1892: the historic year in which Auburn University allowed its first female students to enroll.
Since then, women have made a huge impact on the prestige of Auburn University. From the pool, to the screen, to outer space, these inspiring Auburn women have left quite an impression on our university, our country and even our world.
Octavia Spencer was born and raised in Montgomery, Alabama, and graduated from Auburn in 1994 with a degree in liberal arts. She began her film career behind the scenes and worked her way into small roles in films and television series. In 2011, Spencer played Minny Jackson in the film adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s 2009 novel, "The Help." Her inspiring performance earned her an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award and a SAG Award. On March 21, 2012, Octavia received the key to Montgomery on what is now "Octavia Spencer Day" in Alabama. Recently, her role as Dorothy Vaughn in the film "Hidden Figures" earned her a nomination for both a Golden Globe and an Academy Award.
Cathryn Antoinette “Toni” Tennille is also from Montgomery and attended Auburn as an English major and music minor. Improving as a songwriter and classically trained pianist, she performed for the Auburn Knights as the only female vocalist. When her family moved to Los Angeles, Toni joined them and eventually toured with the Beach Boys as a pianist. Toni is best known as half of the pop duo Captain & Tennille, famous for their version of Neil Sedaka’s “Love Will Keep Us Together.” The duo’s song won a Grammy in 1976 for the best record of the year, launching them into hosting their own variety show and numerous network specials.
Born in Florida but raised in Huntsville, Alabama, Jan Davis earned a degree in mechanical engineering from Auburn in 1977. After graduating, Jan worked as a petroleum engineer until 1979, when she became an aerospace engineer for NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. In 1987, Jan became an astronaut and has since logged over 673 hours in space.
Kathryn C. Thornton
Kathryn Thornton was born and raised in Montgomery and graduated from Auburn in 1974 with a degree in physics. Following her graduation, Kathryn won a NATO Postdoctoral Fellowship to continue her research in nuclear physics in West Germany. She returned to the U.S. to work as a physicist at the U.S. Army Foreign Science and Technology Center in 1980. Kathryn became an astronaut in 1985, eventually orbiting Earth 256 times. She has logged over 975 hours in space.
Born in Zimbabwe, Kirsty Coventry graduated from Auburn in 2006 with a degree in hotel and restaurant management. A renowned swimmer, Kirsty has won multiple NCAA and SEC Championships and is the first Auburn woman to win an Olympic event. Earning one bronze, four silver and two gold medals in swimming events for Zimbabwe, she is the most decorated African Olympian and has tied the record for most individual Olympic medals of any female swimmer.
Didn’t see the Auburn woman that inspires you most in our list? Comment below to let us know who she is. The more the merrier!
Be well, Auburn.
Photography: Julia B.
Michelle is a Disney and Pixar enthusiast majoring in graphic design and minoring in women’s studies and creative writing. She loves music, literature, visual art, and pretty much any other type of art you can think of. You’ll most likely find her drawing, singing, baking, painting, watching a Disney movie or drawing some more.
Originally entering Auburn as a nutrition major, Michelle still is passionate about health and wellness. She enjoys writing articles for Be Well about healthy recipes, crafts, Disney, some maybe not-so-healthy recipes, and more.
If you couldn’t tell, she also just really, really loves Disney.