Mary-Cooke Branch Munford

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Portrait photograph of Mary-Cooke Branch Munford. Reproduced from Wikimedia Commons.

Mary-Cooke Branch Munford (September 15, 1865 - July 3, 1938) was an individual from Richmond who devoted much of her life to activism for women's rights, civil rights, women's suffrage, and education in Virginia. Munford Hall, a building that served as the University of Virginia's first female dorm and today composes a part of the school's International Residential College, was named in her honor following its establishment in 1952.


Munford was born in Richmond on September 15, 1865 to James Read Branch and Martha Louise Patteson Branch. Despite growing up in a wealthy family, she became interested in social welfare issues from a young age, a passion that reportedly only intensified after her marriage to Beverly Bland Munford (a lawyer active in social issues) on November 22, 1893. She was educated in both Richmond and New York but was never permitted to attend college despite her deep desire to do so.

In the 1890's, Munford founded a Saturday Afternoon Club that was heavily attended by upperclass women from Richmond, although she lessened her own participation when she found that discussions usually centered around refined topics rather than problems of civic life. She was one of five women involved in the creation of the Richmond Education Association (a regional offshoot of a national organization) in 1901, later holding various positions in the Cooperative Education Association of Virginia following its founding in 1903.

In the early 1910's, Munford attempted (via the Co-ordinate College League) to establish a coordinate college at the University of Virginia that would be devoted to the education of white women. Although legislation to this purpose was introduced in the Virginia General Assembly, it was eventually defeated through fierce opposition from the university's alumni, falling two votes short in 1916. Munford nonetheless went on to become the third woman ever to serve in the university's Board of Visitors in 1926, with Munford Hall eventually being named after her following her death in 1938.

Historical marker located at Windsor Farms in Richmond and detailing the life and accomplishments of Munford. Photo by Bernard Fisher.

In 1918, Munford played a critical role in persuading the College of William and Mary to allow women to enroll as students, later becoming the first woman to serve on that school's Board of Visitors in March of 1920 and having a building there named in her honor (it has since been renamed). She also joined the Richmond School Board that year and became the first woman to sit on that body. In 1931, she managed to convince Richmond's school board to reverse its policy of prohibiting married women from serving as teachers in the city's schools.

Following her husband's death in 1910, Munford became an advocate of interracial cooperation, working with Janie Porter Barrett to organize the Virginia Industrial School for Colored Girls in 1915. She also worked to provide assistance to underfunded Black communities and neighborhoods throughout Richmond.

Munford died in Richmond on July 3, 1938. She was buried at Hollywood Cemetery, with Mary Munford Elementary School in Richmond's West End neighborhood being named after her.

Family and relatives

Munford's family was originally of English extraction. Her grandfather, Thomas Branch, served in the Confederate Congress during the Civil War, while among her nephews were the writer James Branch Cabell and the Episcopal preacher Walter Russell Bowie.

Munford's father, James Read Branch, drowned in 1868 during a bridge collapse on his way to a Republican rally that was supporting the right of Blacks to vote. This event (taking place when Munford herself was only three years old) informed her view towards the issue later in her life; she felt that because her father had sacrificed himself to the cause, she owed it to him to continue his work by aiding disenfranchised Black communities in Virginia.[1]


  1. Web. Mary-Cooke Branch Munford (1865–1938), Encyclopedia Virginia, 12/07/2020