Although not always as students or
employees, women have played an important role in the shaping the
history Davidson College from its founding in 1837 to the
inauguration of Dr. Carol Quillen as Davidson's first female
president in 2011.
Even before the college opened to students, women won recognition
for their contributions to the new institution. The February 18,
1837 Southern Citizen praised the "many active
and benevolent ladies" who "have already made provisions to supply
parts of the rooms with bedding and other necessary furniture."
Other roles the first women of Davidson played included being
boarding house owners and cooks and laundresses for the early
By the late 1850s, the role of women at Davidson began to change,
and expand, in a number of important directions. In 1858, Ann
Brown became the first hired by the college. By the
1860s President Kirkpatrick's daughters were attending classes, and
by 1896 women were teaching music classes.
Although it would not be until 1956 that Carolina MacBreyer would
be hired as the first female member of the Davidson faculty, the
place of women in the Davidson community was growing.
While women would not be allowed to formally enroll students
until the 1970s, young women did take classes at Davidson
beginning in 1861, when some of President Kirkpatrick's seven
daughters took classes at Davidson.
In the 1870s, Mary Jane Scofield, daughter of a local farmer,
took private tutoring from the Davidson faculty. She
mastered Latin but was refused in mathematics. The professor being
convinced that she already knew as much math as any woman needed.
By the 1890s, more women were attending classes "by courtesy" of
the faculty, not as actual students. Among these women were
Blanche Dupuy, Lucy Martin and Annie Brown.
According to Mary Beaty, "Miss Brown put the faculty in something
of a quandary by her perseverance and success. Far from collapsing
under the strain of academic work, she took courses for four years
and completed all the requirements for the A.B. degree," though she
was not granted it. Instead, Brown was given a certificate stating
that she had completed all of the degree requirements in May 1901.
Gladys Summers similarly completed the requirements for the B.S.
course of study in 1906, and although she also did not receive the
degree, "had the satisfaction of hearing her accomplishments
announced on commencement day."
According to the 1909 Quips and Cranks, Miss
Bertha Fleming was pursing the A.B. course of study, while Miss
Susan Summers pursued a B.S. degree. These women were following
in the footsteps of Brown and Summers, undertaking the degree
course of study, without receiving a formal degree.
Nevertheless, these women were the first acknowledged in the
These early female informal/unofficial "students" at Davidson lead to
some discussion about the possibility of formally opening Davidson to
female students in the Davidson Monthly
in 1887-1888. In an
article from February 1887, the question "Shall Women Go to College?"
was posed. Then in April 1888, the more direct question of
co-education was discussed in the the pamphlet. As the article shows,
the conclusion was that female and male student bodies should not be
mixed as it would unhealthy do so.
Similarly, the 1916 Quips and Cranks
offered a student
response to co-education. The essay notes that the college is now a
coeducational institution but that "there is only one degree that is
conferred in this department and that is the degree of Mrs."
This trend of a few women taking classes continued at Davidson for
much of the first half of the twentieth century. In 1922, Davidson
three co-eds are listed in the college catalog. During the 1930s and
1940s, there were usually 3-6 women taking classes. Not all of the
students thought that having co-eds around the campus was a bad thing
however. Albert Simpson, class of 1925, compiled illustrations of
women in his scrapbook, adding in humorous titles about coeducation.
The titles read: One of our charming coeds studying her Greek lessons.
Coed reposing on one of our Chapel seats Coed giving antiseptic dance.
Proceeds to buy dice for Bill Joe's Saturday Night Party. [Bill Joe is
a nickname for college president William Joseph Martin] Popular
Davidson coed preparing to attend weekly dance in Shearer Hall. [a
playful reference to Shearer Biblical Hall]
- Co-education illustration from 1925 student scrapbook
Miss Nancy Copeland remembers taking classes during the World
War II yeas"there were seven us in a student body of 175." After the
war, more women began to arrive at campus, as wives of the students
returning home from the war. The college provided housing for
families, and an organization know as the G.I. wives was formed as a
social outlet for these women. The constant presence of these women on
campus spanning the entire history of the college helped continue to
the pave the path toward full co-education.
In the late 1960s, Davidson students, faculty, administrators and
trustees began taking the question of coeducation seriously. Some
trustees feared that such a radical change would simply be
untenable, on economic grounds but the idea persisted.
