Vanderbilt established a women’s center in response to the recommendations of the Chancellor’s Commission on the Status of Women. The Commission, created by Chancellor Heard in 1972, investigated women’s roles and responsibilities throughout the University. In addition, the Commission analyzed official publications for their use of gender-specific language. The Report of the Commission was submitted to Chancellor Heard in 1976 with an all-University, priority recommendation: the creation of “an office for women or a women’s center.” A year later, in the spring of 1977, Chancellor Heard appointed a search committee for a director of the Vanderbilt Women’s Center. The following fall Chancellor Heard named Nancy A. Ransom director.
In 1988, the Board of Trust named the Women’s Center for Margaret Cuninggim, who died in 1986. Dean Cuninggim was the last Dean of Women at Vanderbilt. When the positions of dean of men and dean of women were eliminated following Title IX of the Education Amendment in 1972, Dean Cuninggim became the first woman to be named Dean of Student Services at Vanderbilt.
Margaret Louise Cuninggim was a Nashville native, daughter to Jesse L. Cuninggim, former president of Scarritt College in Nashville. Her childhood was spent roaming the Scarritt College campus with her brother, Merimon Cuninggim (B.A.’31), who later became a Vanderbilt trustee. Although she would eventually move away to attend college, her roots were here in Nashville and it’s where she made her mark.
Cuninggim was the fourth dean of women at Vanderbilt, serving from 1966 to 1973. During her tenure, Vanderbilt witnessed many changes across campus due to the burgeoning women’s and civil rights movements. Dormitory rules and regulations were overhauled to keep up with the times, student government saw significant changes, and as part of the upheaval that marked the late 1960s and 70s, the need for separate deans for men and women seemed outdated so the two offices were combined and duties divided. Cuninggim became Dean of Student Services and would serve in this capacity from 1973 to 1976.
Dean Cuninggim’s office was responsible for overseeing counseling programs, orientation of new students, working with sororities, fraternities and honor societies, and the special concerns of minority students and women. She was president of the Tennessee Association of Women’s Deans from 1958 to 1960. Cuninggim was also named an honorary member of Mortar Board, and even served as national editor/archivist for the Alpha Lambda Delta scholastic honorary society for first-year women.