Dean of Women Nina Bushnell is infamous among Mary Washington alumni for enforcing strict dinner etiquette, approving students’ dates, and upholding rigid decorum in all things. Many alumni laughingly tell stories of wearing rolled-up pants underneath a raincoat or crawling out between tables to escape a formal dinner in Seacobeck.
For Virginia Colwell Read ’49, it was an orientation speech by “Mrs. B” that stayed with her to become a staple in her life lessons.
Dean Bushnell’s advice during freshmen orientation in the fall of 1945 was, “You can if you will – but you won’t, or will you?” At a point in history when there were few, if any, women architects, engineers, bankers, doctors, lawyers, business entrepreneurs, or economists, this advice came to mean a lot to Virginia as she discovered something very important and life-changing.
“Professors at Mary Washington actually encouraged us to use our expanding intellect,” she says. “They didn’t treat us as subservient entities, but as unique individuals with skills and meaningful ideas. I learned that what I thought truly mattered.” Virginia says that feeling of “you can if you will” gave her confidence to express herself without fear of being laughed at or put down.
The confidence Virginia gained at Mary Washington has had tremendous staying power as her class nears its 70th reunion. “In a lifetime of careers and homemaking, raising children and engaging in community affairs, traveling or setting roots, the fact that my professors accepted me as a valued individual – regardless of my gender – has helped me navigate numerous and varied roads,” says Virginia.
To help others find their paths, Virginia recently sponsored the Virginia Colwell Read 1908 Challenge to encourage others to give during the 2018 Giving Day. Mary Washington was founded in 1908, and the 1908 Society recognizes alumni whose classes already have celebrated 50th reunions. To continue the theme, Virginia gave a $5,000 gift to the Fund for Mary Washington when alumni, parents, friends, faculty, staff, students, and businesses exceeded the goal of 1,908 gifts on March 20, 2018.
“I was brought up with the obligation to return what has been given to me so others will be blessed,” says Virginia. “My education was given to me and it is my hope, that by supporting UMW, others will be able to share the advantages of an education.”