by Dary Matera
September 15, 1972
“It looks like we have a battle on our hands. If the university orders us to tap women into Iron Arrow, we’ll take the issue to court,” said Iron Arrow President John Benedict.
The Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) has given UM until Sept. 30 to decide whether it will order the Iron Arrow honor society to become coed. If it refuses, HEW will then take what legal measures it can to cut all federal government funds given to UM.
Ted Nichols, director of Affirmative Action said the university will comply with the HEW decision to allow women to become members of the organization, but no official announcement to this effect has been made.
“In the next few weeks we will be encouraging Iron Arrow to accept women. If they refuse, they could be banned from campus,” Nichols said.
“What people don’t understand is that the UM, not Iron Arrow is being faced with this problem. HEW could care less about Iron Arrow, all they care about is UM supporting a discriminatory organization,” Nicholas said.
Since HEW does not fund Iron Arrow, they are taking this action only to force a change.
“They are coming at us through the back door,” Benedict said.
Exactly what HEW can do remains unclear. In the Title IX regulations, UM must “substantially” support an organization in order for it to be regulated by HEW.
Not only does UM not support Iron Arrow, but Iron Arrow has raised over $50,000 for the university in the last three years, Benedict said.
“If women were forced upon us it would destroy our level of activity, we would lose the high standards felt for us in the community and we would lose our membership in the Seminole Indian tribe,” Benedict said.
Benedict said he feels a few radicals are making an issue and don’t really want to be members of the society. He said they are no closer to letting women in today than they were 50 years ago.
“It’s a shame tradition has to go to court to save itself,” he said. “I’m sure a lot of members would vote to disband the society before they would let the first woman in. Federal aid used to be ‘manna from heaven,’ now it has become a curse.”
Mrs. Benedict, John’s mother, said, “Men should have their own thing and women should have theirs. I hope, I pray that they let Iron Arrow stay men only. I’m all for women’s equality, but the next thing you know they’ll have men staying at home taking care of kids.”
Iron Arrow member Rick Artman favors admitting women.
“I think that Iron Arrow should change with the times and admit women. The purpose of the organization is to recognize students for their service to the university and that should include both male and female students,” he said.
Iron Arrow is the most prestigious society created to publicly honor those men who have brought honor to the University and themselves by displaying prowess in any number of fields. Because the society has 1,318 members, there is room for many opinions, but the views are nearly unanimously against women members. Iron Arrow voted on this issue in 1972 and 1975, and both times the women were defeated.
“If the society itself wants to accept women it’s a-ok, but we don’t like the idea of a big brother stepping in to tell us what to do,” Benedict said.
The society’s purpose is inscribed on a memorial rock in front of the bookstore: “He who would know the Arrow must as an irrefutable rule have openly and without thought of reward shown obvious love of Alma Mater.”
Iron Arrow is involved in community service, including taking 100 disadvantaged children to the opening Hurricane football game each fall. It also supports a Seminole Indian boy and raises money for UM through an annual telephone campaign.
A Seminole tradition, upon which the society was founded in 1926, is the main stumbling block to the admittance of squaws.
Chief Tony Tommy, Iron Arrow’s first Indian advisor, made all members official members of the Seminole nation. No women or squaws are included in the Seminole rituals or council fires.
Iron Arrow has included the Seminole folklore in their private rituals and public ceremonies ever since they were made members of the Seminole nation.
HEW’s investigation began in 1973 after local feminist leader Roxcy Bolton accused Iron Arrow of discriminating against women and said its ritual was demeaning to the Indians.
HEW threw out the Indian complaint, but found them discriminating against women. Under Title IX of the 1972 Education Act Amendments, no group receiving federal funds can discriminate against members of the opposite sex.
Two other UM societies, the previously all-female Mortar Board and the all-male Omicron Delta Kappa, have changed their organizations to include both sexes.
Well known Iron Arrow members include UM President Dr. Henry King Stanford, television personalities Ralph Renick and Bob Halloran, Miami Mayor Maurice Ferre, composer Jerry Herman, Florida Attorney General Robert Shevin and U.S. Representative Dante Fascell.