students in lounge

One woman student can be seen among all those 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. 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 classes, 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, with each door slowly opened largely in hopes of staving off full coeducation. In the end, what was long feared and ardently fought for came to be. And UVA is a better institution for it.

Ways to Engage with the History of Women at UVA

Women's History Month 

In 2022, we launched UVA's newest tradition, an annual pan-University collaboration hosted by the Women's Center, together with a wide range of UVA offices and student organizations across Grounds throughout the month of March. Learn more at

Virtual Tour

Learn more about the many women who have shaped the University over the years through our Women's Education at UVA virtual tour. The tour is designed to be enjoyed either while walking on Grounds or any time from wherever you are. 

Our virtual tour is hosted by the UVA Library as part of the University's Walking Tours of Grounds. All of these tours can be viewed online in your browser or by downloading the free tours app available in the App Store or Google Play.


A project like this tour is not the accomplishment of a single individual. A number of students, faculty, and staff assisted with the research, writing, and development of this tour and/or shared their own research with us. The members of the Women's Center Planning Committee for Retold, the 2020 celebration of women's education at UVA, were the first to suggest that some form of a virtual reality experience would be a powerful way to commemorate the strength women drew upon to endure and overcome the struggles they encountered.

Our thanks go firstly to Abby Palko. While serving as the center's director from 2017 through 2023, she led the research and curation efforts that made this project possible. It is also essential to acknowledge the following students, without whom this project would never have come into being. We are inspired by their powerful commitment to finding long-buried stories and belief that telling the full history matters deeply.

  • Lauren Bredar (Col 2019) played an integral role at every step of the project, from conducting archival research to learning new technology skills to drafting text for the tour; her commitment ensured that we finished this project.
  • Spencer Goldberg (Col 2021), as Historian for the UGuides led student efforts to know and share the full history of women’s education at UVA through a specialty tour focused on this part of the University's history.
  • Natalia Heguaburo (Col 2019, Law 2024) undertook archival work of her own for her distinguished majors project, which she generously shared with us.
  • Emily Sackett (Grad 2021) also provided invaluable archival research.

Our deep gratitude goes as well to the students and staff who provided invaluable technical and fact-checking assistance. The hours they logged on this project carried us over the finish line: Emma Abraham (Col 2023), Carol Gilbert (Women’s Center), Elyse Girard (UVA Library), Guada Pinto (Col 2021, Batten 2022), and Holly Robertson (UVA Library).

Our colleagues across Grounds have been working for decades to document the experiences of women at UVA, and this project is indebted to their research. Phyllis Leffler, Professor Emerita of History, graciously and generously shared a treasure-trove of files and provided encouragement at every step of the project. Liz Crowder (Alumni Assocation) collaborated on fact-finding missions, and Ervin Jordan (OAAA) pointed us to additional sources.

In the years of preparing to commemorate the milestone anniversaries of 2020, we heard poignant stories of proud achievements and painful exclusions. In leading this project, Abby Palko requested that our final thanks be saved for the many alumni who have shared their experiences.

There have been a lot of moments that have reenforced the Women’s Center staff’s sense that a project like this needed to be done. As the University prepared to launch the Bicentennial Celebration, Women’s Center intern Devin Garcia published “Why Our Bicentennial is Really a Guy-centennial” on our students' Iris Magazine site, reminding us how unknown women’s history is on Grounds. We’ve heard from proud sons and granddaughters of early graduates. Through one, we learned of the first woman to be granted her BS in mathematics from the College, Lois Ketcham Carwile (Col 23, MS 24, PhD 29), perhaps also the first triple Hoo; another has shared his mother’s experiences in the 1950s, when she earned her BS in Chemistry. Margaret James Morton (Col 50) was accepted into the Master's program in Chemistry, but married shortly after graduation and raised a family, instead of continuing her education. He captures an ethos of women's struggle to gain access to a UVA education:

There is an apocryphal quote, “I am a revolutionary, so that my son can be a farmer, so his son can be a poet.” In that spirit, I imagine my mother as a revolutionary, so her daughters could go to UVA, so their daughters could be leaders at UVA.

Another, Becky More (Col 70), has shared memories of a moment of great transition, life in the College the year before full coeducation arrived. I offer my deepest, most sincere thanks to all of you who have reached out to share your story with us. We are continuing to collect them for additional archival projects.

If you have a story about how you (or a loved one) broke barriers for women at UVA, please contact us at [email protected]. We’d love to hear your story, as this work continues.


To learn more about the history of women at UVA, stay tuned for further projects coming from the Women's Center. In the meantime, you can check out the sources below, which (along with UVA websites and archives) informed this tour:

Key source

Phyllis Leffler's expertise warrants special attention: 

Phyllis Leffler, “Mr. Jefferson’s University: Women in the Village!” (Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 115, No. 1 (2007), 56-107.) 

Additional sources

Articles & Chapters