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Women's History Resources in the Special Collections Research Center

The SCRC invites you to explore manuscripts, university archives, rare books, and artifacts related to women and to engage with the achievements, struggles, and representations of women throughout history.

Women at William & Mary

1700s

Handwritten list of individuals enslaved by William & Mary, circa 1780. Titled "A List of Negroes at College." Includes the name "Lemon," for whom The Lemon Project is named.While a nexus of education reflecting and giving shape to early ideas of freedom, race, equality, and citizenship, William & Mary likewise played its own significant role in perpetuating slavery and racial discrimination. In 1718, William & Mary purchased Nottoway Quarter, a nearby plantation, and enslaved 17 individuals to raise tobacco for the school's profit. This early documentation of W&M's relationship with slavery preludes a long history of the university enslaving Black individuals—men, women, and their children—and exploiting their labor. While not all individuals enslaved by William & Mary have been identified, early surviving manuscripts, such as the List of persons enslaved by the College of William & Mary, circa 1780 (UA 339), give a glimpse at the lived experiences of enslaved women, like "Lucy," "Kate," "Nanny," and "Effy." A fully digitized copy of this list is accessible on the W&M Digital Archive.

Learn more about the history of African Americans at William & Mary from The Lemon Project's Historical Timeline.

1800s

Coeducation at William & Mary began in 1918, but prospective women students sought inclusion before this formal inauguration. Among these women is Minnie G. Braithwaite, a Williamsburg local who petitioned the all-male university in October 1896 to allow her to attend chemistry lectures. In a 4 to 3 vote, the Faculty Assembly denied her petition and, six days later, rejected her request for them to reconsider, as well as another resolution that would have allowed women in Williamsburg to attend a broad range of science lectures.

Despite never matriculating at William & Mary, Braithwaite's courage and determination are still remembered on campus. In 1996, the Women's Studies Program (now called the Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies Program) hosted its inaugural Braithwaite Lecture, an annual event that memorializes the ambitions of Minnie Braithwaite by inviting guest speakers to present their research on issues of inclusion, gender equity, and justice.

Materials related to Braithwaite and her legacy are available at the Special Collections Research Center:

Early 1900s

1918

Black-and-white photo of the first coeducation class of first-year students at William & Mary. Approximately 50 students, both male and female, sit and stand on a brick portico. The photo's embedded caption states the photo is from page 48 of Volume 21 of the Colonial Echo.In September 1918, twenty-four women entered William & Mary as first-year students. Although these women were not the first to take classes at William & Mary, they were the first afforded the opportunity to matriculate and live on campus. As a result of admitting women, the university expanded its course offerings, including introducing classes in home economics and secretarial skills, and established the Office of the Dean of Women.

Resources related to women at William & Mary in the early twentieth century:

  • Bulletin of the College of William and Mary, 1918-1919 (LD6051 .W5)
    The university's annual bulletin served as a student handbook and course catalog for undergraduate students. This issue, from the first year of coeducation at William & Mary, includes information about the Office of the Dean of Women and new course offerings, such as Sewing and Textiles and Advanced Cookery from the Department of Home Economics. Access the fully digitized version of this Bulletin on the W&M Digital Archive.
  • Office of the Dean of Women Records, 1928-1974 (UA 24)
    In addition to administrative memoranda and reports, this collection includes several newspaper clippings, letters, and programs about women students and women's activities, arranged by year.
  • Diary of Martha Barksdale, 1918-1919 (UA 6.004)
    From the Martha Barksdale Papers, this diary documents Barksdale's first year at William & Mary as a member of the first class to include women. As a student, Barksdale worked to establish an intercollegiate sports program for women, and she continued this work as a faculty member. After graduation, she was appointed to teach in the newly-established Department of Women's Physical Education. Read a fully digitized version of her diary on the W&M Digital Archive.
  • Office of the President. Lyon Gardiner Tyler Records (UA 2.07)
    Board of Visitors Reports, 1906-1919 (Series 2, Box 2, Folder 4). In his final annual report to the Board of Visitors on June 10, 1919, William & Mary President Lyon G. Tyler describes the “experiment” of admitting women as a success and expresses his hope that the rights that “justly belong” to women would soon follow.

Mid-to-Late 1900s

Admission of Women of Color

While 1918 marked the beginning of coeducation at William & Mary, initially only white women benefited from this change. Like many southern higher education institutions, William & Mary remained a segregated school until well into the 1960s. The SCRC is home to several university archives collections that document the obstacles women of color, particularly black women, faced in gaining admission into William & Mary and finding acceptance and community once on campus.

  • Colonial Echo, 1937 (LD6051 .W55)Color portrait of Miriam Carter, who smiles for the camera and wears a teal blouse and wire-rimmed glasses.
    Volume 39 (1937) of the Colonial Echo, William & Mary's annual yearbook, features a brief profile of Hatsuye Yamasaki (pages 86 to 87), who is believed to be the university's first female Asian American undergraduate residential student. View a fully digitized version of the 1937 Colonial Echo on the W&M Digital Archive.
  • Miriam Carter Family Documents and Photographs (MS 00274)
    Family papers, photographs, and newspaper clippings from the family of Miriam Carter. Miriam Carter was the first African American women to attend classes at William & Mary, although she was not allowed to live on campus. After being rejected from a W&M graduate program in Education on the grounds that Virginia State College, a Historically Black College in Petersburg, Virginia, offered a similar program, Carter applied and was accepted to W&M's Law School in 1955. She withdrew from the university at the end of the 1955-1956 academic year.
  • Janet Brown Strafer, Karen Ely & Lynn Briley (Class of 1971) Oral History
    The first female undergraduate African American students at William & Mary, also the first black residential students, were Karen Ely, Lynn Briley, and Janet Brown, who arrived as first-year students in fall 1967. In this oral history, which forms part of the Living the Legacy: 50th Anniversary of African Americans in Residence oral history collection, Strafer, Ely, and Briley candidly discuss their experiences at William & Mary.

Lemonade: A Picture of America mural, 2017.

Lemonade: A Picture of America was created by Steve Prince, Director of Engagement at the Muscarelle Museum of Art, and participants in the Summer 2017 course Workshop on Black Expressive Culture to commemorate the history of African Americans at William & Mary. The mural depicts Strafer, Ely, and Briley as first-year students at W&M and is on long term display in the lobby of Swem Library.

 

Everyday Life on Campus

Women's Organizations at W&M

Sororities

Several university archives collections are tagged with the subject heading Sororities--Social on our Manuscripts & Archives Collection Guides database. To find a collection pertaining to a specific William & Mary sorority chapter, perform a search on the Collection Guides database with the sorority's name as your search term. 

Other Organizations

More Resources