Peg Britton achieved many firsts as a mid-century feminist on the prairie
It seems incredible now to hear how Peg Britton was treated in college. Professors threatened to flunk her. She was denied basic privileges that men enjoyed. She worked twice as hard to be considered half as good.
All because she’s a woman.
It was the 1950s and the law and society had not yet caught up to the women’s movement. Every year, March is celebrated as Women’s History Month, so we asked Peg to revisit her challenges and celebrate what she accomplished nonetheless.Peg enrolled at the University of Kansas as a geology major in 1946, but soon was drawn to architecture. She switched majors her sophomore year, and from then on she said it was “a battle from start to finish.”
“Several professors said they would never pass me no matter how many times I took their course. They would flunk me no matter what. But I was a student paying my dues and entitled to learn just like the men next to me,” Peg said.
Peg was determined. She took more than the recommended course load and earned high enough grades to graduate early and with honors. She even caught the attention of the president of the engineering honor society. He stopped her one day to say that her grades more than qualified her for membership, but “we’ve never had a woman.” He apologized, but made no effort to buck the system. Peg recalled reading in the Salina Journal decades later that the society finally admitted its first woman.
After KU, Peg found much smoother sailing as a professional. She went to work for the J.C. Nichols Co. in Kansas City, then married Roy Britton and moved to Ellsworth. They had three children and four grandchildren. Peg designed their home in Ellsworth, a 4,256-square-foot retreat on five treed acres.
She found a lot of opportunities for other firsts, too. She became the first female president of the Kansas Association of School Boards and the first woman on the board of the Kansas State High School Activities Association. “I noticed the activities association was completely male dominated, so I thought why not? Everybody said, ‘But you’re a woman.’ There wasn’t even a place for me to go to bathroom at the offices in Topeka. But they were very accepting and it turned out to be a good thing. It opened the door for a lot of women to follow.”
It wasn’t easy to be a feminist in the mid-20th century, she said. But she’s pleased to have seen so much progress happen in her lifetime, even if the work isn’t finished. In her chosen field alone, only 18 percent of licensed architects are women, even though nearly half of architecture school graduates are women.“I grew up at a time when I couldn’t get a credit card by myself. I just barely got to be able to vote; I was born in 1928,” Peg said.
It’s been five years since Peg sold the home she built, and moved to Salina Presbyterian Manor. When she moved in, she asked for something to be done in her apartment by maintenance. They told her it wasn’t possible, so, in true Peg fashion, she told them how to do it.
She’s enjoying this chapter of life, Peg said, and she likes to keep her door open so it’s easy to visit with her neighbors. “I’ve never been depressed a day in my life. I just have a very positive outlook,” she said.