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. Their leadership helped pave the way for more opportunities for upcoming generations of UK women.
Arabella Clement Gunn
First Woman Graduate
Belle Clement Gunn was the first woman to graduate from UK with a Bachelor’s degree in 1888. Although women had been admitted to UK since 1880, earlier women graduates had received Normal School certificates.
In his memoir, her cousin John Gunn wrote that Belle Gunn was “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."
Sarah Bennett Holmes
Dean of Women
Sarah Bennett Holmes was a leader of women nationally and at the University of Kentucky for almost four decades. Overcoming incredible hardship, widowed with four young children, working through the Great Depression, and one of the few women to rise through the administrative ranks at UK in the early twentieth century, Holmes served as a role model for generations of UK women.
Dr. Doris Wilkinson
First African-American Female Professor
In 1967, sociologist Doris Wilkinson became the first African American woman hired as full-time faculty at the University of Kentucky. During her time teaching at UK Dr. Wilkinson won several teaching awards from the student body.
Wilkinson was also among the first class of four-year undergraduate students to integrate the University in 1954 after the US Supreme Court's decision - also in 1954 - in Brown vs. the Board of Education that state laws establishing separate schools for white and Black students were unconstitutional.
First Female SGA President
In 1986, Donna Greenwell became the first female president of the University of Kentucky Student Government Association. Karen Skeens, elected executive Vice President under Greenwell said, "I think it is a very important step not only for women, but for the SGA."
First Female Coach of a Men's Team
Bernadette Locke-Mattox earned national recognition as one of the first female assistant coaches on a Division I men's basketball staff when Coach Rick Pitino hired her in 1990. Locke-Mattox silenced the skeptics over the next four seasons as she proved to be a valuable contributing member of the staff. Locke-Mattox was also the first African American head coach of the UK women's basketball team (1995-2003) and was a standout player during her college career at the University of Georgia.