University of Kentucky Women: Leaders in Time

The six women pictured here represent UK alumna and employees who rose above trials, tribulation and discrimination to advocate for real change in gender inequality, all while living up to the standards American society set for women of their time.  These women's presence and prominence on campus indicate a period when women took great strides in opening up more opportunities for generations of women.

Arabella Clement Gunn

Arabella Clement Gunn. The first woman to graduate from the University of Kentucky with a Bachelor's degree.

Arabella Clement Gunn

First Woman Graduate

Arabella Clement Gunn was the University of Kentucky's first female to graduate with a Bachelor's degree in 1888.  According to a memoir, when UK President McVey asked Gunn if she would prefer to skip the graduation ceremony since she would be the only woman on the stage she replied, "Well, I have gone through four years of classes with them. I do not see why I should sit out now."

Sarah Bennett Holmes

Sarah Bennett Holmes, Dean of Women

Sarah Bennett Holmes

Dean of Women

A courageous and commendable leader with over four decades of her life devoted to the University of Kentucky, Sarah Bennet Holmes suffered both terrible tragedy and incredible triumph as the University’s Dean of Women.

In 1924, Sarah’s husband Percy died leaving Sarah with four young children. After years of hard work and returning to school, Holmes was made Dean of Women at UK. Discussing her job as both a single mother and Dean of Women, Holmes said that it was: “confining and hard, there is no question about that, but I feel fortunate I was able to land on my feet.”

As a mentor and leader at UK, Holmes was popular with her female charges.  Holmes held the complicated task of both encouraging female students to be strong leaders and intelligent citizens, while also enforcing the rules and curbing culturally “inappropriate” female behavior.  As an administrator, Holmes knew all too well the double standards mid-century Americans held for women.   In fact, she was the authoritative gate-keeper for many of these double standards: curfews for women students when there were none for men, pages of dress codes for women, more complicated housing applications, and less choices in majors, studies, and leadership roles. No small part of Holmes' sustained popularity was her ability to navigate this complicated role.

Doris Wilkinson

Dr. Doris Wilkinson, first African American female professor at the University of Kentucky

Dr. Doris Wilkinson

First African-American Female Professor

Dr. Doris Wilkinson was the frist African American female hired to full professor at the University of Kentucky in 1967.   Wilkinson received her doctorate in medical sociology from Case Western Reserve and her master's degree in public heath from Johns Hopkins. While with the University of Kentucky Wilkinson won several awards, including one for outstanding teaching from the Association of Women students.

Wilkinson was also among the first to integrate the University of Kentucky's undergraduate programs after the Brown vs. Board decision in 1954.  Commenting on her experience, Wilkinson said that she did feel culture shock being in a "sea of blue eyed people," but for the most part she worried about normal American girl things.

Donna Greenwell

Donna Greenwell, first female Student Government President of the University of Kentucky

Donna Greenwell

First Female SGA President

In 1986, Donna Greenwell became the first female president of the Student Government Association at the University of Kentucky.  Karen Sheens, voted Vice President under Greenwell, said, "I think this is a very important step not only for women but for the SGA" the night it was announced that Greenwell won.

Prior to Greenwell's victory, SGA president had been a role felt appropriate only for men.  Greenwell showed that women were just as capable of leading the student body as men were.

Bernadette Locke Maddox

Bernadette Locke Maddox, first female coach of a Division I men's basketball team

Bernadette Locke-Mattox

First Female Coach of a Men's Team

Bernadette Locke-Mattox earned national recognition when she became one of the first female assistant coaches on a Division I men's basketball staff when UK Coach Rick Pitino added her to the program in 1990.  Locke-Mattox silenced the skeptics over the next four seasons as she became a valuable contributing member of the staff despite being a woman coaching a men's team.  Locke-Mattox is also a recognized professional women's basketball coach and was a recognized player during her college career at the University of Georgia.

University of Kentucky Women: Leaders in Time