UVa Library Press Releases
From Georgia O'Keeffe to Mama Rotunda: Library Exhibit Shows History of Women at U.Va.
A plan of female education has never been a subject of systematic contemplation with me.--Thomas Jefferson, founder of the University of Virginia, 1818
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 co-education.
"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 Davies, 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 Georgia 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."
- 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 was curated by Larissa Mehmet, a graduate student at U.Va., and a student assistant in Special Collections at the U.Va. Library. The exhibition is open in Alderman's McGregor Room, Monday through Saturday, 9am to 5pm (closed on Sunday). For directions or more information, call Special Collections at (434) 924-3025.
Excerpts from the exhibition are also online at http://www.lib.virginia.edu/exhibits/women.