In 1970, 450 undergraduate women arrived on Grounds as part of the University's first fully coeducational class. Although the U.Va. that they encountered was still very much a man's university, they were by no means the first women to make their mark here.
Over the course of the preceding century, women had lived, studied, and worked at the University as professors' family members, summer students, graduate students, and members of the University faculty, staff, and Board of Visitors.
Although women were in the minority for much of U.Va.'s existence, they actively participated in university life and influenced it in noticeable ways. Professor's wives and daughters, some of whom enrolled as students at U.Va., enriched the community with social and service activities. Female faculty, staff, and Board of Visitors members helped shape University policies and served as respected advisors and beloved surrogate mothers to generations of U.Va. students.
Female students remained undeterred by the overwhelmingly male community that did little to welcome them. They found ways to make U.Va. their own - they ambitiously pursued their educational goals, established a separate student government, created their own places on Grounds, and formed lasting friendships with one another.
The cumulative impact of the University's early women, coupled with the energy and drive of the females in the first coeducational classes, enabled U.Va. to make the transition to coeducation swiftly and successfully. The school's rise in academic stature that accompanied coeducation proved to its proponents what they had believed all along - that the full presence of women at the University would only strengthen and enrich the institution.
Today, with women comprising fifty-five percent of U.Va.'s undergrads, it is easy to forget that for much of the school's existence, females were in the minority. In highlighting just a few of the events, individuals, and experiences that form the history of women at U.Va., this exhibition reminds us all that 1970 was not too long ago and that the legacy of these early women is too important to overlook.
Exhibition curated by Larissa Mehmet.