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The First Students
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The First Students

Part 1


Notebook of William H. Ruffner. 1845-1847 and 1880.
scrapbook belonging to Ruffner containing calling cards
University of Virginia Special Collections

The University of Virginia hosted the state’s first Normal School in 1880. The School, which provided primary instruction for schoolteachers throughout the state, drew almost 500 students—312 of whom were women. Eight U.Va. faculty members, including William M. Thornton, George F. Holmes, and Charles Venable, taught classes in the Normal School.

William H. Ruffner served as Virginia’s Superintendent of Public Instruction. His notebook contains a collection of cards and notes bearing the names of the teachers present at the close of the 1880 session of the University Normal School. A majority of the cards belonged to female students. It appears that Ruffner reused an old notebook dating from his time as a student in theology school.


Photographs of summer school classes. In University of Virginia Summer School. Lynchburg: J.P. Bell Co., 1909.
University of Virginia Special Collections

Photograph of women participating in summer Home Economics classes. Ca. 1907. In 1907, the University of Virginia established a summer school primarily for the benefit of the state’s public school teachers. The University stipulated that, unlike their male counterparts, female students could not receive credit for their summer school courses. In addition to teacher instruction, the University offered classes in a variety of subjects, including home economics, cooking, and stock judging.

Travel journal, Jackson Davis, 18 July 1913

University of Virginia Special Collections,

from the Jackson Davis Collection

Jackson Davis served as the state agent for African-American rural schools for the Virginia Department of Education from 1910 to 1915. His diary contains notes about his work and observations about education for African Americans. His entry for July 18, 1913, records that Caroline Preston Davis, the University’s first female graduate, had obtained an African-American teacher a job as a maid at the University’s summer school. This enabled the teacher to observe classes despite the fact that African Americans could not enroll in classes at the University.

Photograph of Georgia O’Keeffe by Rufus W. Holsinger. 1915.

University of Virginia Special Collections,

from the Holsinger Studio Collection

In 1912, after several years of studying at art schools and institutes, budding artist Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986) returned to Charlottesville where her family had moved in 1909. She enrolled in the summer school at the University of Virginia and took drawing classes with Alon Bement—she soon became his best student.

From 1913 to 1916, O’Keeffe worked elsewhere during the year and returned to Charlottesville in the summers to teach at the University’s summer school. Her name, misspelled, appears in the University Bulletin for the first time in 1915. She is listed as a full-time instructor teaching Drawing 2, 3, and 4. She taught her last University summer session class in 1916—the same year that pioneer photographer Alfred Steiglitz (whom she later married) discovered her work and featured her drawings in his gallery in New York City.



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