By Zach Fitzgerald
Evelyn Norman Raser made Louisiana State University history as a student during World War II, but not on purpose.
Raser, now 87 and living in Opelousas, La., enrolled at LSU in the fall of 1941 and was elected student body co-ed vice president in 1944. She shared the ticket with president Robert Means and male vice-president Clyde Love.
When Means and Love enlisted in the military in 1944, Raser, who was known by her maiden name Norman then, assumed the role of student body president, becoming the first woman to hold the highest student office.
"It was just sort of a natural thing," Raser said. "They left and I (became president)."
She said students were "patriotic" during the war and remembers selling war bonds. "The men kept leaving for war. It made a difference (on campus), I'm sure, but this was a war that nobody objected to. We had to fight."
Taking a leadership role was nothing new to Raser. She had been secretary of her sorority, Kappa Delta, and was the drum major of the Bunkie (La.) High School band.
However, coming to LSU, said Raser, was a big transition, especially becoming comfortable with the campus life. "LSU was a big place to me in those days."
Raser's place as the first female student body president also has familial significance. Her cousin-in-law, Elaine Abell, became the first elected female student body president at LSU nearly 20 years after Raser served as president.
Raser was born in Rayville where her father managed a sawmill, later moving to the "big city of Bunkie," she said, to start the first grade. Bunkie, unlike Rayville, had streetlights which made her feel more secure.
Raser enrolled at LSU and earned an undergraduate degree in sociology with a minor in psychology, but never worked in either field. She instead became a stewardess for Eastern Airlines upon graduation in 1945.
She left her flight attendant position in 1948 after moving with her husband to Massachusetts. She later would return to school at UNO to get a master's degree in education.
Raser began teaching, mostly in the fourth grade, in New Orleans in 1963 and taught until retiring in 1986 to take care of her mother. She received 25 years credit for teaching – two extra years – because she didn't use many of her "sick days."
While teaching in New Orleans, Raser taught at an African-American school at the beginning of integration.
"When integration came along, they needed somebody to go to teach at a black school. I volunteered. They put me in Thomas A. Edison School in New Orleans east."
She spoke fondly of her time at Edison. "The teachers were so good to me. They were so sharp. I thoroughly enjoyed that."
Since retiring, she has kept in contact with LSU through the archives division of the LSU libraries which have some of her documents, including letters of correspondence between her mother and grandmother in 1919.
Raser said she doesn't "envy" college students today. "It would be a lot harder for me now. I have great sympathy for (today's college students)."
Raser said she didn't have a lot of pressure on her as the first female president. "I didn't get elected so nobody expected that much, I don't think. I don't remember that we made any big contributions as far as doing anything important on the campus."
She believes the importance of student government has increased since her days at LSU.
"It seemed more of a popularity contest than it is now."
She said that she might not have been well-liked by the staff of the Gumbo, LSU's student yearbook, because the 1944-45 yearbook didn't include many photos of her. One photo had a caption reading that "she did the best she could," which she didn't think was flattering. However, the Gumbo took plenty of photos of her friends, she noted.
On the other hand, she found lots of photos of herself in The Reveille, the student newspaper, which was a weekly publication at the time.
"I remember a lot of the people that were there (LSU) and how much I enjoyed being there, but I don't remember the details."
Still, her time at LSU helped her later in her life. "I had enough self-confidence as a result of my being at LSU to not hesitate about most things."