Ruth Terrett Earle, a civil engineer, breeder of champion dogs, and one of Virginia Tech's first women students, died Tuesday of respiratory failure at an Arnold nursing home. She was 91.
Mrs. Earle worked in the Washington, D.C., architect's office from 1925 to 1931, when she and Sherod L. Earle were married and moved to Hampton, Va.
After her two children were born, the family moved to Annapolis in 1938. She returned to work in 1950 as a statistician for the Chesapeake Bay Institute of Johns Hopkins University, which conducts oceanographic research. She retired in the mid-1960s.
For many years, Mrs. Earle bred dachshunds out of her Annapolis home and exhibited them all over the East Coast.
Unlike other owners who hired expert handlers for her dogs, Mrs. Earle insisted on leading canines, such as her champion "Earle's Cruiser," around show-rings that included the famed Westminster Dog Show in New York herself. Competitors remember her as an imposing presence -- into her 80s -- in suits and fancy hats.
"She always had on a spiffy outfit, and a 'go-to-hell' hat," recalled Dorothy E. Ritter, a Baltimore dog breeder who had known Mrs. (( Earle since the early '60s.
Mrs. Earle also was a member of the Society of Women Engineers and the College Woman's Club of Annapolis. She volunteered for many years at the Clothes Box Store, a consignment shop at Anne Arundel Medical Center.
She was one of the first five women to enroll full-time at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute in Blacksburg, which later became Virginia Tech.
The school's male cadets fiercely resisted those first women, who were not allowed in the institute's quadrangle or book store (fathers often had to buy the books).
But women who studied with her said Mrs. Earle, nicknamed "Terry," resolved to upset the men. At one point, she climbed to the top of the institute's water tower, usurping a traditional test of cadet manhood. And while the other women typically majored in biology, Mrs. Earle competed only with male students in civil engineering. In 1925, she became the first female graduate in what was then the institute's most challenging subject.
"Most of us had trouble with physics," said Julia Brumfield Lucas, a member of the Class of 1928. "But it seemed to come easy for Ruth."
Mrs. Earle founded and starred for a women's basketball team, which played games against women's schools. The team charged the male cadets an exorbitant admission to the games, but many attended anyway -- and rooted for the opponent, according to Duncan Lyle Kinnear's history of Virginia Tech, "The First 100 Years."
When the men refused to include the women or their team in the yearbook, The Bugle, she and her classmates -- using typewriters and glue -- produced a 17-page alternative, "The Tin Horn."
Services were conducted yesterday in Annapolis.
Mrs. Earle is survived by a son, Sherod L. Earle III of Annapolis; a daughter, Joan Mattie of Parkton; two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Her husband died in 1967.