Artist: John Woodrow Kelley
Location: Kirkland Hall
Founded with the purpose of educating young men, Vanderbilt University allowed women to attend Vanderbilt classes only as “listeners.” So, Kate Lupton, the daughter of Professor of Chemistry Nathaniel T. Lupton, was not able to enroll formally, although professors permitted her to attend classes and take exams. Lupton excelled and was a tutor to many of her fellow students. A few years later, Lupton presented herself as a candidate for Vanderbilt’s master of arts. A committee charged with studying the issue of conferring degrees upon women found that Lupton had “completed with distinction” the requirements for graduation, and more. However, Lupton was not allowed to participate in the 1879 Commencement exercises and was made to receive her diploma in private from her father, silently breaking the gender barrier and becoming the first woman to graduate from Vanderbilt. Lupton was elected valedictorian by her classmates, many of whom appreciated Lupton’s work ethic, but she turned down this honor, later saying, “I declined on account of my irregular connection with the institution.” Lupton became a professor of chemistry and physics at Virginia State Normal School and continued to support the education of women at Vanderbilt. She was also a French linguist, publishing a translated version of the French book The Education of Girls by Fénelon. Lupton died in New Orleans in 1897 at the age of 37. When Vanderbilt built Branscomb Quadrangle in 1962, the university recognized Lupton by naming a residence hall after her.
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Photos of Kate Lupton