A summer agriculture class at U.Va. provides instruction in stock judging—the evaluation of domesticated animals for breeding purposes. Most of the students in summer classes, which began in 1907, were women.

Women have always lived, worked and learned at the University of Virginia, but over the last century women have fundamentally transformed what once was known as a “Gentleman’s University.” The increase in access and opportunity for women has raised U.Va.’s academic profile and enriched the educational and social experiences of all students.

Despite Thomas Jefferson’s progressive vision of education in a newly formed nation, his plans for the University did not include women. Like many of his era, he believed that women’s education should be oriented toward the domestic, and the higher education he believed was the bedrock of democracy and civilized public life was not extended to them.

Nonetheless, women found ways to learn at the University. Before 1970, more than 15,000 women earned professional, graduate and undergraduate degrees, and a comparable number received degrees or certificates from the Nursing School. In 1970, 450 undergraduate women enrolled in the College of Arts & Sciences, transforming the University into a fully coeducational institution. Today, women constitute more than half of the student population. Women excel in the classroom, win prestigious awards and scholarships, compete in athletics and lead student organizations. The University’s alumnae are leaders and pioneers in every aspect of American life, and their contributions have reshaped a rapidly changing world.

The diverse stories of individual female students at the University trace a movement toward integration and empowerment on Grounds.