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UVM Women You Should Know

Ellen Hamilton and Lida Mason
Ellen Hamilton (left) and Lida Mason were the first women in the U.S. to be admitted into Phi Beta Kappa honor society. Center are the PBK "keys" they were presented with, and their signatures in the PBK registry. They became the first women to graduate from UVM in 1875. (Key photo: UVM Special Collections and University Archives)

In honor of Women’s History Month, we celebrate some of the remarkable women who have made an impact on our campus, and on the world.

First Women Graduate in 1875

Ellen Hamilton and Lida Mason paved the way as the first women admitted to UVM, and the first women in the U.S. admitted into Phi Beta Kappa honor society. Both were also members of the Lambda chapter of Kappa Alpha Theta, the first women’s fraternity at UVM. The pair graduated in 1875. In his book "University of Vermont," author John D. Thomas notes: "It is difficult to fully appreciate the challenges that women students faced...[they] had to fight prevailing belief that women were not physically capable of the same academic work as men." Hamilton Hall was named after Ellen, and both are remembered with an award in their names, presented annually to a Women’s and Gender Studies student for academic excellence.

Crystal Malone '47

In 1946, all-white sorority Alpha Xi Delta pledged Crystal Malone, a black student from Washington, D.C. The sorority’s national president traveled to Burlington to try to dissuade Malone from joining. But she persisted, and the UVM chapter chose to stand with her and burn their charter, saying: “If we can’t be Alpha Xi Delta with Crystal, there will be no Alpha Xi Delta.” The controversy made national news, and was even featured in “LIFE” magazine. After graduation, Malone become a high school teacher.

Read more about Alpha Xi Delta and the history of protest at UVM

The 1991-'92 and '92-'93 Women’s Basketball Teams

The 1991-’92 and ’92-’93 Catamounts women’s basketball teams filled Patrick Gymnasium for games and thrilled the state with back-to-back undefeated regular seasons, earning the program’s first trips to the NCAA Tournament. Years later, remembering the feeling of returning from the NCAA Tournament to a crowd of hundreds at Burlington International Airport, then coach Cathy Inglese said, “I thought, win or lose, look at what we have accomplished. All these people are getting such joy and pleasure out of watching our team. We changed the attitude of what women athletes could do.”

Read a retrospective written on the twentieth anniversary of women’s basketball’s first dream season. 

First Lady Grace Coolidge 1902

Grace Coolidge was a FLOTUS of special note. Granted, “FLOTUS” likely wasn’t in the American lexicon when her husband, Calvin Coolidge, was President of the United States from 1923 to 1929. A native of Burlington, Grace Coolidge graduated from UVM in 1902, later working as a teacher at the Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech in Northampton, Mass. As First Lady, Coolidge was a strong supporter of organizations such as the Red Cross and Visiting Nurse Association. Field trip suggestion: take a walk down Maple Street and keep an eye out for the historical marker designating the house where Grace and Silent Cal were married in the front parlor.

Madeline Kunin G'67

Madeline Kunin 2017

Kunin has dedicated her life to service. During her tenure as Governor of Vermont, she focused on the environment, education and children's issues. (Photo: Sally McCay)

The Honorable Madeline Kunin, who received her master’s degree in English Literature from UVM, became Vermont’s lieutenant governor in 1979. Soon after, she became the first Jewish woman to be elected governor of any U.S. state when she became Vermont’s 77th governor in 1985. She also served as deputy secretary of education, and ambassador to her native Switzerland, under President Bill Clinton. In a documentary about her life, Kunin says, “One of the themes in my life ... is that I’m very fortunate. I could do things in this country that my ancestors couldn’t, and I think the memory of the Holocaust instilled in me a belief that you’ve got to speak out when you see injustice.” You might spot her in the halls of UVM; she is currently a James Marsh Professor-at-Large in political science.

See a recent panel discussion moderated by Kunin, “Our Future in the Trump Administration.”  

Jody Williams '72

Jody Williams, Class of 1972, received the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for her leadership with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. Williams earned her UVM degree in psychology. Speaking at UVM’s 1998 Commencement, Williams claimed she changed majors five times during her undergraduate years. She found her calling as an advocate for peace when she joined on as a volunteer with groups working to change U.S. policy toward Central America under the Reagan and Bush administrations.

