Mary-Cooke Branch Munford is one of the three people (the other being President Lyon G. Tyler and State Senator Aubrey Strode) most directly responsible for the process by which W&M became a coeducational state university in 1918. Mary Munford was the first woman member of the W&M Board of Visitors, where she served from 1920-1924.
Mary-Cooke Branch was born in 1865, and her father died when she was five. Her mother was a member of one of Richmond's "finest families," and a staunch supporter of the Confederate "lost cause." Though Mary-Cooke attended finishing school in New York, her mother forbade her to attend college, as it was not a ladylike thing to do.
Mary-Cooke soon became an advocate for women and for women's education. She was a founder of the Richmond Women's Club (a somewhat shocking enterprise at the time). She advocated universal public education (K-8), traveling and lobbying with an interracial team throughout the South. She was a founder and leader of the Richmond Education Association, which lobbied for education for both black and white children. She was also a founder of the Cooperative Education Association of Virginia, an organization with similar goals, focusing particularly on rural Virginia schools.
Mary-Cooke married at 28 and had two children. Her husband Beverely Munford suffered from tuberculosis and required a lot of care. After his death in 1910, Mary-Cooke turned her energy to the creation of the Co-ordinate College League, through which she launched a campaign to create a co-ordinate college for women in Charlottesville. She built a coalition that lobbied the General Assembly, but her efforts failed in 1910, 1912, 1914, 1916 and 1918. She then realized her goal of accessible education for Virginia women by bringing co-education to William & Mary.
After serving on the William & Mary BOV, Munford joined the University of Virginia BOV, where she served for 12 years.
Munford also served on the board of the National Urban League, was a founding member of the Virginia Inter-Racial League and became a trustee at the historically black Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee.
In a revealing letter to a friend, she once wrote: "Education has been my deepest interest from my girlhood, beginning with an almost passionate desire for the best in education for myself, which was denied because it was not the custom for girls in my class to receive a college education at that time. This interest has grown with my growth and strengthened with each succeeding year in my life."
Munford died in 1938, 20 years after the first women enrolled at William & Mary.