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Women and the University of Tennessee (Special Collections): History of Women at UTK

This research guide identifies special collections materials related to the history of women attending the University of Tennessee.


black and white group portrait of the Earliest Women Admitted to the University of Tennessee. 10 in total.

Earliest Women Admitted to the University of Tennessee


1804 Jennie Armstrong, Barbara Blount, Mattie Kain, Kitty Kain, and Polly McClung were among the regularly admitted students of the institution making it one of the first coeducational colleges in America. Barbara Blount was the daughter of the territorial Governor William Blount who had lived for some time after he came to Knoxville upon a knoll between the University and the river and named it “Barbara Hill” in honor of his daughter. The name was then given to the entire college hill, now just known as “The Hill.”

1827-1911 Knoxville Female Academy (also known as the East Tennessee Female Institute) offered high school and college-level courses to the women of Knoxville and surrounding counties in the years before the University of Tennessee became coeducational. It was located on the corner of Main and Henley and granted degrees as "Mistress of Polite Literature."

1885 Mrs. Lizzie Crozier French founded the Ossoli Circle which was the first women's club in Tennessee. The club was intended to advance women's intellectual and moral development.

1892-1893 Women were admitted on the collegiate level, experimentally in 1892 and on a regular basis in 1893.

1895 The educational committee of the General Assembly of Tennessee recommended in 1895 that the university limit the enrollment of women students since the primary purpose of the institution according to this group was to teach agricultural and mechanic arts presumably not appropriate for women; however, the faculty considered domestic science courses for women to be practical training that would appeal to coeds.

1895 The first baccalaureate degree awarded to women (Elma Ellis and Eliza Ogden). 

1899 UT President Dabney created the position of Dean of Women in 1899. Dean Florence Skeffington was hired to care for the female students’ welfare.

1900 Chi Omega was chartered as the first sorority on campus.

1903 Dean Skeffington reported the number of women students doubled from the previous four years. This year saw the opening of a new women's dormitory and enthusiastic support from women across the state.

1903 First women’s intercollegiate game (basketball) played. 

1909 First woman to graduate with a law degree: Maude Riseden Hughett. She was also the first female law graduate in the South. 

1921 First woman graduate of the College of Agriculture: Isabel Robinson.

1923 First woman graduate of the College of Engineering: Johanna Noonan.

1923 First female editor of the Orange and White, UTK’s student newspaper: Katherine Goddard.

1925 Jessie W. Harris becomes the director, and eventually dean, of what will become the College of Home Economics.

1938 First female cheerleaders were selected.

1954 Lilly Jenkins becomes the first African American woman to receive her Master’s degree from the university.

1964 Brenda Joyce Michael becomes the first African American woman to receive her undergraduate degree from the University.

1970 Ann Baker Furrow becomes the first woman appointed to the UT Board of Trustees. She is later elected as the first female vice chair in 1981 and served on the Academic Affairs committee. The 1967 UT alumna was the first woman to join a men’s varsity sports team, playing golf from 1964 to 1965. She also was the first woman to give a commencement speech at UT in 1971.

1971 First female journalism professor: June Adamson (retired 1992).

1971 Sylvia Hart becomes the first dean for the College of Nursing.

1972 First woman president of UT’s general alumni association: Madge Harrison.

1973 First female psychology professor with a doctorate: Cheryl Travis.

1973 First female Smokey mascot: Nancy Lynne Nelson, who wore a hand-sewn orange and white dog costume. Her father was UT broadcaster Lindsey Nelson.

1979 First female Rhodes Scholar selected: Nancy-Ann Min De Parle. She was also the first female president of UT’s Student Government Association.

1980 Holly Warlick was the first player in Tennessee athletics, men or women, to have her jersey retired (No. 22) at the end of her student athletic career. She later served as an assistant coach for the Lady Volunteers basketball team (1985-2005), associate head coach (2005-2012), and head coach (2012-2019). 

1987 First female and African American dean, College of Law: Marilyn Virginia Yarbrough.

1989 First Lady Vols National Championship (Track & Field).

1989 Sammie Lynn Puett becomes the first woman to hold a vice presidency in UT’s administration when she is promoted to Vice President for Public Service and Continuing Education.

1991 First female dean, College of Arts and Sciences: Lorayne Lester.

1994 First female dean, College of Architecture + Design: Marleen Kay Davis.

1995 Jennifer Santoro becomes another female Rhodes Scholar. 

1996 First female battalion commander of UTK’s ROTC unit: Cadet Lt. Col. Gwyn Ayer. ROTC first accepted women in 1973.

2005 The Pride of the Southland marching band welcomes Kelly Bradshaw as its first female drum major.

2007 First female dean, Herbert College of Agriculture: Caula A. Beyl.

2011 Madeline Rogero, a UT alumna with a master’s degree from the Graduate School of Planning, becomes the first woman mayor of Knoxville.

2013 Jessica Henderson becomes the second female drum major selected to lead the Pride of the Southland Band.

2014 Lindsay Lee selected as Rhodes Scholar.

2017 Drum major Rebecca Percy, the third woman to hold the position, and second-year assistant drum major Laiton Pigg are the first females to lead the Pride of the Southland simultaneously in the band’s history.

2017 Beverly Davenport becomes the eighth chancellor of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville on February 15, 2017. She is the first woman to lead the Knoxville campus and the second woman chancellor in UT system history.

2018 Lynne E. Parker becomes interim dean for the Tickle College of Engineering. Later that year she leaves the position to become the assistant director for artificial intelligence for the Office of Science and Technology Policy in Washington, DC.

2019 Janis Terpenny becomes the next Wayne T. Davis Endowed Dean's Chair and Dean of the Tickle College of Engineering on August 1, 2019. 

2019 Donde Plowman becomes the ninth chancellor of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, on July 1, 2019. 

2020 Hera Jay Brown selected as Rhodes Scholar. 

2020 Karmen Jones elected as the Student Government Association's student body president, UT's first African American woman to serve in the position.

2021 The University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture appoints Ashley M. Stokes as dean of UT Extension, the first woman to serve in the role.

2021 Joan Bienvenue selected as the first executive director of the Oak Ridge Institute at the University of Tennessee. 

Special Collections and University Archives

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Special Collections
121 Hodges Library
1015 Volunteer Blvd.
Knoxville, TN 37996

Go to Special Collections for more information.