The first step to
coeducation came in 1969 with female "exchange students" from seven
other colleges (Hampden-Sydney, Hollins, Mary Baldwin,
Randolph-Macon, Sweet Briar, Randolph-Macon Woman's, and Washington
and Lee) to take classes at Davidson, usually during the junior
year. In the first year, eight students took advantage of this
program; 10 women came in the second year. In 1971, Davidson also
hosted its first international coed: Regina Jung, of Tubingen, West
Germany. By 1971, the trustees were ready to make a change in the
place of women at Davidson College. The trustees approved offering
degrees to wives of students, and wives and daughters of Davidson
faculty who could transfer in as upperclass students. In 1972, the
Trustees expanded admission by allowing women without family
connections the college to transfer. The final step was to allow
women to enter as freshmen, with the first full class entering in
the fall of 1973. Initially, the trustees limited the percentage of
the student population which could be female, to control the
"experiment" with co-education. According a 1979 resolution, the
president of the college was instructed to enroll a freshman class
of 66.6% men and 33.3% women. In 1982, the trustees increased the
cap on female students to 40% of the overall student body. It would
not be until 1988 that Davidson finally removed the strict limit
that no more than 40% of the student body could be female. The women
of the Class of 1996 outnumbered the men when they arrived in Fall
Marianna "Missy" Boaz Woodward '73, an Art major from
Charlottesville, VA, was the first woman to earn a degree from
Davidson College however. She preceded Switzer because she entered
Davidson along side her husband Kesler Woodward, under the trustees
first co-education policy. Vicki Switzer '74 would be the first
woman to enroll at Davidson as a transfer without a prior family
connection. Although originally an applicant for the existing
exchange program, Switzer transferred to Davidson as a degree
candidate, from Southwestern University in Memphis in 1972, to study
psychology, at the suggestion of Dr. Jay Harold Oswalt, Director of
As the 1970s continued the
co-education program continued to expand. In 1973-1974, Julia Deck,
Denise Fanuiel, Debra Kyle and Marian Perkins became the first
African-American women to enroll at Davidson. Denise Fanuiel would
become the African-American woman to graduate from Davidson in 1977,
as well as the first woman commissioned through ROTC at Davidson. In
1975 Susan Martin Parker became the first female valedictorian at
In 1976, Mary Farmer, a
chemistry major, became the first woman to graduate after spending
four full years at Davidson; she was one among nine women to
graduate that year. She then continued on to medical school after
graduation, as the first female alumnae admitted to medical school.
With the continued growth of the female student body after the
implementation of co-education, the campus began to open up more
social and extra-curricular outlets for female students. The YMCA
became the YM/WCA and the Male Chorus was joined by the Madrigal
Singers in 1975 and the Women's Chorus in 1976. Women also played
sports with the first women's varsity teams being formed in 1974.
Women joined existing organizations and accepted leadership
positions. For example Susan McAvoy was a co-editor of Quips and
Cranks in 1977and Catherine Landis became the first woman editor of
the Davidsonian in 1977-78.
- Rusk Eating House
In 1977, the Rusk Eating House, the first female eating house was
organized in the spring to open the following fall semester. The
second women's eating house, Warner Hall was established in 1982,
followed by Spencer in 1986, Connor in 1991 and Turner in 1998.
Davidson women quickly became active in student life. In 1977, Kat
Morton Achtemeier became the first female recipient of the
prestigious Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award for service and
integrity. In 1979, Laurie Bingaman joined Davidson's list of Watson
Award winners. In 1983, Elizabeth Kiss became Davidson's first woman
In 1985, Lillian "Beadsie"
Woo began her tenure as the first female Student Government
Association President serving along with Vice President Christie
Not everyone approved of
co-education at Davidson, as one protestor's property damage
demonstrated. The entrance sign for the college was altered to note
that Davidson College was "A Liberal Arts College FOR MEN" in a 1975
act of protest.
The female population of Davidson continues to grow and gender
diversity at Davidson has become the norm in the recent past history
of the college. Even as women integrated into traditional campus
activities, they also formed a Women's Center in 1980 to address
needs of women students and bring in speakers to campus. The group
continues its work as the Women's Issue Committee. The first
curricula change occurred in 1976, when Classics 151, previously
named Greek Views of Man, became Greek Views of Man and Woman. The
English department was next, offering English 202 Women Writers in
1977. By 1990, enough courses were being offered to develop a Gender
Studies Concentration. In 1998, to foster gender issues on campus,
the campus initiated a Gender Resource Center. The mission of the
center was to "enhance the quality of life of all Davidson students
by fostering community, improving gender relations, and facilitating
awareness of sexual diversity and gender inequalities in our
community and beyond." In 2009, the first Women's Leadership
Conference was held as a way to connect students with alumni,
faculty, staff and area social and business leaders. Sponsored by
the Chidsey Leadership center the conferences are held every spring.
