Historic Longwood Women

National Women's History Month 2020

Founded in Virginia as the first public institution of higher learning for women in 1884, Longwood has an especially long list of interesting and trailblazing women. For Women's History Month the Greenwood Library Archives and Special Collections would like to share just a few of their stories. 

Virginia Bedford 1928-1972

Virginia Bedford came to Longwood in 1928 as Longwood’s second art professor. She quickly helped grow the department from 2 faculty to 8 while serving as the department chair from 1942-1970. She helped advance art programs and expanded options for majors and minors in Art, all while being an accomplished artist herself. In 1970, Longwood completed construction on a new Art Building which the Board of Visitors named in Bedford’s honor. She was the only current faculty member to have a building named in their honor. A few years later after her retirement, the Art department featured an exhibit in the Bedford Building of Virginia’s Ceramics and Enamel pieces.

Mary White Cox, Class of 1898

Mary White Cox was the daughter of Benjamin Matthew Cox who served as the College’s Business Manager from the late 1800s through 1924. She enrolled in the State Female Normal School and graduated in 1898. After graduation, she taught for a short while in small local schools, but eventually returned to the College as an assistant in the Home Department. In 1915, she was appointed the Head of Home and remained in that position until 1944. Her cousin Mary Venable Cox also graduated from the SFNS in 1900 and later married John Chester Mattoon who taught math at the college.

Gene Grabeel

Gene Grabeel, Class of 1941

Gene Grabeel graduated in 1941 and went on to teach home economics in Madison Heights, Virginia. Shortly after starting, she became disillusioned with the idea of staying in rural Virginia, and decided to apply for war work in Washington DC. The army recruiter offered Grabeel a job, but he told her he did not know what it was. When she arrived in DC, she assumed she would be “shuffling papers” but instead was assigned to the Signal Intelligence Service (forerunner to the CIA and NSA), helping to break Japanese encoded communications. On February 1, 1943 two years before the end of WWII and while Russia was still an ally of the United States, Gene initiated the Verona Project which had the mandate to break encoded Soviet communications. During the Verona Project’s 37 year duration, more than 3,000 messages were decoded and at least 6 people, including Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, were found to be involved in major espionage campaigns against the US.

Janet Greenwood

Janet Greenwood, Longwood's First Female President

On March 16, 1981 the Board of Visitors unanimously elected Janet D. Greenwood as Longwood’s 21st President.  Greenwood was the first female President of Longwood, and at the time the only female president of any Virginia state-supported college.  Greenwood helped to secure more than $25 Million in state funding for a new Longwood Library as well as creating more opportunities for international exchange programs.

Kathryn Idelson

Kathryn Idelson, Class of 1982

Kathryn Idelson was the first Longwood athlete to be named an All-American. She earned this distinction in 1979 as part of Longwood’s gymnastics team. Coach Ruth Budd, who coached the team for many years, credited Kathryn with helping improve the team’s reputation and competitiveness. In 2009 Kathryn was inducted into Longwood’s Sports Hall of fame.

Olive Iller

Olive Iler, 1925-1966

Olive Iler began her career at Longwood in 1925 as a Physical Education Teacher. As well as teaching, she coached the tennis, field hockey, and basketball teams, helping the 1933 basketball team beat out all the other Virginia women’s collegiate teams. Iler chaired the Physical Education Department for over 20 years before retiring in 1966. Additionally, her role in the Physical Education Department helped her promote and encourage color competitions between the Red and White and Green and White classes, which eventually lead to the tradition we know as Color Wars. In March 1967, Longwood dedicated the Iler Gymnasium, Courts and fields in her honor.

Hockey Team inlaid to Science lab

Elizabeth Burger Jackson

Elizabeth Burger Jackson was an Assistant Professor of Natural Science. A Native of Farmville she played Field Hockey for the Farmville High School. She then enrolled at Longwood and played for 2 years before transferring to William and Mary where she also played field hockey. After returning to Farmville she began teaching at Longwood and coached the Field Hockey team, helping make them competitive in the state. Dr. Jackson also traveled worldwide with the United States Hockey team, even serving as their vice-captain in 1956. Elizabeth retired in 1976 but continued to live in Farmville and always cheered on the women’s Field Hockey team.

