students in lounge

One woman student can be seen among all those passing the Amphitheatre and walking in front of Minor Hall.

Missing in Plain Sight

The University’s history has long been told as a man’s history. As an alumnus declared in 1914, “The University of Virginia is a man’s University. It was founded as a man’s University and it has obtained a high history as such. Its history, its traditions, its system of government are all founded on the teaching of men for the teaching of men.” The investment in the ethos of the Virginia Gentleman is strong, and it is still common to be told, “there were no women at UVA before 1970 –or none, at least, outside the School of Nursing.” But this perception is just inaccurate.

By 1970, when the first officially co-ed class enrolled and 450 women arrived on Grounds to take their seats in UVA classrooms, over 30,000 women had already made their mark on UVA, pursuing –and earning –their diploma, certificate, or degree (bachelor’s, master’s, medical, law, and doctoral). Their presence is recorded in the archives. The existence of women on Grounds is a fact hiding in plain sight. To borrow McIntire alumna Margot Lee Shetterly’s (Com 1991) formulation, they are UVA’s hidden figures –some hidden once for their gender, others hidden twice for their gender and their race.

Their journey to UVA followed a path of reluctant acceptance, each door slowly opened largely in hopes of staving off full coeducation –but in the end, what was long feared and ardently fought for came to be –and UVA is a better institution for it.