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Women's History Month

More than half of the Tar Heels enrolled at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill today are women, but that hasn’t always been the case.

It wasn’t until 1877 that women began first enrolling at the University for summer sessions. It was another two decades later before Sallie Walker Stockard became the first woman to receive a degree from Carolina.

Take a closer look at how women’s history progressed at Carolina.

Four students sitting on a bench together in front of South Building.

Sallie Walker Stockard

In 1897, the board of trustees opened the University’s doors to women for postgraduate studies. Mary McRae, Lulie Watkins, Cecye Roanne Dodd, Dixie Lee Bryant and Sallie Walker Stockard were the first to be accepted for postgraduate studies. Stockard was the only one of the group to graduate, and she became the first woman to earn a degree from Carolina when she graduated in 1898, though she was excluded from all ceremonies, including the actual presentation of degrees and class pictures.

 

Sallie Walker Stockard

Susan Grey Akers

As more and more women began enrolling at Carolina in the early 1900s, leadership roles slowly began to be filled by people who reflected the student body.

The University hired its first woman faculty member in 1927 when Sallie Marks was named an assistant professor of education.

In 1942, Susan Grey Akers became the first woman dean at UNC-Chapel Hill when she was appointed to serve as the dean of the School of Information and Library Science, then called the School of Library Science.

Susan Akers

Karen Parker

In 1963, Karen Parker transferred to UNC-Chapel Hill from the Woman’s College in Greensboro, North Carolina, becoming the first  African-American woman to enroll at the University.

A journalism major, Parker chronicled in a diary her experiences in Chapel Hill, including her involvement with the Congress of Racial Equality and activism experiences during the civil rights movement.

50 years of Women's athletics

This year, Carolina Athletics is honoring 50 years of women's athletics, celebrating our many champions, legends and leaders who have shaped the landscape of women's sports in Chapel Hill.

In the 1971-72 academic year, seven Tar Heel women’s sports — basketball, field hockey, volleyball, fencing, swimming and diving, tennis and gymnastics — went varsity as part of the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women, marking the first official season of women's athletics at Carolina.

From year one to year 50 of intercollegiate women’s sports in Chapel Hill, the Tar Heels have been winners. Consistent victories have helped set a standard for the entire athletic department. Of Carolina's 55 national championships, 39 are from women’s teams.

Learn more about the anniversary
  • Karen Shelton coaching on the field.

    Even after nine NCAA titles, 23 Atlantic Coast Conference championships, 12 straight final four appearances and four decades at the helm of Carolina's celebrated field hockey program, head coach Karen Shelton does not take any of her program's success for granted.

    Taking Nothing for Granted: Karen Shelton’s Success
  • Shalane Flanagan running.

    Shalane Flanagan is no stranger to achieving her goals: NCAA champion, record-setter, Olympian, New York City Marathon winner. Flanagan's time in Chapel Hill — and beyond — is an important vignette on what it means to have competed for, and graduated from, Carolina.

    Shalane Flanagan's Excellence In Chapel Hill And Beyond
  • Carolina's women's swimming and diving program has had a multitude of successes over its 50-year history: 16 Atlantic Coast Conference championships, 40 national top 30 finishes and a flurry of individual national champions and Olympians. But it was in the earliest years of the program that Carolina experienced its true golden era — and set the standard for what the program has achieved.

    A Golden Era of Tar Heel Swimming

Generations of women at UNC-Chapel Hill have made way for current students and alumnae to make a mark on the world, and our Tar Heels continue that tradition today.

Click on a story below to meet a Tar Heel who is making her own history and creating better opportunities for future generations.


  • Pearl Hacks

    Organized by students every year, Pearl Hacks is a beginner-friendly hackathon for women and nonbinary students designed to empower participants to explore careers in technology.

  • Niki Shamdasani

    Carolina alumna launches South Asian fashion brand

    After struggling to find clothes for a traditional wedding in India, Carolina alumna Niki Shamdasani '15 and her sister launched their own South Asian-inspired fashion brand, Sani. The Tar Heel says Carolina helped her hone the crucial problem-solving abilities she now uses as a business owner.

  • Emma dives for a volleyball.

    Tar Heel gold medalist serves as a voice for adaptive sports

    Carolina junior Emma Schieck reached the pinnacle of the sport she loves when she won a gold medal at the Tokyo Summer Paralympics as a member of the U.S. sitting volleyball team. While she was representing the U.S., she was also representing the Paralympic movement and push for adaptive sports that create opportunities for everybody, regardless of physical abilities.

  • At the forefront of the pandemic

    Kizzmekia Corbett ’14 (Ph.D.) played a critical role in the country's response to COVID-19, including helping develop a vaccine. But she first got her start at Carolina.

  • Zena Cardman

    The Tar Heel astronaut

    Carolina alumna and NASA astronaut candidate Zena Cardman is taking her research journey to space as a member of the Artemis program, which aims to land the first woman and next man on the moon by 2024.

  • Rida Bayraktar

    A role model for girls in stem

    Carolina junior Rida Bayraktar founded Pink STREAM to educate, motivate, empower and inspire kindergarten through eighth-grade girls in science, technology, robotics, engineering, arts and math.