Celeste Parrish

Celeste Parrish, Class of 1886

Enrolling at the newly formed State Female Normal School at Farmville in 1884 Celeste Parrish was 31 years old and already a seasoned teacher, but she wanted a more formalized education.  After only a few weeks at SFNS Celeste was invited to begin teaching mathematics.  In 1886, she earned a degree from SFNS, and was quickly promoted to head of the Mathematics Department. In 1893, she began teaching at Randolph Macon Women’s College, where she taught psychology. While there, she helped establish the first psychology laboratory in the South. During the summers, Celeste took summer classes at Cornell University and received special permission to take correspondence classes.  In 1896, she earned a Bachelors Degree from Cornell University in Philosophy.  Celeste felt strongly about making higher education accessible to women, she wrote articles and urged female seminaries to become colleges and became the first President of the Southern Association of College Women. She also fought to reform public education and in 1912, became the Rural School Supervisor for North Georgia, traveling by coach and buggy to over 2,400 rural schools to teach and train teachers. Celeste died in 1918 and is buried in Georgia; her gravestone includes the inscription “Georgia’s Greatest Women”

 

N. H. Cookie Scott

N. H. Cookie Scott, Class of 1972

N.H. Cookie Scott was the first African American graduate of Longwood, graduating in 1972 with a Bachelor’s in Sociology.  In 2012, Longwood named a center for diversity and inclusion in honor of Ms. Scott.  In 2018, they named a new Multicultural Center in her honor in Upchurch University Center.  In June 2019, Gov. Ralph Northman appointed Cookie to Longwood’s Board of Visitors.

Rosemary Spraque

Rosemary Sprague, 1961-1990

With a dream of becoming an actress, Rosemary Sprague graduated with a Bachelor from Bryn Mawr in Pennsylvania and studied theater in New York City, but eventually she returned to school earning an MA and PhD from Case Western Reserve University. She was then recruited by Longwood to become an Associate Professor of English in 1961. By 1965, she was promoted to the rank of full professor. Before arriving at Longwood, she had written three historical novels for young people, and by the end of her career she had written 9 novels and the Sesquicentennial History of Longwood. She also earned the distinction of being the first professor to earn the Board of Visitors Distinguished Professor Award. She retired in 1990.

Edith Stevens

Edith Stevens, 1928-1945

Edith Stevens was born on February 14, 1896 and earned a BA Degree, and an MA degree from the University of West Virginia and a PhD from the University of Chicago in 1928. She taught public school in West Virginia until she came to Farmville State Teachers College in 1928. Dr. Jeffers, the chair of the science department, credited Edith with helping advance the science department and helping to equip the department with the needed equipment to teach more advanced levels of biology.  Tragically, Edith died after a lab accident in 1945. In 1951, Longwood dedicated the new Science Building in honor of Edith Stevens.

Florence Stubbs

Florence Stubbs

Florence Stubbs earned her Bachelor’s degree in 1917 from Peabody and joined Longwood’s faculty as a specialist in Sociology and Rural Education. In addition to teaching, she was instrumental in serving a number of organizations as advisor, such as Alpha Kappa Gamma (which she founded and would later go on to become Geist and Mortar Board), and in founding Longwood traditions like Circus and Oktoberfest. She was also a strong supporter of Kappa Delta and all the social sororities, helping advocate for a new dormitory for the sororities in the 1960s. When the building finally became a reality, the college dedicated it in her honor during the 1967 founder’s day. Besides her work with students, she also advocated for and organized the first Founder's Day, to celebrate the College’s founding and to bring alumni and students together. 

Why Women's History Month?

"Women's History Month are among the few holidays that have remained relatively uncommercialized in the United States. No advertisements tell you what to buy, how to celebrate, or why you should do so. Yet these March commemorations reveal a great deal about the role women have played in history--as well as about how women have struggled to preserve their history" (Rosen, Ruth. "Why Women's History Month?" The Chronicle of Higher Education 46.26, 2000).

So what should you do to celebrate the month of March? Browse this guide, make comments, and celebrate all women around you!

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Jamie Krogh
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