University of Kentucky Women: Early Coeds

Patterson Hall

What Does Education for Women Mean?

The Challenges of Early UK Women

Although women were allowed to attend UK in the 19th century, it was not until the opening of Patterson Hall in 1904 that women’s presence on the campus was felt by the student body.

After 1904 women rapidly began applying to UK and eventually a Dean of Woman was needed to oversee the special needs of the school’s female population.

By 1915, UK was home to 181 coeds who made up 19% of the campus.  Of the 181, only three majored in fields outside of Education and Domestic Science.

Despite the segregation of women into “gender appropriate” fields, several female students during the early 20th century rose to educational and economic prominence during their years as students at the University of Kentucky.

But for the vast majority of early alumna, UK did not offer many paths to success outside of the home.

Margaret Ingels at the UK Forge

Margaret Ingels

In 1916 Miss Margaret Ingels received her Bachelor’s degree in engineering from UK. This made her the first woman in the nation to receive a full-term degree in mechanical engineering.  Ingels would go on to revolutionize the Air Conditioning business with her ingenious mechanical innovations.

Katharine Cleveland

Katherine Cleveland

In 1922, Miss Katharine Cleveland became the first female student in the history of UK to score the top grade in her engineering classes.  Normally, the student who earned the highest grades immediately entered into the engineering scholastic fraternity Tau Beta Pi.  But because she was a woman, Miss Cleveland was denied membership at the time. Years later, Cleveland was retroactively accepted into the fraternity.

In her yearbook Cleveland's fellow students wrote of her: "When a girl takes a man's course and does it better than the men, there isn't much left to write about her. She is a girl that the University of Kentucky  will always be proud of, and we hope there will be more in future years like her."