Vanderbilt University Examines Its History Regarding Women

The Jean and Alexander Heard Libraries at Vanderbilt University has opened a new exhibit, “From Listeners to Leaders: A History of Women at Vanderbilt,” in the second-floor gallery of Central Library. It was created by four undergraduate students in the Buchanan Library Fellows Program who worked closely with professional librarians, a Vanderbilt faculty member, and the staff of the Margaret Cuninggim Women’s Center staff to study items related to women’s history in the library’s Special Collections and University Archives.

The name of the program, “From Listeners to Leaders,” is in reference to the experiences of Kate Lupton, the first woman to graduate from Vanderbilt University. Founded for the education of young men, Vanderbilt from its earliest days allowed a handful of women to attend classes as “listeners.” Completing a master’s degree program in 1879, Lupton was not allowed to participate in the commencement ceremonies due to her gender and received her diploma in private. She went on to teach chemistry at what is now Virginia State University.

One feature of the exhibit is the oral histories that were collected by students in a women’s and gender studies class taught by Rory Diker, director of the Margaret Cuninggim Women’s Center in the fall of 2017. The histories included firsthand accounts of women’s experiences at Vanderbilt from the 1960s to the 1980s. Dr. Dicker says that women were not provided the same basic opportunities at the university that men were, but “made Vanderbilt their own in spite of these challenges.”

Dr. Diker holds a bachelor’s degree from Johns Hopkins University where she majored in English and minored in French. She earned her Ph.D. in English at Vanderbilt University. She is the author of A History of U.S. Feminisms (Seal Press, 2016).

Filed Under: Women's Studies


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