March 7, 1996 · Cavalier Daily

Coeds Back on Track After Derailment

A historical columnist details the history of women's integration into the University, beginning with Caroline Preston Davis's petition in 1892 to sit for exams that would enable her to earn a degree in mathematics. The reporter discusses the General Assembly's 1920 decision to admit women to UVA's graduate schools, and the decision to make UVA fully coed in 1970.


1996-03-07 - Cavalier Daily Coeds Back on Track After Derailment.pdf
Robert Yule
Cavalier Daily
Cavalier Daily
Coeds Back on Track After Derailment
Historian’s Column
WITH THE words, "If I were a man," Thomas Jefferson's granddaughter Ellen Wayles Randolph bemoaned the lack of educational opportunities available to women during the 19th century. Even at "Grandpapa's University," there was no place for women in the student body for almost 100 years.
Like blacks, women played an important role in the University community despite their exclusion from classrooms.
Faculty wives and daughters took an active interest in the University and Charlottesville communities with their arts patronage and social involvement. Despite that involvement, many women sought more prominent roles in the academic life of the University.
In 1892, Caroline Preston Davis petitioned the University administration for permission to sit for the examinations that were a component of the requirements for a degree in mathematics.
The University granted Davis' request on the conditions that she would take the exam apart from male students, and that she would receive a certificate of proficiency rather than a degree upon successful completion.
Davis passed the examinations with flying colors and received the certificate.
In the same year, Addis M. Meade requested to register for a mathematics class. The University denied her request because she was underage. Upon her eighteenth birthday, however, the University allowed Meade to register for the class.
Those tentative first steps towards diversifying the University were curtailed in 1894 when the Board of Visitors voted against the admission of women under any circumstances.
According to “Mr. Jefferson’s University” by Virginius Dabney, the Board claimed academics would draw women away from their domestic duties and would "physically unsex" them.
Their decision temporarily derailed coeducation at the University.
Despite those setbacks, the cause of full coeducation was paramount in the minds of many women at the University. The cause had a fierce and vocal advocate in Mary Cooke Branch Munford, who championed women's education as a member of the Board.
The General Assembly later voted to admit women to the University's graduate and professional schools beginning in the 1920-21 academic year. That decision was greeted with little enthusiasm from the male students and faculty. Virginius quotes Prof. Herman Patrick Johnson stating, "Women are lovely creatures, but they should not be educated.”
French prof. Richard Wilson removed a coed from his class.
Nevertheless, many local female high school quietly attended to the University, and many faculty wives and daughters were able to attend under special dispensation.
Coeducation was derailed again with the 1944 establishment of Mary Washington College as the University's coordinate college for the education of women. That union was dissolved in 1965 and the issue of coeducation resurfaced.
The majority of the University’s student body and faculty staunchly opposed coeducation. They claimed women would be a distraction and would cripple the honor system.
In 1967, University administration appointed Prof. T. Braxton Woody to a committee to investigate the prospect of coeducation, Eighteen months later, the Woody commission concluded that coeducation would benefit the University.
In 1970, women were admitted to the University on the same basis as men.
(Melissa Murray is third-year College student and a member of the University Guides Service.)
Date Added June 3, 2016
Date Modifed December 25, 2017
Collection Cavalier Daily: articles about gender discrimination

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