Janet Coleman was born in Williamsburg on February 21, 1902. She enrolled at W&M in September, 1918. After graduation, she became one of the first women to receive a medical education at the University of Virginia. She then returned to Williamsburg, where she married and had two children, Cynthia and Raymond, Jr. She practiced medicine into her 80s. Her husband, Raymond Kimbrough, was also a physician.
Coleman was the great-great-granddaughter of St. George Tucker, an 18th century judge and law professor at William & Mary. Her father, George Preston Coleman, was Mayor of Williamsburg. Coleman grew up in the "Tucker House" on Nicholson Street. When Colonial Williamsburg began its reconstruction of the town, her father sold the house on the condition that his wife and children could live there for life. Dr. Kimbrough was the last resident of the house when she died in 1992.
We are lucky to have an extensive oral history of Dr. Kimbrough, recorded in 1975.
During her first year at W&M, Coleman found "comparatively little" resentment from men students. They were "possibly a little condescending" toward the women, but were also friendly.
Not much energy was spent on worrying about co-education, inasmuch as students and their families were more worried about the War. "Everyone was thinking of the war so much more than they were of women's rights and coeducation that we didn't run into – I don't remember any unpleasant attitude on the part of the men in general."
"There were a lot of students whose individual opinion was that women didn't belong in college, that they didn't need higher education, that this was sort of ridiculous – but they didn't carry it over to being unfriendly at all. They dated the girls if they liked the girls and they didn't date them if they didn't and that was it."
Kimbrough does describe a heated debate after she arrived, in which some students in one of the literary societies debated the pros and cons of coeducation. One of the students "drew a terrible picture of the awful flapper and the awful influence she was on the male students and how her short dresses were disrupting the morals of the world and that the students weren't able to keep their minds on their studies because of the horrible women who were parading around in these short skirts. And the skirts actually – they wore high shoes at the time and the skirts were actually an inch or two above the top of the high shoes, which was supposed to be just terrible."
She also recounts that the first women were constantly "being lectured to and told that we were 'pioneers' – we got very tired of the word."
Though Coleman lived at home while in school, she often visited the women's dorm, [then] Tyler Hall. In the dorm, "we spent a great deal of time discussing clothes and manners and what everybody was doing and whether to use lipstick or not and whether a girl who kissed a boy was fast and so forth."
"There were about twenty girls the first year, of whom six or seven were town students; sixty came in the next year, and then were a hundred or so the year after, so it practically doubled every year there for a little while."
When the war ended, a great number of the men who were on campus as part of the Student Army Training Corps left W&M and the population of male students "dropped way down" at the end of the fall semester. Before the war ended, however, Williamsburg was awash in military trucks and equipment, heading for the port of Norfolk. The streets were a mess, there were no paved roads in town. And "almost every family had some member involved in the armed forces – there was just so much change at that time that coeducation was a minor matter…. Just everything was changing; the coeducation was just one small item, really." (Some of the other changes were automobiles and trucks and the very first radio installed in the university's Physics department.)
During the first few years of women on campus, the "rules in the dormitory were very strict…. Everyone had to be in the dormitory from suppertime on in the evening except by special permission, and from 8:00 until 10:00 at night you were supposed to be either in your own room, or in the library; you were supposed to be studying."
In the first year, "we [also] had what we called 'social hour' right after supper until 8:00, and somebody would play the piano, and they would roll back the rugs and dance." But Dr. Chandler, who became president in Coleman's second year, disapproved of dancing. "He said that it was giving the state the impression that they were spending their state money in riotous living for the students, and so he did away with the social hour, which I thought was a pity."
As she approached graduation, Coleman thought she would become a nurse. But, while talking one day with her biology professor, "I was talking about some biology problem or something that he was interested in or that I was interested in, and he said "You know, as a nurse, you won't get into any of this," but he said, "what you should do is to study medicine instead." So she did.
Kimbrough's descendants have continued to flourish at William & Mary. Her daughter, Cynthia Barlowe; three of her grandchildren, Charles Barlowe '83, Doris Kimbrough '80 and Lucy Kimbrough '87; and her great-grandson Erich Kimbrough Law '95 and great-granddaughter Anna Tucker Barlowe '16, have all attended school here (and all but Anna stayed at the Tucker House with Kimbrough while they were students).
Charles Barlowe, one of Kimbrough's grandsons, says of her: "My grandmother was remarkable in so many ways, I continue to reflect on my interactions with her and on her accomplishments. She was a friend and mentor to many."