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From Georgia O’Keeffe to majority status
photo collage
From top: 1915 photograph of artist Georgia
O’Keeffe, who taught summer school at U.Va. from 1913 to 1916. With the advent of coeducation in the fall of 1970, undergraduate women showed up for move-in day. Elizabeth N. Tompkins, the first woman to graduate from the School of Law, finished near the top of her class in 1923. A "certificate of proficiency" was given to Caroline Preston Davis in lieu of a degree in 1892.

From Georgia O’Keeffe to majority status
Library exhibits history of women at U.Va.

“A plan of female education has never been a subject of systematic contemplation with me.”

— Thomas Jefferson, 1818

By Charlotte Morford Scott

The history of women at the University of Virginia is usually told as a recent one, beginning with the admission of undergraduate women in 1970.

A new exhibition at U.Va’s Alderman Library shows how the long, rich history of women at U.Va. actually began in the 1800s, long before the milestone of coeducation.

“Breaking and Making Tradition: Women at the University of Virginia” presents rare letters, photographs and other documents that tell the stories of female faculty, staff and students at the “traditionally male” University. And it makes clear how women of earlier generations carved their own paths at the male-dominated institution.

The exhibition draws on historic materials from the University archives and artifacts borrowed from around the University, including the Alumni Association, the Nursing School and the Law School. Some of the rare items on view are:

• The “non-diploma” awarded U.Va.’s first female graduate, Caroline Preston Davis, who in 1892 met the requirements for a mathematics B.A. but received a “certificate of proficiency” (a U.Va. diploma with word “graduate” scratched out) instead.

• A 1915 photograph of a young eorgia O’Keeffe, who taught at U.Va.’s summer school from 1913 to 1916.

• A 1922 letter from Elizabeth Tompkins, the School of Law’s first female graduate (and also the first woman admitted to the Virginia State Bar), to her father, in which she describes her dismay over the “mob of men” at the school who are “more repulsive than snakes that crawl in the grass.”

Photographed with other members of the Board of Visitors in 1933, Mary Cooke-Branch Munford served on the board for 12 years and was a tireless advocate for women and their inclusion in the University. Alice Jackson was denied admission to the University in 1935 because she was African American, a decision that drew national attention to U.Va.’s discriminatory practices. 1909 photograph of summer school students.

• The 1935 correspondence between Alice Jackson, the first African American to apply to the University, and the Board of Visitors. The rejection of Jackson’s application on the basis of race paved the way for a state policy of providing African-American students with scholarships to attend out-of-state schools.

“Most people think that the history of women at U.Va. began with full coeducation in 1970,” says Mercy Quintos, the library’s exhibitions coordinator. ‘Breaking and Making Tradition’ shows that women have always been a force here, and in some creative and surprising ways.”

The exhibition is open in Alderman’s McGregor Room Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For directions or information, call Special Collections at 924-3025.

Excerpts from the exhibition are also online at http://www.lib.virginia.edu/

Timeline of Women at U.Va.





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