University of Kentucky Women: Leaders in Time

Holmes Surrounded by Students

Sarah Bennett Holmes surrounded by students, 1958

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 Gun, the first woman to graduate from the University of Kentucky with a Bachelor's degree.

Arabella Clement Gunn

First Woman Graduate

Belle Clement Gunn was the first woman to graduate from UK with a Bachelors 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

Sarah Bennett Holmes, long-time University of Kentucky Dean of Women

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.

Doris Wilkinson

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

Dr. Doris Wilkinson

First African-American Female Professor

Sociologist Doris Wilkinson was the first African American woman hired as full-time faculty at the University of Kentucky in 1967. During her time teaching at UK Dr. Wilkinson would win several teaching awards from the student body.

Wilkinson was also among the first students to integrate the University after Brown vs. the Board of Education in 1954.

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 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." 

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 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. 

University of Kentucky Women: Leaders in Time