Commencement: Mary Washington Style, 1911-2019

In celebration of Mary Washington’s 108th Commencement, Special Collections and University Archives staff curated the exhibit, Commencement: Mary Washington Style, 1911-2019. On display through July 31, the exhibit highlights Mary Washington’s Commencement changes and milestones through the years.

The exhibit includes the University’s first commencement program and one of its earliest diplomas.

Photograph of the light tan cover of the First Commencement Program, 1912

First Commencement Program, 1912

Professional Elementary Certificate, State Normal School, June 10, 1912

Professional Elementary Certificate, State Normal School, June 10, 1912

In 1910 the State Normal & Industrial School for Women (University of Mary Washington) was approved to offer professional elementary studies. This program proved to be very popular, certifying graduates for primary and grammar school teaching. University Archives’ earliest diploma is from this period, 1912, and these first graduates completed their studies in 1911. The first students to complete the longer two year Normal School program graduated in 1913. The class size numbered thirty-two, and all students were from Virginia.

Other “firsts” and traditions showcased in the display are:
Graduation in the Amphitheatre

The Amphitheatre was completed in May, 1923, and that year graduation moved from Monroe Hall to the “Open Air Theatre”. The Battlefield,, 1923

Amphitheatre, The Battlefield, 1923

The Amphitheatre was completed in May, 1923, and that year graduation moved from Monroe Hall to the “Open Air Theatre”.

The Daisy Chain tradition

One of the annual events of the early commencements was the creation of the daisy chain. It was the task of the freshmen to gather daisies and tie them into bunches, fashioning the finished chain. Graduates receiving two-year diplomas carried the chain into the amphitheater and laid it on the sides as a decorative backdrop. The daisy chain continued to be a feature of Class Day exercises until 1942.

One of the annual events of the early commencements was the creation of the daisy chain. It was the task of the freshmen to gather daisies and tie them into bunches, fashioning the finished chain. Graduates receiving two-year diplomas carried the chain into the Amphitheater and laid it on the sides as a decorative backdrop. The daisy chain continued to be a feature of Class Day exercises until 1942.

The First African-American Graduate and Early Male Graduates

The Battlefield, 1968 and 1971

Venus R. Jones, ‘68 (left) was Mary Washington’s first African-American graduate, earning a degree in Chemistry in 1968 after just 3 years. Jones would go on to earn her MD from the University of Virginia’s medical school, breaking gender boundaries at the graduate level. 

Joseph Grimes (right) was one of four male Mary Washington graduates, receiving his history diploma in 1972. However, back in 1929, President Combs allowed male students to attend in the summer only. Many of these men completed their degrees in the 1930s through their summer school attendance.

First Graduate Level Commencement

The James Monroe Center (now the UMW Stafford Campus) walked their first graduate students in 2001 on Ball Circle. Through the years the graduate commencement ceremonies have been held at both the Stafford and the Fredericksburg Campuses. 

James Monroe Center Graduation, 2003

James Monroe Center Graduation, 2003

Introduction of the Eagle Pipe Band

Eagle Pipe Band, Commencement, 2006

Eagle Pipe Band, Commencement, 2006

The Eagle Pipe Band, suggested by piper and Chemistry professor, Dr. Ray Scott, was an immediate success, becoming a regular part of Commencement since its initial 1993 performance.

UMW Graduate waving, Class of 2016

UMW Graduate, Class of 2016

The history of graduation at Mary Washington is much more expansive and rich than can be captured in this short post. So stop in this summer and see “the rest of the story” along with many of  the original diplomas, documents, and photographs in Special Collections & University Archives.

“Congratulations, Class of 2019!”

Resources Consulted: 
Alvey, Edward, Jr. History of Mary Washington College: 1908-1972. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1974.
Crawley, William B., Jr. University of Mary Washington, A Centennial History: 1908-2008. Fredericksburg: University of Mary Washington, 2008.

Currently all UMW Commencement Programs are digitized and available online at: https://archive.org/details/@umwlibrary&tab=uploads.

Special thanks to Caitlin DeMarco, Stafford Library Assistant, and Ilana Bleich, Special Collections Student Assistant for their research assistance on Commencement: Mary Washington Style, 1911-2019.

May 10, 2019