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100 years of Women at UGA

Alan Flurry

The University of Georgia is celebrating a century of coeducation this year and especially this fall, led by commemorations in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences. In 1918, 12 women enrolled at UGA, all in the home economics program, which later became the College of FACS. The entire story of what came before is extraordinary and compelling, meaningful to everyone at UGA today - students, faculty and staff.

This week on the chronicles, we are sharing perspectives on the anniversary from women in the Franklin College, beginning today with University Professor in the Arts with joint appointments in English and theatre and film studies Fran Teague:

A century ago, the University of Georgia officially began to admit women. Because I research women’s education, this centennial excites me. People sometimes ask me if women even wanted education or if their families thought education would hurt them. The history of women’s education provides many examples both of families who educated their daughters and of daughters who sought education. When my student Kristen Gragg wanted to do a CURO presentation, so I suggested she investigate the Lucy Cobb Institute, where Athenian girls studied because they were excluded from UGA. 

Kristen’s research began in the 1850s, when one mother wrote to the Southern Banner, declaring, “It is now established beyond doubt, that the female mind is susceptible of the highest state of cultivation . . . What man would object that his helpmate should be able to appreciate and understand—aye, even be able to assist him . . . ?” Laura Rutherford’s efforts were supported by T.R.R. Cobb and other Athenians, and the Lucy Cobb Institute (LCI) opened in 1859. Wanting their daughters to learn, the families of Athens put up the funds to see that the girls, forbidden to attend the university, had a place of their own. The first class had about 100 girls, glad to learn. 

Their teachers were also women glad to learn: Mildred Rutherford who headed the school from forty years wrote 29 books and pamphlets, including the textbooks her students needed. Dr. Mildred Mell began at LCI, ultimately receiving her Ph.D. in sociology and economics from the University of North Carolina. She taught mathematics at LCI, before heading the economics and sociology program at Agnes Scott. Another Cobb graduate, Caroline Goodwin O'Day, served in Congress. The school closed in 1931, twelve years after women had been admitted to the University of Georgia.

Those women could have been part of our university’s legacy. Today, a century after women were admitted, UGA’s women have provided the university a new and richer legacy. Today’s students like Kristen Gragg, recently named a McNair Research Scholar, will continue make us stronger.

Stronger indeed. Thanks to Kragg and Dr. Teague. Tomorrow we will hear from doctoral candidate in genetics, Michelle Ziadie.

Image: Historical photo of the Lucy Cobb Institute on Milledge Avenue. Today the building houses the Carl Vinson Institute of Government.

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