Towle, Katherine (1898–1986)

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Towle, Katherine (1898–1986)

American educator and U.S. Marine Corps officer. Born Katherine Amelia Towle on April 30, 1898, in Towle, California; died in 1986; daughter of George Gould Towle and Katherine (Meister) Towle; graduated from University of California, Berkeley, B.A. (cum laude), 1920, M.A., 1935; graduate study at Columbia University, 1922–23.

Katherine Towle was born in 1898 in Towle, California, into a family whose American roots predated the Revolutionary War. She was valedictorian of her Berkeley, California, high school class, and in 1920 earned a B.A. cum laude in political science at the University of California, Berkeley. After working for a year as assistant admissions officer at Berkeley, Towle did graduate work at Columbia University, returning to administrative work at Berkeley the following year. In 1927, she became resident dean at a private girls' school in Piedmont, California, and two years later was named headmistress. In 1933, Towle returned to Berkeley to study for her M.A. in political science, which she completed in 1935. From 1935 to 1942, she was assistant to the manager and then senior editor of the University of California Press. She received a leave of absence from this position to accept a commission in the Women's Reserve of the U.S. Marine Corps in 1943, becoming one of the first women officers in that branch of the military service.

Towle was commissioned as a captain and called to active duty in February 1943. She served at corps headquarters in Washington, D.C., and at the women's training centers at Hunter College in New York City and Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. Towle was promoted to major in 1944 and named assistant director of the Women's Reserve. In March 1945, she was elevated to lieutenant colonel and in December was named a colonel and assigned to succeed Ruth Cheney Streeter as director of the Women's Reserve. In March 1946, Towle was awarded the U.S. Navy's Letter of Commendation, with Ribbon, for "meritorious service during the entire period of the growth and development of the United States Marine Corps, Women's Service." She also received the American Campaign Medal and the World War II Victory Medal.

In June 1946, the Women's Reserve was deactivated, and Towle returned to the University of California, where she became assistant dean of women in July 1947. When the Women's Armed Forces Integration Act of June 12, 1948, was passed, the Women's Reserve was integrated into the active line, and Towle resumed her position as director. She retired from this post in May 1953. From 1953 to 1962, she served as dean of women and associate dean of students at Berkeley. She became dean of students in 1962, a position she held until her retirement.

Towle was active in the American Association of University Women, the Women's Faculty Club of the University of California, the Town and Gown Club of Berkeley, the Sulgrave Club of Washington, and the national Association of Deans of Women. From 1946 to 1948, she was a member of the American Council on Education's national advisory committee on disabled veterans. Towle also served on the board of directors of the Berkeley chapter of the American Red Cross. She died in 1986.


Current Biography. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1949.

McHenry, Robert, ed. Famous American Women. NY: Dover, 1980.

Elizabeth Shostak , M.A., Cambridge, Massachusetts