Virginia Magazine of History and Biography
Volume 115 / Number 1
Mr. Jefferson's University: Women in the Village!
- By Phyllis Leffler, pp. 56–107
This essay focuses on the experiences of women at the University of Virginia between 1920 and the early 1970s, using institutional records and the surveys filled out by former female students themselves. Women were present in nursing programs from the beginning of the twentieth century, and they were granted permission in 1920 to apply to graduate and professional programs. Beginning in 1970, they were allowed entrance into the undergraduate College of Arts and Sciences. Little has been known about the struggle of women to gain access to the university in the years before 1920 and the continuing efforts to develop full coeducational opportunities after that date. Moreover, the experiences of female students are largely absent from the records because institutional memory focuses on the experiences of "Virginia gentlemen." Administrative records of the deans of women and annual reports to the president have now been supplemented through a 1998 survey of alumnae, which records their experiences for the first time. These women were pioneers and survivors. They charted their course through a southern and male institution determined to hold fast to a culture of exclusiveness. Women were present but consciously marginalized by male students and by university administrators. Their personal memories provide new materials about the history of the university, offering insight into the frustrations they felt, the obstacles they overcame, and hostilities they endured as they pursued their educational aspirations.