Batten Students Play Role in Retold, Celebrating Women at UVA

As part of Retold, a University-wide effort to celebrate the women of UVA, the UVA Alumni Association is hosting the Retold Virtual Experience on Saturday, October 10. Batten students Alyssa Candelmo (MPP '22) and Karishma Srikanth (MPP '21) will present during Session I of the digital conference, sharing highlights from the new History of Women at UVA Tour app. Additionally, Batten students Martha Gallagher (BA '21) and Jocelyn Willougby are profiled on the Alumni Association's Retold Alumnae Community website

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Alumnae, including some who graduated before 1970, describe their experiences and takeaways from their time on Grounds on the Retold website. (Photos courtesy Alumni Association)

When Abby Palko came to Charlottesville four years ago to become director of the Maxine Platzer Lynn Women’s Center at the University of Virginia, she heard over and over again that there were no women at the University before 1970.

Then she learned that was inaccurate despite the traditional story.

“Women have been here from the beginning, and studying since the 1880s – only 55 years after the University first started educating men,” Palko wrote for an upcoming presentation. “These early students were denied degrees, and doors were slammed in the faces of many women. The strong investment in understanding the University as a ‘gentleman’s institution’ has minimized women’s presence and contributions. But the environment around us reveals the full story, if we open our eyes and ears to what it is telling us.”

2020 marks the 50th anniversary of women being admitted as undergraduates at UVA on an equal basis as men, and also 100 years since the Board of Visitors passed a resolution allowing some women to be accepted into select graduate and professional programs.

Today, women make up the majority of the undergraduate student population. Even before 1970, though, about 30,000 women earned diplomas, certificates and degrees at UVA – and not all for nursing and teaching. The history of the University is incomplete without bringing to light the contributions and experiences of women who came to the Grounds to get an education over the last 100 years.

The UVA Alumni Association, in partnership with the Women’s Center and other UVA groups, is doing just that through “Retold,” a series of events and programs to mark the 50th and 100th anniversaries, including a free, virtual conference on Saturday.

“We wanted to create an initiative that would honor these significant anniversaries while celebrating the transformational impact of our 115,000 living alumnae in an enriching, inclusive way,” said Director of Alumni Programs Jess Hamilton, who developed Retold with Liz Crowder, associate director of alumni events and a 2015 UVA alumna. “‘Retold’ was born out of a desire to expand our collective understanding of women’s history at UVA by telling a nuanced, authentic story of women’s experiences, commemorate 50 years of full coeducation and celebrate the experiences of women whose time at the University preceded and followed that milestone.”

Hamilton and Crowder convened an alumnae steering committee and collaborated with the Women’s Center to create the event, also receiving support from the University community, from individuals to libraries, offices, centers and schools. A grant from the Jefferson Trust funded the virtual event platform that will be used to host Saturday’s Retold Virtual Experience.

This conference, like many of this year’s events, was going to be a three-day, in-person gathering, but has been reworked to be presented online as a virtual program. It requires registration that will give viewers access, for free, to a series of back-to-back sessions featuring alumnae-led conversations, intergenerational storytelling, student performances and more. The afternoon’s events, from noon to 5:30 p.m., will be broadcast live and will remain available online to registrants through Oct. 16.

“Thematically, the Retold Virtual Experience will focus on the power of storytelling to foster connection, transform conversation and expand narratives,” Hamilton wrote in an email.

The Retold website also includes a timeline; information about other programs, recent and upcoming; and inspiring stories and interviews with alumnae compiled in the “Share Your Story” project. That effort highlights UVA women talking about authenticity and activism, on the importance of connections and on their successes in many fields, in athletics and in leadership.

Other activities include a virtual walking tour and a Women’s Center project, (re)present,” to reimagine Porte Crayon’s 1850s drawing of “The Student,” which was supposed to depict the typical (male) University of Virginia undergrad. The center is soliciting submissions in all kinds of media that show new images of today’s UVA students.

Palko said she has heard poignant stories of proud achievements and painful exclusions from many alumni who have shared their experiences in recent years. “There have been a lot of moments that have reinforced the Women’s Center staff’s sense that a project like this needed to be done,” she said.

“We’ve heard from proud sons and granddaughters of early graduates. Through one, we learned of the first woman to be granted a B.S. from the College in 1923, in mathematics, Lois Ketcham Carwile. Also the first woman to earn a master’s in ’24 and a Ph.D. in ’27 for physics, she was perhaps also the first triple ’Hoo. Annual reports from the Department of Physics note Carwile’s strong research and progress, clearly positioning her as her male colleagues’ full peer in her academic accomplishments.

“Another [alumnus] has shared his mother’s experiences, when she earned her B.S. in chemistry in 1950. Margaret James Morton was accepted into the master’s program in chemistry, but married shortly after graduation and raised a family instead of continuing her education. He captures an ethos of women’s struggle to gain access to a UVA education in an apocryphal quote, ‘I am a revolutionary, so that my son can be a farmer, so his son can be a poet.’ In that spirit, I imagine my mother as a revolutionary, so her daughters could go to UVA, so their daughters could be leaders at UVA.”

During Saturday’s conference, Palko and a group of students will give a presentation of 20 highlights marking women’s impact and experiences on Grounds, from Addis Meade passing exams for a master’s in mathematics in 1894, but not receiving a degree, to Adelaide Simpson being hired as the first dean of women in 1921, to Carole Kirkland becoming the first woman Student Council president in 1984.

The Retold Virtual Experience will be an opportunity to “honor trailblazers, past and present, and amplify the voices and achievements of UVA women,” Hamilton said.