Making and Breaking Tradition: Women on the Lawn

In the summer of 1880, 312 female public school teachers from throughout Virginia joined 155 male teachers in attending the first normal (teachers) school at the University of Virginia. The University's Board of Visitors approved a plan to house the women at Dawson's Row (a group of wooden structures west of the Lawn that no longer exists) and Monroe Hill, the site of the present-day Brown College. The men were housed in the West Range and at Carr's Hill, the present site of the residence of the University president. Between 1897 and 1905, women teachers attended summer institutes held at the University. In 1907, the University began its first accredited summer school session, and again women made up a large proportion of the students. By the eve of the first World War, the summer school housed all women students in rooms on the Lawn, a practice that would continue well into the second half of the twentieth century.

When the summer school women lived on the Lawn, the atmosphere was a bit different than it was during the rest of the year. Unlike male students, the women had a curfew and a night watchman to enforce it. The curfew did not apply to the women who lived on the Lawn year round or to the wives and daughters who lived with their husbands and fathers in the Lawn Pavilions.

As University employees, women also occupied Lawn and Range rooms. The offices of two deans of women, Mary Jeffcott Hamblin and Roberta Hollingsworth Gwathmey, were located on the East Lawn in the 1930s and 1940s. Virginia E. Moran, the University's registrar between 1922 and 1946, had offices on the East Lawn throughout her tenure. Mary Proffitt, the secretary to several deans of the College between 1912 and 1953, also had an office on the East Lawn for over 20 years.

Yet it was not until the fall of 1972 that the first woman undergraduate was invited to live on the Lawn. Though a few women had received certificates for completing their studies as early as the 1890s and women had attended Virginia's graduate and professional schools since 1920, the University did not become an official coeducational institution until the 1970-1971 school year. In 1972, Cynthia Goodrich moved into East Lawn 28. Several women followed Goodrich into the Lawn rooms in 1973. In 1995, slightly more than half of the residents chosen by their peers to live on the Lawn were women.