Read a 2015 Vermont Quarterly interview with Williams.

Barbara Block '80

Marine biologist Barbara Block thinks big. She’s currently a professor at Stanford University, and is known for her research on the movements of large, open-ocean fish like tuna and sharks, which has helped us better understand, and responsibly manage, them. Block studied zoology at UVM, and is the first UVM alumna to receive a MacArthur genius grant (1996), among many other awards.

“It's the 21st century, but we really have only just begun to really study our oceans in a deep way,” said Block in her 2010 TEDTalk.

Annie Proulx '69

Annie Proulx, celebrated author of “The Shipping News” and “Brokeback Mountain,” graduated from UVM in 1969. A non-traditional student, with more than a decade of life experience on her fellow undergrads, Proulx earned her bachelor’s in history and conducted art history research at the Fleming Museum. In a 1994 profile in Vermont Quarterly, Proulx said, “The habits of scholarship I formed related to Al Andrea (professor emeritus of history) and my studies at UVM, and later in graduate school, have everything to do with the kind of books I write. Everything. All my books are informed by history and are strengthened and built on historical research.”

Read an interview with Proulx from spring 2015, when she returned to her alma mater to receive an honorary degree.

Gail Sheehy '58

Gail Sheehy was among the pioneers of “new journalism” in the 1960s and ’70s, writing profiles and biographies of figures such as Margaret Thatcher, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Hillary Clinton. Her 1976 book, “Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life,” was named one of the ten most influential books of our time by the Library of Congress. Sheehy, who delivered last spring’s commencement address and received an honorary degree from UVM, returns to campus again in April for a residency. She’ll work with faculty and students, and also further her research on Millenials for her next book.

Read a Vermont Quarterly interview with Gail Sheehy.

Barbara Ann Cochran '78

Barbara Cochran

Barbara Ann Cochran ’78 became an American sports hero when she skied to Olympic gold in the slalom at the 1972 Winter Olympics in Sapporo, Japan. Cochran is part of a legendary Vermont ski family, chock full of UVM grads and Olympians across several generations. Barbara Ann reflected on the family tradition in a 2006 Vermont Quarterly article: “I don’t think my dad had any idea that we’d all turn out to be Olympic skiers. He just wanted us to learn the lesson that to do well in something you had to train at it.”

Bertha Terrill

Morrisville, Vt.-born Bertha Terrill was hired as UVM’s first female faculty member in 1909, where she started the school’s home economics program. She remained at UVM for 31 years, and was the school’s first Dean of Women. Her impact extended beyond UVM; she helped establish the city’s first community center, which aided immigrants and hosted Burlington’s first preschool. The Terrill Home Economics Building was dedicated to her when it was built in 1950 and survives today, connected to the Davis Center.

Dorothy Lang, M.D.'24

Dorothy Lang and classmates

Standing out from the crowd. Part of the graduating class of the College of Medicine on commencement day, June 1924, included Dorothy Lang, M.D., second from right. "She absolutely loved medicine," says her son John Bulger. "It was her life." (Photo: Larner College of Medicine)

Dorothy Lang, a Vermont native, initially pursued a career as an actress in the silent film business after graduating from Morrisville’s Peoples Academy High School in 1916. But World War I and a burgeoning sense of duty drew her back to Vermont and enrollment as the first woman in the UVM College of Medicine. After graduating second in her class in 1924, Lang built her career as a physician in Metro New York City before her life was cut short by cancer at age 55.  

Read about the first women to graduate from UVM’s College of Medicine in this article from Vermont Medicine

Jackie Gribbons

Faculty member and administrative leader Jackie Gribbons paved the way for countless women as one of the original architects of UVM’s nationally ranked Higher Education and Student Affairs program and as a pioneering implementer of Title IX standards. Regarding implementing Title IX at UVM, Gribbons once said, “The discrepancies were appalling, and they were right in front of us… Title IX was about a lot more than just athletics. It was meant to address the equity and equality of services, benefits, programs and activities in higher education.”

Read an article, published after Jackie Gribbon’s death in January 2014, remembering her influence at UVM and in higher education nationally.

Writing for this piece contributed by Thomas Weaver and Andrea Estey.