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Emilie Watts McVae: Clifton Academic and Educator

Emilie Watts McVea was a highly respected educator and women’s rights advocate. She was a professor at universities and later president at Sweet Briar College from 1916 to 1925. She strongly believed in teaching and mentoring women and that there would be a time that demanded rigorous training of women. McVae also believed women should be able to attack the root causes of the social and economic problems of the world, and supported many important movements like the expansion of literacy and secondary education, and the regulation of child labor.

Emilie Watts McVea was one of four daughters born to Charles and Emilie Rose Watts McVea in 1867 in Clinton, Louisiana. Her father, Charles, was a judge and her mother took care of the family. When her father died when she was young, her mother moved her and her siblings to Raleigh, N.C. There, she lived with her aunt and her uncle. Her uncle was the president of St. Augustine’s College, so she grew up in an academic world. She graduated from St. Mary’s School, in 1884. She then attended George Washington University, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in 1902 and master’s degree in 1903. After graduating, she began her long career as an educator.

McVea began her teaching career at her alma mater, St. Mary’s School, in 1898. Later, she taught English Literature at the University of Tennessee. During her short time teaching there, she was active in work with public school teachers. She eventually became an assistant professor of English Literature at the University of Cincinnati, chosen for the position by university president Charles W. Dabney. In 1909 McVea became the Dean of the Women’s Department at the University, a position she held until 1916 when she assumed the presidency of Sweet Briar College, near Lynchburg, Virginia. During her time in Cincinnati, McVea lived at 3 Hedgerow Lane in Clifton. She was the second president in the school’s history and held the role for nine years. In addition to her academic work, McVae served as president of the Cincinnati Woman’s Club from 1912 to 1914, the secretary and treasurer of the Southern Association of College Women, president of the Virginia Association of Colleges, and the first woman member of the Board of Visitors at the University of Virginia.

After she retired in 1925, McVae received several awards and honorary degrees. She was the first woman to receive an honorary degree from the University of North Carolina and also received two honorary doctorates from the University of Cincinnati. Sweet Briar College created a student award in her name which is still given to students who are the highest-ranking members of their class. known as “Emilie Watts McVea Scholars.”


3 Hedgerow Lane, Cincinnati, Ohio


Joe Shaw, Brenden Pulte, “Emilie Watts McVae: Clifton Academic and Educator,” Cincinnati Sites and Stories, accessed June 15, 2024,