With the introduction of full co-education at Davidson, one
new aspect of campus life that ballooned in the 1970s was
women's athletics. Initially however, women were limited to
playing on previously all-male sports time. For example, when
Tracey Charles '74 became the first woman to letter in varsity
sports in 1974, she earned her letter on the men's sailing
In 1973-1974, the women's basketball team was organized at
Davidson, as well as the first women's tennis team, which was
coached by a student-player, Carol Goldsborough.
Pat Drake became the first female full-time coach for varsity
athletics in 1974-1975. Drake coached both men and women's
swimming, as well as women's tennis. She was joined in 1976 by
Susan Roberts, the new coach of women's basketball and also club
1978-1979 saw cross-country and track join the list of women's
athletics at Davidson, which were coached by the graduate
assistant Dee Dee Mayes. Thus, by 1979, Davidson had three
full-time female coaching staff, and seven sports for women: two
co-ed teams, and five all women's teams.
By 1982, female athletes were actively competing in Southern
Conference sports. In 1984, women's tennis at Davidson achieved
a particularly noteworthy success, winning the Division III
National Championship. In 1986, the women's basketball team
followed suit and won the Division III state champion.
In 1991, the field hockey team won the Deep South Field Hockey
Championships, and the women's tennis team were at it again,
winning the Big South Conference Championship, and from
1993-1995 women's soccer retained the Southern Conference
In 2006-2007, the women's basketball team had record-setting
season with at 23-9 record, including a 10 game winning streak.
The team followed this with their first post-season appearance
in the NIT tournament.
In 2008, women's swimming won the conference championship. Even
more recently, Lindsay Martin became an NCAA qualifier in
swimming in 2010 and 2011.
In 2009, women's soccer won their first Southern Conference
Championship, earning an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament
for the first time.
Women's Varsity Sports Chronology:
1973-1974 - Basketball
1974 - Swimming
1974 - Tennis
1976 - Field Hockey
1982- Cross Country and Track/Field
1989 - Soccer- 1989
1986 - Volleyball
1994 - Lacrosse
Faculty and Staff
In July 1858, Ann Brown became the
first women hired by the college. As the manager of Steward's
Hall, she was responsible for the college's dining hall.
Eulalia Cornelius and Gertrude
Williamson, however, were the first women to "teach" at Davidson
beginning in 1896-1897. Both women privately taught Davidson
students music lessons; Ms. Cornelius taught voice, and Ms.
Williamson taught guitar and mandolin classes.
The early twentieth century marked a
watershed moment in the history of female employees at Davidson.
Out of the three non-teaching administrative staff, two were
women: Cornelia Shaw and Alice Robson.
In 1907, Miss Cornelia Shaw
(1869-1937) joined the staff of Davidson as the first female
full-time employee, the first librarian (1907-1936), and the
first registrar. Shaw's primary responsibility was to run the
library full-time. Preceding her, faculty and students had
looked after the library in their "spare time." Arriving at
Davidson at age 40, after serving as the editor of the Charlotte
newspaper Presbyterian Standard, Shaw took
"unquestioned control" over the operation of the library.
Alice Robson, a doctor's widow who
moved to Davidson in 1908 to "educate her sons," served as the
college nurse from 1908 until her retirement in 1937.
Orrie Steele would join these women
on the staff as the president's secretary in 1916.
In 1922, when Mrs. Nancy T. Smith was
hired to supervise the dormitories, not only did this increase
the female staff of Davidson College, but it also made Davidson
the first men's college in the South to have a female dormitory
numbers of early female staff members after Shaw, Robson and
Steele would continue to rise. Around 1955, Professor E.A. Beaty
dubbed the female members of the staff the "Chambermaids."
Although the college hired women to
the staff beginning with Cornelia Shaw in 1907, the college did
not hire its first female faculty member until 1956. In 1956,
Dr. Carolina MacBreyer was hired as Visiting Associate Professor
of Psychology, teaching courses on "Schools of Psychology,"
"Business and Industrial Psychology," "Experimental Psychology"
and the survey course. Dr. MacBreyer came to Davidson from
Queens College in Charlotte, and with a Ph.D. from the
University of North Carolina.
Although Dr. MacBreyer was the female
faculty member, Dr. C. Louise Nelson became the first female
instructor to reach the rank of full professor, in the
department of Economics. Professor Ralph Levering interviewed
Professor Nelson about her experience as the first tenured woman
among the Davidson College faculty in August 2006. A clip of the
interview with Professor Nelson is available online.
