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A Great Fullerton Woman
Mrs. Doris Tennant Westcott (1909-2006)

Doris Tennant Westcott, 98; USC's First Helen of Troy, Veteran Compton Educator
By Jon Thurber, Times Staff Writer
September 4, 2006

Even if Doris Tennant Westcott had not become a pioneering educator in Compton or served with distinction in the WAVES during World War II or helped students in financial need after her retirement, she would have still had a historic place at USC.

For Doris Tennant Westcott, class of 1930, was the school's first Helen of Troy.

Westcott, who died May 16 at age 98, will be honored Wednesday at a memorial service at the university, where she made national headlines in 1928.

An active presence on the USC campus, Westcott was elected Helen of Troy in 1928 and again the next year.

As Helen of Troy, she represented the school at social functions and was queen of the annual women's Hi-Jinks program, which was sponsored by the school's YWCA and part of the annual homecoming festivities, said Claude Zachery, an archivist at USC.

The Hi-Jinks was an evening of song, dance and dramatic sketches presented by sororities and women's organizations, and staged at Bovard Auditorium.

Assisted by the Amazons honor society, she took part in the program's prologue by opening the gates of Troy. She also would ride on a float in the homecoming parade.

Years later, she remembered that when she needed a costume for her debut as Helen, someone "took the green velvet draperies from the Elisabeth von KleinSmid Residence Hall and made me a robe for the affair."

The name Von KleinSmid had a lot to do with her going to USC in the first place.

Born in Fayetteville, Ark., Doris Tennant was 3 when her family moved to Fullerton. After receiving her primary and secondary eduction in Fullerton, she was ready to go off to college and was planning on UC Berkeley.

But the president of USC, Rufus Bernhard von KleinSmid, spoke to her high school graduating class in 1926 and told the students that they could be anything they wanted to be.

His comments impressed her enough to switch to USC, where she majored in physical education and minored in Spanish, becoming fluent in the language and using it throughout her life.

After graduating in 1930, she took an offer from the Compton school district as a teacher on the combined high school and junior college campus. By the late 1930s, she had switched to administration and was the principal of Willowbrook Junior High. She would spend her entire professional career in the Compton school district.

During World War II, she was recruited to join the WAVES — Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service — and, after taking a leave of absence from Compton, traveled to Smith College in Massachusetts for training. She graduated with the rank of lieutenant junior grade and eventually headed up the 12th Naval District, commanding the WAVES in six Western states from her post in San Francisco.

After her discharge, she returned to USC for her master's degree in education. And she went back to Compton to live and work as the principal of one of the state's first continuation high schools. In 1953, she was named principal of Compton High School, one of the first women in the state to hold such a position.

She stayed in that job until she retired in 1970 and moved to Long Beach.

During her tenure in Compton, she helped break racial barriers in the 1960s by hiring the district's first African American teacher.

Over the years, she invested wisely and accumulated assets that allowed her to fund scholarships at Long Beach City College and the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, USC Rossier School of Education and Mexican American Alumni Assn.

Her marriage in the 1930s to Jack Westcott, a former USC football player, ended in divorce. They had no children and she left no survivors.

Wednesday's memorial service will be from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Ethel Percy Andrus Gerontology Center on the USC campus.


From the USC Alumni website:

Doris Westcott '30
Doris of Troy In 1926, just before graduating from Fullerton High School in Orange County, Doris Tennant packed a trunk, ready to enroll at the University of California, Berkeley. She never made it.

One man – a “handsome, imposing, impressive man” – changed her mind. USC President Rufus von KleinSmid, keynote speaker at the Fullerton High commencement, made such a strong impression on the young lady that she went home that afternoon and informed her father:

“I’m going to USC.”

“President von KleinSmid told us that we could be anything we wanted to be.
I had never heard that before,” she says. From that point on, through a bachelor’s degree in education in 1930, a 1935 wedding in the University Church to fellow Trojan Jack Westcott and a master’s degree in education in 1947, to her continuing support of student scholarships at USC, Doris Westcott has been Trojan to the core.

Westcott is such a Trojan, in fact, that she was chosen in 1929 and 1930 as the first and second Helen of Troy by her classmates, selected to represent the university at all important social functions. For her debut as Helen at a grand show in Bovard Auditorium, she recalls needing a costume. “They took the green velvet draperies from Elizabeth von KleinSmid Residence Hall and made me a robe for the affair,” she remembers.

Now, more than 70 years later, Westcott is still an honored Trojan leader: She has created several student scholarships in the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, the USC Rossier School of Education and the Mexican American Alumni Association.
Putting President von KleinSmid’s words to the test, she also became one of the first WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) of World War II. As California’s first woman in stripes, she caused quite a stir during her five-year stint in the service, often posing for news photographs and even taking tea with Eleanor Roosevelt at the White House.

IN 1947, WESTCOTT left the Navy with the rank of commander and the honor of a presidential citation. Once again breaking new ground for women, she returned to Southern California to become the only female principal of a large area high school. At Compton High School, where she was an administrator for more than 25 years, she developed a lifelong passion for helping young people and making it possible for them to get the best education possible.

Westcott, now 93, takes a personal interest in the USC students for whom she has provided scholarships. Many of them have become “fine teachers” themselves, she says. She stays in touch with most of her scholarship recipients, encouraging them to teach at local schools.

Her relationships with these students, and watching them succeed, are the only reward she seeks. “I give because I’m so selfish,” says Westcott, smiling. “I give because it does so much for me.”