Though many members of the UVA community believe 1970 to be the date coeducation began at the University, over 15,000 women had earned professional, graduate, or undergraduate degrees and an equal or greater number had earned diplomas or certificates prior to 1970. 1970 was indeed the year that the College of Arts and Sciences and other undergraduate programs formally became coeducational, but lesser known to many is the extent to which women had already been studying at the University since 1880, active members of its intellectual life.
"The University of Virginia is a man’s University. It was founded as a man’s University and it has obtained a high history as such. Its history, its traditions, its system of government are all founded on the teaching of men for the teaching of men." - UVA alumnus, 1914
Significantly, on January 12th, 1920, the Board of Visitors (BOV) at the University formally agreed to admit white women as degree-seeking students into the graduate and professional schools:
"RESOLVED by the Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia, That beginning with the session opening in September 1920, mature and properly qualified women be admitted to the graduate and professional schools of the University, subject to such rules and regulations as may be adopted by the Board…" - Meeting Minutes, 1/12/1920
In the Fall of 1920, 21 women enrolled in the graduate and professional schools, pioneering a new role for women in the University structure.
This tour focuses largely on the years between 1920 and 1970 and draws heavily upon quotes from women students themselves, particularly those who participated in the University-supported 1998 survey of UVA women alumnae, led by Professor Emerita Phyllis Leffler and digitized by The Institute for Public History. The survey results underscore both the strength of women students in navigating a male-dominated environment and the very real struggles they faced: some women recall their UVA experience with reverence and joy; others poignantly remember discrimination and the anger such treatment evoked; many attempt to reconcile both sets of feelings. Here, women alumnae retell their own history at the University of Virginia.