The female faculty has continued to
grow since MacBreyer and Nelson joined. Geraldine A. Dwyer
joined the Department of Sociology and Anthropology for two
years in 1970-1971; Jean S. Cornell became Instructor of
Speech in 1971-1972, before a promotion to Assistant Professor
in 1974; Cynthia Grant was hired as Assistant Professor of
Biology in 1972, as was Lois Kemp, Assistant Professor of
Spanish. Lois Kemp also became the first female head of an
academic department at Davidson in 1972 as well.
The firsts continued as Georgianna
Ziegler became the first female instructor of English in
1973-1974. Tonia K. Devon joined the faculty as the first
female Assistant Professor of Political Science in 1974-1975,
and later became the Director of South Asian Studies
(1974-1978). Verna Miller also joined the biology department
in the same year. The French and Physics Departments both
hired their first female faculty member in 1975-1976
respectively, in Elizabeth Chesney and Elizabeth Banes
Twenty years after the
implementation of full co-education, in 1992, Professor Maurya
MacNeil '87 made Davidson history, as the first female alumna
hired into a tenure-track faculty position. MacNeil went on
from Davidson to receive her Ph.D. in industrial psychology
from Ohio State University. After completing her doctorate,
MacNeil was hired to teach course on Research Design and
Statistics, Tests and Measures, and Introductory Psychology at
Davidson the following fall. Upon returning to Davidson, she
remarked that "It's an honor, very much so. I want to pave the
way for other women graduates, set an example, and fulfill the
expectations that have been placed upon me."
Professor Rosemary Zumwalt made a
particularly important mark in the history of women of the
Davidson faculty and staff, when she became the first female
faculty vice-chair pro tem in 1998. A leadership position
within the faculty, this position required Zumwalt to
"represent and articulate the sentiments and concerns of the
faculty to the administration and the trustees." An article
from the Davidson Journal (Spring 1998) reported on her impact
in the college's history: Assuming the position just in time
to chair the search for a replacement Robert Williams as
Vice-President for Academic Affairs, Zumwalt had her hands
full. Already a very engaged anthropologist, students and
colleagues knew her to be "evenhanded, sensitive, and
perceptive," thus the Davidson Journal confidently
reported that in a time of major turnover in the college
administration, "the faculty leadership is in the hands of one
of Davidson's finest--a revered teacher, scholar, researcher,
trusted colleague and friend."
More recently, Nancy Cable,
originally hired in 1992 as the first female director of
Admission and Financial Aid became one of the first women vice
presidents. Her promotion
followed Kristin Hills Bradbury, class of 1985, appointment
as Vice President of College Relations in December 2000.
More recently still other women
have joined the administrative staff at Davidson. Karen
Goldstein joined the college as the Vice President for
Business and Finance in 2004, and Eileen Keeley became the
Vice President for College Relations in 2006.
And of course, in 2011, Davidson
College hired Dr. Carol Quillen as full Professor of History,
and as the first female president of Davidson College.
Trustees and Benefactors
Even before the college
opened to students, women were making contributions. The February
18, 1837 Southern Citizen
praised the "many active and
benevolent ladies" who "made provisions to supply parts of the
rooms with bedding and other necessary furniture."
After the school opened, women served the
college as boarding house owners and cooks and as laundresses.
They also made financial contributions. Jane Lide's bequest of
$1,100 in 1838 was equivalent to a full professors salary.
Although not employed by the college presidential and faculty
wives helped host and feed trustees, nurse students and correspond
with parents. Local women took an interest in the college, to the
point that in 1855 a group decided to improve the grounds by
painting the interior of the chapel building. By 1901, President
John Shearer financed the remodeling of the chapel. The newly
renamed Lizzie Gessner Shearer Biblical Hall was dedicated in
honor of his wife and became the first building on campus
dedicated to a woman. In 2000 and 2004, two campus buildings were
renamed to honor the extraordinary service of Nancy
. Both women worked for the college for over 50
Although Davidson was an all
male school, in 1962 President D. Grier Martin remarked that it
"would be a poor place without ladies." Marcia Bell Mitchell gave
a new meaning to his words with her donation of $835,000 tha year,
which was the single largest bequest in the history of the college
In 1943, the Quadwranglers Wives Club, later
known as the Distaff Club and College Service Club was founded
with the intend to "to aid the President and the Administration of
the College in every possible way, and to promote the social life
of the campus." Operating from 1943 to 1987, these women planned
receptions, organized the flowers for commencement, and worked to
enrich the life of the college community. The Board of Trustees
went coed in 1974 with the election of Mary Duke Biddle Trent
Semans. By 2011 around 30 women have served as trustees, including
the first African-American female trustee, Thelma Adair, who began
her term in 1983.
