Women's History Month

Centuries of difference-makers

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

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

Click on a photo to learn more about a historic Tar Heel, and keep scrolling to take a closer look at how women’s history has progressed at Carolina.

  • Barbara Bynum Henderson
  • Cora Zeta Corpening sitting among her all male law school classmates.
  • Karen Parker
  • Mary Turner Lane
  • Karen Stevenson
  • Patricia Wallace

Tar Heel trailblazers

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 female 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

Gwendolyn Harrison

When Gwendolyn Harrison Smith applied and was accepted to Carolina in 1951 as a doctoral student in Spanish, she had already earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Spelman College, a master’s degree in Spanish from the University of California and was a professor at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte.

University officials did not realize she was Black when she applied and told her she would not be allowed to live in the dorm or register for classes at Carolina. After Smith filed a federal lawsuit, Harrison became the first Black woman to study at Carolina.

Gwendolyn Harrison

A legacy continued

Generations of women at UNC-Chapel Hill have made way for current students, faculty, staff and alumnae to make a mark on the world.

Today, women continue to lead and succeed at Carolina. In May, we will welcome back our Tar Heel astronaut, Zena Cardman, to speak at Spring Commencement. Current students and alumnae make a difference with their research, and Tar Heels excel in everything from the arts and IT to athletics.

Click on a story below to see how Tar Heels continue the tradition of excellence set by generations of women before them.