In 1892 Ms. Davis petitioned the University of Virginia to take the bachelor mathematics exam. However, this opportunity did not encompass all the standard benefits of male students. She had not been able to take classes at UVA prior to the exam, she was forbidden to take the exam with the other students but was rather separated to a different room, she was required to pay a fee to take the exam, and even though she passed with distinction, she received only a Certificate of Proficiency rather than the usual full fledged Diploma. Ms. Davis herself had a familial connection to the University, her grandfather John A. G. Davis was Law faculty and met his fate in an unfortunate event when a student shot him on the UVA Lawn during a not so uncommon of the times, student riot in 1840. Most likely this familial connection was a way for her to step her foot into an academic institution that up until then had no female students.
Apart from one exception; the summer UVA Normal School first held in 1880, a Virginia primary school training program. Regardless of it’s majority female enrollment only the male students attendees could actually acquire credit and degrees from the courses they took. Luckily the changes towards integrating women into the University didn’t end with Davis, but they started off very slowly. After her success in passing the exam and receiving her certificate, the UVA faculty and Board of Visitors decides to allow women to study as ‘special students’. This status only allows them to be tutored in private with the professors rather than take classes with the male students, and there weren’t able to apply their studies towards a diploma, and couldn’t graduate. Unfortunately any momentum started with Ms. Davis doesn’t find much acceleration, it isn’t until 1972 with the passing of Title IX, prohibiting sexual discrimination in higher education institutions that receive federal funds, that open enrollment for women is fully enacted at UVA. It goes without saying that since 1972 UVA has progressed at a very quick rate into a fully integrated institution, in 1980 the number of first-year women bypassed men.
Since then the time when Caroline Preston Davis dared to step into the male dominated realm of academia much has changed for the better, so much so that her bravery might be easily forgotten. But she must be remembered as being at the forefront of this transformation.