Women and University Life
Social Life, part 1
In 1927, Dean of Women Mary Jeffcoat Hamblin painted a rather pitiful picture of life for the first female students at the University:
[N]othing seemed to have been done for the women students. They had no gathering place and were distributed among many boarding houses around the university area. They were a sad, lonely lot. Men students were so reluctant to have a woman invade their beautiful university that they would actually stand by and either ignore or laugh at any girl whose books dropped accidentally ..
Whether this was an accurate description or exaggerated for effect, it is certain that the first group of female students in 1920 entered an institution where "gentlemanly" traditions had permeated all aspects of student life for the past century. Fraternities, clubs, and societies, whose membership had historically excluded women, dominated life on Grounds.
The first female students remained undeterred by the overwhelmingly male community that did little to welcome them. They found ways to make U.Va. their own while they pursued their educational goals. They established a separate student government, created their own places on Grounds, and developed a social life that centered on their female classmates and friends. While the first coeds created an enriching student life for women at the University, their activities, programs, and clubs remained mostly separate from those of men.
With the admission of women to the graduate and professional
schools in 1920, the need arose for a women’s organization
at the University. The Women Students Association held its
first meeting on October 23, 1920, at Madison Hall. The
purpose of the organization was to regulate the life of
coeds while promoting unity and the standards of the University.
Over the years, the organization developed a “sensible” code of behavior which advised female students to remain as “inconspicuous as possible on the grounds.” All entering women received a booklet containing the specifics of the code.
The Women Students Association provided a variety of social activities for coeds, including weekly teas and lectures by female speakers.
The University established the Co-Ed Room as a lounge and social space reserved exclusively for female students. Originally located on the second floor of Peabody, the Room was moved to 57 West Range in 1924 to accommodate more students. The Co-Ed Room, which featured cards and card tables, a piano, a radio, and several current magazines, provided women with a place to unwind without being reminded of their minority status.
The Co-Ed Room also served as the center of social life for female students on Grounds. They gathered for socializing with one another, for tea each weekday afternoon, and for Women Students Association meetings.
Betty Slaughter, the African-American housekeeper who staffed the Co-Ed Room, was largely responsible for the friendly, welcoming environment of the space. Students affectionately nicknamed her “Betty Co-Ed” and many considered her a friend, confidante, and surrogate mother during their years here.