The Rotunda as seen from the east colonnade

A Century of Women Faculty at UVA: A Force for Change





As part of the Retold UVA program, join Lifetime Learning as we celebrate a century of women faculty members who broke barriers and diversified classrooms and research labs at the University of Virginia. We will discuss women like Thelma Brumfield Dunn (Med ’26), who started as the first female faculty member at the School of Medicine in 1927, and Doris Kuhlmann-Wilsdorf, the first woman named as a full professor outside the schools of Medicine and Nursing. From astronauts to poet laureates, women faculty members have transformed the educational and research landscapes at UVA.

Abby Palko, director of the Maxine Platzer Lynn Women’s Center, and Phyllis Leffler, professor emerita of history, will narrate highlights from this fascinating history. They will be joined by panelists Sharon Hostler, Emerita Birdsong Professor of Pediatrics; Farzaneh Milani, Raymond J. Nelson Professor in the  Department of Middle Eastern & South Asian Languages & Cultures, and professor in the Department of Women, Gender & Sexuality; and Mildred Robinson, Henry L. and Grace Doherty Charitable Foundation Professor of Law Emeritus, who will share their own experiences.

This event is sponsored by UVA’s Lifetime Learning program for the Retold UVA celebration to recognize 100 years of women’s contributions to the University community.


Abby Palko

Director, Maxine Platzer Lynn Women’s Center, University of Virginia

Abby Palko is the director of the Maxine Platzer Lynn Women’s Center here at the University of Virginia. The Women’s Center offers an array of programming, leadership opportunities, and services to support the development and well-being of strong women leaders and those who work beside them. She holds a PhD in literature with a graduate minor in gender studies from the University of Notre Dame, an MA in English literature from Rutgers University, and a BA in English and French from Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia. Her scholarship focuses on cultural and literary representations of mothering practices with a particular interest in how rhetoric about motherhood shapes and influences women’s mothering practices.

Sharon Hostler

Emerita McLemore Birdsong Professor of Pediatrics, University of Virginia School of Medicine

Dr. Sharon Hostler is the Emerita McLemore Birdsong Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Virginia School of Medicine. A native of Vermont, she received her BA from Middlebury College and MD from the University of Vermont. She then completed her residency training in pediatrics and fellowship in hematology-oncology at the University of Virginia. Dr. Hostler joined the faculty in 1970, where her career as a clinician-educator at the University of Virginia has focused on: children with cancer; outreach to rural underserved children as medical director of the Children and Youth Project; transition tasks of adolescents with chronic illnesses and developmental disabilities as division chief of Developmental Pediatrics; outcomes of adolescents with severe head and spinal cord injuries as medical director of the Kluge Children’s Rehabilitation Center; the status of women students, house staff, and faculty as chair of the Committee on Women; the implementation of family-centered care in academic medical centers; and development of men and women faculty as chair of the School of Medicine Promotion and Tenure Committee, Faculty Leadership Programs.

Phyllis Leffler

Professor Emerita, Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia

Phyllis Leffler’s career at the University of Virginia included working for ten years in the Office of the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences implementing programs for undergraduate students. She joined the Department of History in 1996 and began to establish the Institute for Public History. In addition to teaching museum studies, developing a summer internship program in public history, and developing classes based on new research on the history of the University of Virginia, Leffler began her 15-year project with the late Julian Bond: Explorations in Black Leadership. The first interviews in the series were held in 2000. She retired in 2015 and is now active on several boards, including Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society (vice-president), the Southern Jewish Historical Society (president), and the Grants committee of the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation. She also serves on the UVA President’s Commission on the University in the Age of Segregation.

Farzaneh Milani

Raymond J. Nelson Professor of Iranian and Gender Studies, University of Virginia

Farzaneh Milani is the Raymond J. Nelson Professor of Iranian and Gender Studies. Former chair of the Department of Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages and Cultures and director of Women, Gender, & Sexuality studies at the University of Virginia, she holds a joint appointment in both departments. Milani has published several books and has written over one hundred articles in both Persian and English. She has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, Ms. Magazine, Reader’s Digest International, USA Today, and National Public Radio. She has presented more than 250 lectures nationally and internationally. A past president of the Association of Middle Eastern Women’s Studies in America and a Carnegie Fellow, Milani was the recipient of the All-University Teaching Award as well as the Zintl Leadership Award (2015) and the Cavaliers’ Distinguished Teaching Professorship (2019) at the University of Virginia.

Mildred Robinson

Henry L. and Grace Doherty Charitable Foundation Professor of Law Emeritus, School of Law, University of Virginia

After a year as a visiting professor, Mildred Robinson accepted a permanent position at UVA in 1985. She taught federal income tax, state and local tax, and trusts and estates until she retired in 2020. Robinson received her JD from Howard University’s School of Law in 1971. She has served on the Law School Admission Council Board of Trustees and was a member of the inaugural Board of Directors for Law Access, Inc. (currently The Access Group). Robinson was a commissioner from Virginia to the National Conference on Uniform State Laws from 1990-94 and was a member of the Board of Visitors for the J. Reuben Clark Law School at Brigham Young University from 1993-96. She served as a member of the Executive Committee of the Association of American Law Schools from 2000-03 and continues to serve as a member of that organization’s Resource Corps. She is a member of the American Law Institute.


Registration is free and open to all.

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