Women and University Life
Social Life, part 2
Mary Munford Hall was the first residence hall built specifically for the University's female students. It opened its doors in 1952 and could accommodate up to 104 women. The dormitory included lounge and recreation spaces, apartments for two housemothers, and kitchens and "pressing rooms for light laundry" on each floor.
The University required female students, with the exception of nurses, to live in Munford Hall. Women over 21, and those who were married or living with their parents also were exempt from this requirement.
In addition to providing housing, Munford Hall offered women much-needed space to socialize and pursue recreational activities.
As greater numbers of women entered U.Va., they sought to establish social organizations where they could build friendships with other women amidst the male-dominated environment surrounding them.
In 1924, a small group of coeds at U.Va. formed a local sorority named Pi Chi. The sorority organized social activities but also emphasized scholastic achievement. Pi Chi affiliated with Kappa Delta, a national sorority, as the Beta Alpha chapter in 1932.
Chi Omega was the first national sorority on Grounds. The Lambda Gamma chapter was founded at U.Va. in 1927 with the assistance of Adelaide Simpson, the Dean of Women at the time.
Sororities in the early years were smaller in number than today's organizations and could not support a sorority house. They found other places around Grounds to gather - Chi Omega sisters, for example, met regularly for lunch at one of the East Range hotels.
In the Spring of 1930, female students established the Lychnos Society, an honor society. Intended to be comparable to the Raven Society, which had no female members, this group recognized high standards of scholastic achievement, leadership, and intellectual activities among women at the University. "Lychnos" is the Greek word for "lamp."
On May 18, 1921, the Board of Visitors appointed 29-year-old Adelaide Simpson as head of the University's female students, thus establishing the Office of the Dean of Women.
From the very beginning, the University administration did not consider the Dean of Women equal to the male deans at U.Va. They expected her to focus on the development of leadership, social poise and integrity of female students and to be available to them for guidance and consolation.
Mary Jeffcott Hamblin, the second Dean of Women, played an important role in renovating the Co-Ed Room and making it the center of female students' social life.
In 1934, Roberta Hollingsworth Gwathmey became Dean of Women, a position she held until 1967. Gwathmey, who had earned a Ph.D. in Romance Languages from the University in 1933, served as an advocate for female students during a period of great transition. She championed their right to live, study, and socialize in their own spaces. She successfully campaigned for the construction of a women's dormitory, Mary Munford Hall, and worked to maintain the importance of the Co-Ed Room.
Mary Whitney succeeded Gwathmey as Dean of Women in 1967; she was the last person to hold this position. Whitney challenged the University's admissions policies and participated in the debates surrounding coeducation in the late 1960s.
As early as 1898, University students celebrated Easter Week or "Easters." This weeklong party featured elaborate dances and athletic events. In the early days, faculty wives chaperoned the Easter week dances. Every year, women from nearby colleges and towns came in large numbers to participate in the festivities. This influx of women was such a fixture of the Easters tradition that Corks and Curls and other student publications contain numerous references, illustrations, and poems dedicated to the "Easter Girl."
Easters celebrations continued to grow in scale and became known as the "Best Party in the Country." Out of a concern for the University's students and its reputation, administrators banned Easters in 1982.
As the University grew in size, many faculty wives sought ways to maintain a sense of community. A group of women with similar concerns met at Madison Hall in 1948 and established the Faculty Wives Club. The founding members sought to create a social organization that would provide women at the University with opportunities to get to know one another.
Mrs. Joseph L. Vaughan was elected the Club's first president. Mrs. Colgate Darden, Jr., wife of the University president, served as the organization's honorary president. She hosted the Club's first social event, a tea, on April 20, 1948.
Over the years, the Faculty Wives Club sponsored numerous social events and participated in service projects at the University. In 1991, the Club changed its name to the University of Virginia Women's Club to represent more accurately its current membership. Today, the Club continues to offer its members opportunities to socialize, pursue intellectual interests, and provide service to the community.