The University of North Carolina was for white men only for the first 100 years of the institution's existence. In 1877 the university allowed women to enroll in its summer school for teachers. This annual program soon had nearly as many female students as men. Not until 1896 did the trustees vote to admit white women as regular students, and then only under tightly controlled circumstances. Full acceptance as students, faculty and staff took nearly the next 100 years, until the passage of Title IX of the federal Education Amendments Act in 1972 banned any restrictions on enrollment or hiring in institutions receiving federal funds.
When the first women registered In 1897, they had to be juniors, seniors, or graduate students. An average of 25 women out of a total student body of 800 were enrolled in the first decades of their admission at Carolina. Women were not widely welcomed on campus, often sitting alone in class and barred from public commencement ceremonies. They were also barred from most student organizations and had a separate honors committee and student council.
Mary MacRae, the daughter of a law school professor, was the first full-time student. A graduate of St. Mary's College in Raleigh, MacRae did well at the university and became literary editor of the Tar Heel. Joining McRae in the first group of official students were four others —Lulie Watkins, Cecye Roanne Dodd, Dixie Lee Bryant, and Sallie Walker Stockard, who became the first woman to graduate in 1898. Stockard came to Chapel Hill in 1897 from Guilford College, went on to receive a master's degree in 1900, and then pursued graduate study at Columbia University.
In graduate programs, Margaret Berry was the first woman to graduate from the law school, in 1915. That same year, Cora Zeta Corpening became the first woman student in the medical school. The male students voted not to admit her, but she came to classes anyway.
The first dormitory for women, Spencer Residence Hall, was built in 1925, due largely to the determined lobbying of Inez Koonce Stacey, the first adviser for women students. She faced stiff opposition from male students. Weekly articles in the student newspaper appeared against the residence hall with titles like "Women Not Wanted Here" and "Shaves and Shines, but No Rats and Rouge." Katherine Kennedy Carmichael followed Stacey and became the first dean of women. She carried on the fight for more dormitories as enrollment grew. In 1946 the number of women students topped 1,000 for the first time. A coeducational residence hall named for Carmichael opened in 1986.
In 1974 the separate honor courts for men and women merged into a single body. The student government organizations also consolidated and wrote a single standard of conduct for both sexes. In 1979 women outnumbered men in UNC's first-year undergraduate class for the first time. In 1985 the student body elected the first woman, Patricia Wallace, as its president.