Today in NC State History: First degrees awarded to females

June 7, 2012
By Chris Saunders

PrintAt NC State’s 2011 spring commencement, the university awarded just under 3,600 degrees to female students. That number was almost half of the degrees NC State awarded that year, a figure that would have been a distant dream in the early 1900s. In the university’s early days, the administration was conflicted about whether to award degrees to females at all.

The 1920s saw the height of that debate after Lucille Thomson, the institution’s first regularly enrolled woman, departed school without having completed her degree, according to Alice Elizabeth Reagan’s North Carolina State University: A Narrative History.

Women continued to enroll as “special students,” and in June 1926, North Carolina State College of Agriculture and Engineering President Eugene Clyde Brooks recommended to trustees that women who had completed a degree’s stipulated coursework be considered “graduated.” That November, the trustees approved the recommendation.

Mary E. Yarbrough, the first woman to complete all coursework at NC State and be awarded a degree.

Mary E. Yarbrough, the first woman to complete all coursework at NC State and be awarded a degree.

So on this day in 1927, three women were the first females to be awarded degrees from the university. They were Jane S. McKimmon, Charlotte Nelson and Mary E. Yarbrough.

Reagan writes that McKimmon had completed most of her coursework at Peace Institute and through extension courses. She received a bachelor’s degree in business administration. Nelson received a degree with some of her coursework completed at Meredith. Yarbrough, who completed all of her graduate courses at State College, was the first woman to receive a graduate degree from the university and the first one to have completed all her coursework here.

Three years later, State College would award a journalism degree to Ada Spencer, the first woman to complete all coursework on campus and receive an undergraduate degree from the university.


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