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Martha Elizabeth Barksdale (class of 1921 [see 1921 Commencement Program], M.A. 1929), a native of Redlands, Virginia, entered William & Mary in 1918 as a member of the first class to include women. Barksdale exemplified the innovative spirit of her class. She was the first president of the Women's Student Council, the first house president, the first "Miss William & Mary", and ended her distinguished and groundbreaking student career with an election to Phi Beta Kappa.

Barksdale worked to establish an intercollegiate sports program for women as a student and continued this work as a faculty member. In 1920, basketball was introduced. By 1925, women could also compete in hockey and tennis. After graduating, Barksdale was appointed to teach in the newly-established Department of Women's Physical Education. She received her M.A. in Physical Education from William & Mary in 1929. 1936 came with a promotion to Assistant Professor of Physical Education, followed by a 1939 promotion to Associate Professor of Physical Education. Barksdale also served as acting chairman of the Women's Physical Education Department in 1944 and 1965. She eventually taught or played nearly a dozen sports.

On retirement in 1966, Barksdale was named Associate Professor of Physical Education for Women, Emerita. In 1970 she received William & Mary's Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award in recognition of her influence for good in the College and in the community of Williamsburg. Barksdale lived in Williamsburg for fifty-six years and was a founder of the Williamsburg Community Council. She was also an organizer of the Williamsburg Auxiliary for Patrick Henry Hospital and helped to establish the hospital's therapy program.

A year after Barksdale's 1974 death at age seventy-four, the playing fields for the Department of Women's Physical Education were reworked into three permanent playing fields. The fields were named the Martha Barksdale Athletic Fields to honor her dedication to the College as its eternal "Miss William & Mary."

Materials in the Special Collections Research Center

  • The Southern Lady versus the Old Dominion: the battle for higher education for Virginia's women, 1910-1920, Sara S. Rogers, Thesis (Honors), LD6051 .W5m Hist., 1975, R63. Copy available in the SCRC.
  • When Mary Entered with her Brother William: Women at the College of William & Mary, 1918-1945, Laura F. Parrish (M.A. Thesis, College of William & Mary, 1988). Copies are available in the SCRC and Swem Library's stacks and online.
  • The life histories of ten of the first women to attend the College of William & Mary [1918-1930], Diane M. Roy (M.A. Thesis, College of William & Mary, 1994), LD6051 .W5m Soc., 1994, R69. Copies are available in the SCRC and Swem Library's stacks
  • President J.A.C. Chandler and the first women faculty at the College of William & Mary / by Carolyn Lamb Sparks Whittenburg, Dissertation, LD6051 .W5m Educ. 2004, W58. Copies are available in the SCRC and Swem Library's stacks.
  • The College of William & Mary : a history, Susan H. Godson, Ludwell H. Johnson, Richard B. Sherman, Thad W. Tate, Helen C. Walker, Williamsburg, Va. : King and Queen Press, Society of the Alumni, College of William & Mary in Virginia, 1993. Copies are available in the SCRC and Swem Library's stacks and Virginia Reference sections. LD6051 .W52 C65 1993
  • University Archives Subject Files Collection: Student Rules; Student Rules--Women; Students--Women; Students--Women--Admission in 1918
  • Women Students' Cooperative Government Association
  • Laura Parrish Papers, survey responses of women who attended William & Mary in the 1920s through the 1940s
  • Office of the Dean of Women
  • Office of the President, Lyon Gardiner Tyler Records
  • Catherine Dennis Papers
  • Collections of other students and alumni
  • Student Handbooks
  • Catalogs
  • [The Flat Hat]
  • Colonial Echo; the 1918 edition (p.36) includes a note regarding the beginning of co-education

Martha Elizabeth Barksdale Fund

The Flat Hat, William & Mary News, and Alumni Gazette:

  • Anna Sollenberger donates $250,000 to fund WMN, 10/3/1984, pg. 2.
  • Anna Sollenberger bequeaths $250,000 AG, Nov. 1984, pg. 2.


Want to find out more?

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Questions? Have ideas or updates for articles you'd like to see? Contact the Special Collections Research Center at or 757-221-3090.

A note about the contents of this site

This website contains the best available information from known sources at the time it was written. Unfortunately, many of the early original records of William & Mary were destroyed by fires, military occupation, and the normal effects of time. The information in this website is not complete, and it changes as we continue to research and uncover new sources.