September 18, 1996 · Cavalier Daily

Previous Wahoo Traditions Included Chauvinism

This Historian's Column article discusses the fact that the University became co-educational as late as 1970, and discusses the history of women at UVA in the context of its purported code of chivalry. The article cites a poem from the 1914 Corks and Curls, entitled "The Easter Girl," about the presence of women at UVA during Easters festivities.


1996-09-18 Cavalier Daily Previous Wahoo Traditions Included Chauvinism.pdf
Jessica Lowe
Cavalier Daily
Cavalier Daily
Previous Wahoo Traditions Included Chauvinism
In 1800, Jefferson wrote to Joseph Priestly about his plans for “a University so broad and liberal and modern as to be worth patronizing with public support.” In many ways, Jefferson’s dream of a trend-setting institution was realized. But, what began as a University anchored in innovation and propelled by foresight, soon became a school deeply mired in tradition.
Admirably proud of their University’s past, students, faculty and administration often were reluctant to acquiesce to the demands of the present and future. Nowhere is this seen more vividly than in the history of women at the University.
Four of Jefferson’s five grandsons would enter the Academical Village, but for his equally talented granddaughters, the opportunity for higher education was not available. It was not until 1970 that their grandfather’s university became entirely coeducational.
The first woman to apply for admission to the University was Caroline Preston Davis. In 1892, Davis, apparently self-taught, petitioned to take the examination for the B.A. degree in mathematics. Her request was granted, with the stipulation that she stand for the examination elsewhere, instead of with the male students. If she passed, she would receive a certificate of proficiency instead of the degree. She complied with those requirements and obtained her certificate.
Also in 1892, Addis M. Meade of Byce, Va., applied for permission to register for the course in mathematics. She, however, was turned down because of her age; Meade was only 17, and the faculty stated that “the law precludes the registration of women under 18,” though they cited no specific law. After Meade turned 18, the University allowed her to register, and she completed the M.A. course in the Graduate School in 1894.
That same year, the Board of Visitors and faculty members decisively approved a new University policy concerning women. It said no women could enroll at all, even in cases like Davis’ and Meade’s.
Faculty members reported that “according to medical authority, the strain on young women in severely competitive work…does often physically unsex them, and they afterwards fail in the demands of motherhood.”
With the implementation of the new policy, the ground Davis and Meade gained was effectively lost.
After that decision, mentions of female presence at the University were available only through the eyes of its male students.
The 1895 Corks and Curls dedicated itself “To Southern Womanhood, ever the inspiration and support of Southern chivalry, with pride in her patriotism, reverence for her purity, love for her matchless tenderness, and trust in her unfading truth.”
Love poetry, drawings of women – and cruder references – litter the pages of the early Corks and Curls, particularly those dating to the turn of the century. Easters was the time when women were most abundant and, apparently, that springtime phenomenon inspired many authors. One 1914 poem, entitled “The Easter Girl,” had this to say about the season’s women:
Now this, my friends, is a picture
Of a plant that we see in the Spring:
It’s a maid and lily mixture,
And some species of it will cling.
It lives on candy, and others;
It appears at its best in the night -
It’s attractive and has many lovers,
And the color is always white.
Most of the plants at this season
Talk to a marked degree:
Some, it is said, possess reason,
But these are not easy to see.
Most are easy to handle,
A few recoil at a touch.
If you’re not afraid of scandal
This shouldn’t bother you too much.
If you should go Easter Weekend
And look in a U.Va. bower
You’d find lots of types, without seeking
Of the Easter-Girl-lilia flower.
- Anonymous
The type of Easters women that the men considered less than desirable also merited mention in Corks and Curls.
In the 1915 edition these lines appeared: “See the Girl and the Man driving together. The Girl is an Easter Girl, and the Man is a Victim of friendship. His Friend told him that she was attractive. Is it not queer how tastes differ? Will the Man take the Girl for a long Drive? No, the Man will have to go home…”
“Easter Girls,” however, were not the only female presence at the University. Outside the Academical Village, gender roles were beginning to change, and the University was not isolated from the effects.
Particularly prominent was the quest for suffrage. In 1914, University Law Prof. Armstead M. Dobie used three yearbook pages to lament the drive for women’s voting rights. After commenting on everything from the “risqué” fashions to “imperious passions,” Dobie delved into what he perceived as the decay of womanhood:
Has your quest of the ballot a meaning,
Save a seeking for what you have not,
Or does it betoken a weaning
From the labors life left as your lot?
If the feminist fight is successful,
And woman is really unsexed,
We wistfully wonder, distressful,
And ask you, what next?
What next? Despite its context, Dobie’s question was certainly a valid one. As women’s roles began to shift, the University’s position on the lofty cliff of exclusivity became more precarious.
The University would not acquiesce to demands for complete co-education for another 56 years, but not too long after Dobie write those words, outside pressure for women’s education resurfaced in the Academical Village.
The University’s 1894 solution would not keep the issue at bay for long.
(Jessica Lowe is a third-year College student and a member of the University Guide Service)
Date Added June 11, 2016
Date Modifed December 24, 2017
Collection Cavalier Daily: articles about gender discrimination

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