Martha Louisa “Miss Matty” Cocke

Martha Louisa “Miss Matty” Cocke

Class of 1874 (1855 – 1938) Miss Matty Cocke succeeded her father as president of Hollins in 1901, becoming the first woman college president in Virginia. Although reluctant to take on such a visible role, she oversaw many fundamental changes in the institution she led for 32 years. Matty Cocke received her entire education at Hollins. As a young girl, she was tutored by her older sister. She began taking classes in the preparatory department in 1865, at age 10. By the next year, however, she was eligible to take classes in the collegiate department. Over several years Matty earned six departmental diplomas: French, Latin, English language and literature, mathematics, natural science, and history. She received her full diploma in 1874, one of two awarded that year. Upon graduation, she provided secretarial assistance to her father. From 1876 to 1880, she taught classes in mathematics, English, French, and German. In 1884, her duties were expanded to include the roles of registrar and librarian. When her father died on May 4, 1901, Matty was elected president. Hollins experienced tremendous growth during her tenure, including the construction of 14 buildings and numerous renovations. In 1903, the A.B. degree was instituted and a new charter drafted. The year 1911 saw the change from Hollins Institute to Hollins College. The preparatory department was eliminated in 1920, and a four-year college curriculum was established. Finally, in 1932, the college transferred from private to public ownership and became fully accredited. Miss Matty decided to retire in 1933, at age 78, knowing that Hollins was in good hands under the new president, Bessie Carter Randolph. Happy to retire, she admitted to a friend, “I’ve done my best. Yes, I am glad to let present-day problems rest on younger shoulders.” On August 15, 1938, she died in her sleep at age 83.

—Beth Harris, special collections librarian and archivist