The First Students
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.
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.
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.
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.