Skip Menu

Women in Leadership and Philanthropy

Return to Skip Menu

Main Content

History of Women at Virginia Tech


A photo of Virginia Tech's First Five Women Graduates Virginia Tech's First Five Women Graduates

Highlights of Women's History at Virginia Tech

For a more complete history of women at Virginia Tech, please visit History of Women at Virginia Tech.


  • Before becoming president of Virginia Tech, Julian A. Burruss, who convinced the board of visitors to accept women as full-time students in 1921, was the first president of Harrisonburg State Normal School (now James Madison University), then a state teachers' college for women.
  • When the first five women were admitted to Virginia Tech in 1921, administrators thought they would enroll in programs like horticulture, landscape gardening, and other branches of agriculture; instead, three majored in applied biology, one in applied chemistry, and one in civil engineering.
  • When early female students walked by the barracks that housed the corps of cadets, the male students would throw water on them.
  • The early women students at Virginia Tech formed their own basketball team, and the cadets who attended their games rooted for their opponents.
  • One of the first five women to attend Virginia Tech, Ruth Louise Terrett, dressed in a cadet uniform and climbed the school's water tower, usurping a traditional test of cadet manhood.
  • The school yearbook, The Bugle, refused to include women students in its pages, so the women started their own yearbook, which they christened The Tin Horn.
  • The first woman to graduate from Virginia Tech was Mary Brumfield, who received her degree in 1925, 53 years after the land-grant institution was founded.


  • The 1932 senior class elected as its valedictorian a male who actually had a lower QCA (2.62) than the top student, a female with a QCA of 2.84. The decision was supported by the head of the Department of English and Foreign Languages, who wrote the president, "It is easy to see why the class made the selection it did, Miss Aldrich being a girl."


  • The first residence hall constructed on campus specifically to house women is Hillcrest Hall. It was built in 1940.


  • The first woman to serve as managing editor of the yearbook, The Bugle, worked on the 1951 edition; 10 years passed before another woman headed the yearbook staff.
  • In 1959, Patricia Ann Miller applied for a commission from the Army Women's Medical Specialist Corps as a dietician and thereby became the first woman to receive a ROTC commission at Virginia Tech.


  • Radford University was once known as Radford College, Women's Division of Virginia Polytechnic Institute (1944-1964). When the merger between Virginia Polytechnic Institute and Radford College ended in 1964, the split precipitated a huge increase in the enrollment of women at Virginia Tech.
  • Although the first black man was accepted as a student at Virginia Tech in 1953, the first black women were not admitted until 1966.
  • In 1967, Sue Ann "Susie" Shertzer became the first woman student to be elected president of the YMCA and the only woman in the country to head a chapter of the organization.
  • The first woman dean of a college was Laura Jane Harper.
  • Women students were not allowed to wear slacks on campus until 1968.


  • Fifty years after the first five women enrolled at Virginia Tech, 3,491 women were studying on campus.
  • The first 10 years of T. Marshall Hahn's presidency saw more than a tenfold increase in the number of women students on campus, from about 300 in 1962 to about 4,000 in 1972.
  • When 25 women joined the corps of cadets in 1973, the first year the corps was open to them, Virginia Tech became the first school in the country to have full-fledged female members of its corps of cadets.
  • The first women in the corps of cadets formed the all-female L Squadron. Virginia Tech maintained different curfews for male and female students until 1974.
  • The Class of 1974 was the first class to elect a woman -- Jean Harshbarge -- as its president. Students from Radford College played in the Regimental Band on a temporary basis during World War II, but women were not allowed into the band on a permanent basis until 1975.
  • In 1979, sophomore mechanical engineering student Margaret Dawn Serrell became the university's first licensed female nuclear reactor operator and one of about a dozen such women in the country.


  • Women had been members of the corps of cadets for 15 years before one of their own -- Denise Shuster -- attained the top rank: regimental commander.
  • Virginia Tech named its first female vice president in 1982: Sandra Sullivan, vice president for student affairs. In fact, she was the first woman to hold a university-wide executive position on campus.
  • The first woman athlete to have her jersey retired was basketball star Renee Dennis, in 1987.


  • Agnew Hall, the first building on campus to bear the name of a woman, memorializes Ella G. Agnew, the first female home demonstration agent not only in Virginia but also in the nation.
  • The first dean of students was a woman: Beverly H. Sgro, who was appointed to the position in 1990.
  • In 1993, track star Lucy Hawk Banks became the first woman inducted into the Virginia Tech Sports Hall of Fame.
  • Virginia Tech has had only one female provost: Peggy Meszaros, who was named to the position in 1995.


  • Elizabeth A. "Betsy" Flanagan is the first woman to hold the position of vice president for development and university relations, and is only the third female vice president in university history.

Contact Us

Click here to contact us with any questions or comments about WLP at Virginia Tech.