace's book also touches on the two female cadets who dropped out after their first semester amid allegations of abuse.

"It's not the primary theme," Mace says. "I was in a completely separate company from the other women and my goal was to blend in with my classmates."

Mace says the book, being marketed by Simon & Schuster's young adult division, is for both young people and adults.

"It's written in the voice of an 18-year-old, therefore teenagers will be able to relate to it pretty well," she says.

Through the book, Mace's words reflect a love-hate relationship with the college. One minute she writes how she despises some of the cadets and the environment, the next how much she loves the place.

A love affair describes the book perfectly, says Mace, who says writing put into perspective why she enrolled.

"I always said before I wanted to go to the Citadel because of the discipline, the challenge and the structure," she says. "But when I went back to my journals, I saw it. I realized I went there to make my father proud--to make both my parents proud."

Mace's father, Emory Mace, a retired brigadier general who was brought in as commandant of cadets during her second semester, is the college's most-decorated living graduate.

She writes that when her father, whom she had never seen cry, handed her diploma to her at graduation, there were tears in his eyes.

Mace, who is now married to another Citadel graduate, recently resigned a position as a management consultant.

She's now doing promotion and book signings and working as a substitute teacher in the Ft. Benning, Ga., school system.

As for the future, she's thinking about graduate school, although she's not sure what she will study.

"I enjoy speaking and public relations and writing," she says. "I could see teaching at a college. There are so many opportunities."

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