At 91, Citadel’s first woman graduate celebrates 50th commencement anniversary

Maxine Hudson speaking on phone and via zoom about being the first woman graduate at the citadel in 1970

Maxine Hudson among the first nine to graduate from The Citadel Graduate College in 1970

The first woman to graduate from The Citadel walked the stage to accept her diploma for a master’s degree, 50 years ago, on May 30, 1970.

At commencement they didn’t know what to do with this bunch of women. We were sort of like aliens.

Maxine Hudson, Citadel Graduate College Class of 1970, first woman to graduate from The Citadel

Maxine Hudson was with eight others who earned Master of Art in Teaching degrees in the first graduating class of what is now The Citadel Graduate College. Hudson was the “first” because she completed her course work in December 1969, and then participated with the others in the May commencement ceremony that included them and the South Carolina Corps of Cadets.

Provided by The Citadel Archives

During the week of her 50th commencement anniversary, Hudson, now 91 years old, shared memories of her time on campus. She spoke with Tessa Updike, the director of The Citadel Archives, via Zoom and a mobile phone.

“Our president, Gen. Harris, was very warm. He was approachable and friendly. He really supported us,” Hudson said.

The Citadel President at the time, Gen. Hugh P. Harris, addressed the master’s degree candidates during commencement, awarding their diplomas just prior to the cadets’. The archive’s original copy of his speech reads:

“In September 1968, The Citadel started an accredited Master of Arts in Teaching Program. The program has been most successful in that we have more than 300 proceeding toward this degree. At this time, we have the first nine graduates…which will be conferred diplomas at this time.” 

Hudson, who taught history for years at North Charleston High School, first started taking undergraduate courses on The Citadel campus in the summers of the 1950s when cadets were not present. She says the University of South Carolina had an extension program for teachers at The Citadel. 

She met the man she would marry then, Dr. Herschel Hudson, a former cadet who volunteered to serve during World War II in the Marine Corps. He eventually earned his Ph.D. and returned to The Citadel as a professor.

Provided by The Citadel Archives

When the first evening master’s degree program started, The Citadel was an all-male college. It was during an era when women from outside, co-ed colleges, competed to be Miss Citadel for the all-male military college, back when the cadets’ yearbook had “centerfolds.”

Hudson was recruited by the college to attend the evening master’s program and was happy for women to be seen as scholars by the cadets who were on campus 24/7.

Maxine Hudson, first woman graduate of the Citadel speaking to the college's archivist via telephone and Zoom at 91 years old

“Everyone handled it with grace and dignity and in a manner that was acceptable. The way they handled it was beautiful. They did not make me feel like I was intruding or if I was breaking their tradition. Rather than making me feel like I was tearing something down, they made me feel like I was building it up. That certainty took a lot of acceptance. It made me feel proud.”

It was not until the 1970 commencement that women studying on campus became “news” with a small article in The News and Courier about The Citadel “going co-ed,” naming Hudson’s classmate, Suzanne Cross Butler, as the first woman to physically accept a diploma from The Citadel. It would not be until the 1990s when women would be admitted as undergraduate members of the Corps of Cadets.

Provided by The Citadel Archives

The list of the first graduating class of The Citadel Graduate college is as follows:

  • Suzanne Cross Butler
  • Jonnie Garren Harvey
  • Elizabeth Shriver Hoffman
  • Maxine Taylor Hudson
  • James Bernard Machen
  • Mary Ann Parsons
  • John Carlisle Smiley, Jr.
  • Mary Edna Stocks
  • Sara Owens Vale

Click on the photo below to view the original 1970 commencement program.

Provided by The Citadel Archives

Hudson’s full interview will be available on The Citadel Archives website in the future.

The Citadel would like to thank Indigo Hall, an assisted living community in Charleston, South Carolina, and Kim Bonner, the director of nursing, for facilitating the Zoom interview and phone call with Maxine Hudson.