CHARLESTON, S.C. -- As male cadets looked on with stony displeasure, a young South Carolina woman became yesterday the first woman to take classes with the corps of cadets at The Citadel, breaking a 151-year-old tradition at the historic military college and firing a resounding salvo in the nation's wars between the sexes.
Escorted by three lawyers and designated cadet escorts in their winter blue uniforms, Shannon Faulkner marked her 19th birthday on a frigid morning by showing up for an 8 o'clock biology class, capping a bitter legal battle and raising anew emotional issues of education, equity, tradition and the sexes.
Miss Faulkner was admitted provisionally, allowed to take day classes but not live on campus or join the corps, pending a federal court trial next month of her lawsuit seeking regular admission.
She enrolled last week after a federal district court ruled in her favor. Her attendance was blocked after William H. Rehnquist, the chief justice of the United States, agreed to hear arguments from the college. He removed the stay Tuesday.
Miss Faulkner contends that as a state institution, The Citadel cannot bar her because of her sex.
"Just like it used to be a question of black and white, it's now male and female," she said yesterday. "They accepted me, and when they found out I was a woman they said I couldn't come."
But officials of this school, whose 2,000-member corps of cadets undergoes rigorous military discipline, said the issue was not discrimination but whether the college could continue to offer all-male education.
"There was a time in our country when we reveled in our uniqueness and individuality," said Brig. Gen. Roger C. Poole, The Citadel's vice president for academic affairs. "I think the country is making a mistake by having a trend where all its institutions appear to be cookies cut out of the same mold. I firmly believe in single-gender education for both sexes."
Still, the legal issue both here and in Virginia, where the only other all-male, publicly financed military institution, the Virginia Military Academy, is facing similar litigation, will probably revolve less around whether all-male education is beneficial than whether women can be barred from state-financed institutions.