As the number of alumnae grew, so did their contributions to the
college. In 1985, Carol Connor Willingham became the first
president of the Alumni Association. In 1996, Deborah
, class of 1981, received the Alumni Service
Award and in 1998, both Patricia
, class of 1979 and Emily
, class of 1981, received the Distinguished
Firsts at Davidson
- 1907 - Cornelia Shaw: First to serve as a Davidson College
Administrator, College Librarian, and the Registrar
- 1956 - Caroline MacBreyer: First to become a regular,
full-time faculty member; First member of the Psychology
- 1961 - Bonnie Cone: First to receive an honorary doctorate
- 1964 – C. Louise Nelson: First member of the Economics
- 1970 – Geraldine A. Dwyer: First member of the Sociology
- 1972 – Cynthia Grant: First member of the Biology faculty
- 1972 – Lois Kemp: First member of the Spanish faculty;
First to head an academic department (Spanish)
- 1972 – Vicki Switzer '74: First to enroll after the
Trustees\' decision for full coeducation
- 1973 – Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans: First elected
- 1973 – Marianna Boaz ("Missy") Woodward '73: First to
receive a degree
- 1973 – Georgiana Ziegler: First member of the English
- 1974 – Tracy Charles '74: First to letter in a varsity
- 1974 – Tonia K. Devon: First member of the Political
- 1974-1975 – Susan Martin Parker '75: First to serve as
full-time coach of a varsity team
- 1975 – Elizabeth Banes: First member of the Physics
- 1975 – Elizabeth Chesney: First member of the French
- 1975 – C. Louise Nelson: First to become a Full Professor
- 1975 - Susan Martin Parker: First to become Valedictorian
- 1976 – Mary Farmer '76: First to go on to medical school
after Davidson College.
- 1976 – Karen Husted Synder '76: First to be admitted as a
freshman (being related to a faculty member) and first to
graduate after having spent four years at Davidson College
- Kat Morton Achtemeier '77: First awarded the Algernon
Sydney Sullivan Award
- Renee Denise Fanuiel Blackwell '77: First woman
commissioned through ROTC
- Rebecca E. Stimson '77: First to receive the Rebecca E.
Stimson (Athletic) Award
- 1977-1978 – Rusk Eating House: First all women\'s eating
- Catherine Landis Henschen '78: First to edit The
- Laurie Bingaman Lackey '79: First awarded a Watson
- Pamela Camerra-Rowe '80: First awarded a Fulbright
- Meg Campbell, Meredith Durden, Mary Hay, Mary Chester
Morgan, and Jamie Watt: First women to be elected to the
Honor Council (then known as the Hearing Committee)
- 1979 – Melinda Lesher: First member of the Art faculty
- 1980 – Cynthia A. Curtis '80: First to receive the Susan
K. Roberts (Athletic) Award
- 1980 – Sarah Womack Parham '80: First to have her jersey
- 1981 – Anne R. Elliot: First elected president of the
Black Student Coalition
- 1982 – Emily Knobloch '82: First All-American athlete
- 1982 – Esther Wruck: First member of the German faculty
- 1982-1983 – S. Sherburne Laughlin '83: First elected
Senior Class President
- 1983 – Susan Keefe: First member of the History faculty
- 1983 – Elizabeth E. Kiss '83: First chosen as a Rhodes
- 1983 - Rosemary Zumwalt: First member of the Anthropology
- 1984 – Ruth Freitag: First member of the Chemistry faculty
- 1985-1986 – Lillian Grace "Beadsie" Woo '86: First elected
- 1986 – Carolann Connor Willingham: First elected president
of the Alumni Association
- 1988 – Yvonne Kendall: First member of the Music faculty
- 1988 – Bonnie Marshall: First member of the Russian
- 1988 – Rosemarie Tong: First member of the Philosophy
- 1988 - Rosemary Zumwalt: First elected faculty vice-chair
- 1990 - Lynn Poland: First member of the Religion faculty
- 1992 – Maurya MacNeil '87: First alumna to become a
regular, full-time faculty member
- 1992 – Donna Molinek: First member of the Mathematics
- 1992 – Nancy Cable Wells: First to serve as Dean of
Admission and Financial Aid
- 1992 – Class of 1996 women outnumber men in the class
- 1994 – Ann Marie Costa: First member of the Theatre
- 1994 – Jeanne Neumann: First member of the Classics
- 2000-2001 – Nancy Cable and Kristen Hills Bradberry: First
women to become Vice-Presidents.
- 2011 – Carol E. Quillen: First female President
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