University of Kentucky Women: Early Coeds

Patterson Hall

Patterson Hall, constructed 1904 on the University of Kentucky’s campus.

What Does Education for Women Mean?

The Challenges of Early UK Women

In 1880 the first female coeds began attending the University of Kentucky, known then as State College.

Although women began attending UK in 1880, they received certificates from the Normal Department of the school's education program.

 

Arabella Clement Gunn

Belle Clement Gunn, 1888

 

In 1888, Belle Clement Gunn became the first woman to graduate from UK with a Bachelor's degree.

Almost as if to defend the abnormality of this accomplishment, a cousin of Belle's, John Gunn, wrote in his memoir that Belle was remembered as "well above average in scholarship, but not so brilliant as to inspire envy and jealousy." 

Before the 1888 commencement University of Kentucky President Patterson called Gunn into his office. He asked the only woman graduate, "I suppose you will not want to sit up on the platform with the young men on Commencement Day, will you Miss Gunn?" To which Gunn replied, "I've been through four years in classes with them and I don't see why I shouldn't sit on the platform with them now." 

Cheerleaders on a ladder

UK Cheerleaders

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.

Margaret Ingels at the UK Forge

Margaret Ingels at the UK Forge, circa 1915

Margaret Ingels

Margaret Ingels was born October 25, 1892, and in 1916 received her Bachelor's degree in engineering from UK. This accomplishment 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.

In 1916, while Ingels was still a student at UK, the student newspaper the Kentucky Kernel asked her what they felt was the "all-important" question: "will you ever marry?"  Maggie replied: "No! It will be four years before another leap year, and by then I hope to be independent." 

Katharine Cleveland

Katharine Cleveland, 1922

Katharine Cleveland

In 1922, Miss Katharine Cleveland, an engineering major, 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 was guarenteed entry into the national engineering scholastic fraternity Tau Beta Pi.  But because she was a woman, Miss Cleveland was denied membership.

In her yearbook her collegues wrote of Cleveland: "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."