NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Today, female student-athletes at Vanderbilt compete at the highest level of college athletics, both on a national stage and in the Southeastern Conference. More than 100 years ago, a pioneer began paving the path for the modern-day Commodore.
Stella Vaughn graduated from Vanderbilt in 1896 and soon became a leading advocate for female student-athletes at Vandy. She became the women’s physical education director and first female instructor at Vanderbilt and organized the school’s first women’s basketball team.
The Vandy women reportedly played their first game in March of 1987 against Ward Seminary and won 5-0, according to the Nashville American newspaper.
Vaughn continued in her role as physical education instructor and basketball coach, unpaid, for nine years and began receiving $200 annually in 1913 per the recommendation of chancellor James H. Kirkland. Vanderbilt’s women’s team had already begun playing a somewhat regular schedule against local high schools and then regional colleges like Kentucky and Cincinnati.
When Stella Vaughn passed away in Nashville at age 89 in 1960, a chapter of Vanderbilt women’s athletics’ history was closed. Vaughn was an 1896 graduate of Vanderbilt, a sorority founder and former head of the women’s athletic department.
Vaughn continued to strive for women’s inclusion and advancement in all areas of the university as the unofficial dean of women. She also help found the Kappa Alpha Theta (Phi Kappa Upsilon) sorority and formed the Girl’s Athletic Association in 1928.
Vaughn, called the “grand old lady of Vanderbilt University,” died in 1960. In 1987 the Vanderbilt Board of Trust passed a resolution naming one of the original seven faculty houses on the campus the Vaughn Home.