The Aviator statue

Change Agents: 5 Who Changed UVA

James McConnell, member of the UVA Law Class of 1910, is depicted in The Aviator statue on UVA Grounds.

96. James R. McConnell 1910

The Aviator Statue

After attending a year at the Law School, James R. McConnell 1910 became the first of 64 UVA students to die in battle during World War I. He was a member of the Lafayette Escadrille — the French flying squadron — and the last American pilot to die under French colors before U.S. entry into the war. The Aviator statue on Grounds, one of the school’s most well-known works of art, was commissioned in his honor.

Elizabeth Tompkins97. Elizabeth N. Tompkins ’23

First Female Law Grad

In 1920, the same year American women obtained the right to vote, the first female students matriculated at the University of Virginia School of Law. Elizabeth N. Tompkins ’23 was the first to graduate. Tompkins clerked for two years in Charlottesville before relocating to Richmond for a distinguished 54-year legal career. She was the first woman admitted to the Virginia State Bar.

Gregory Swanson98. Gregory Swanson ’51

Integrating UVA

Gregory Swanson ’51, with the help of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, was the attorney who integrated the University by suing UVA in 1949 to attend the Law School and pursue his advanced degree. Swanson won his suit in 1950, attended from 1950-51, and completed all of his classes, but did not turn in the paper that would have allowed conferral of his master’s.

The first black student to graduate from UVA was Walter N. Ridley, who earned a doctorate of education in 1953, in part thanks to Swanson’s groundbreaking efforts.

John Lowe99. John Lowe ’67

Hero of Coeducation

John Lowe ’67 argued successfully for full coeducation at the University of Virginia. He took the case to court in 1969 on be­half of high school student Virginia Scott and three other young women. It was just two years after earning his law degree.

Later in his career, Lowe argued and won the landmark First Amendment case Bigelow v. Virginia in the U.S. Supreme Court, and convinced the Supreme Court of Virginia to strike down the Virginia Riot Act on First Amendment grounds.

Gail Starling Marshall100. Gail Starling Marshall ’68

Innocence and Indigent Aid

Gail Starling Marshall ’68, a former UVA Law professor, served as a Vir­ginia deputy attorney general during the latter part of the 1980s under Attorney General Mary Sue Terry ’73, the first woman elected to statewide office in the state. Marshall’s review of death penalty cases led her to question the guilt of Earl Washington Jr. Her flagging of the case for further investigation famously led to commutation nine days before his sched­uled execution, and eventually led to his being pardoned. Marshall is well known for her body of work on behalf of the indigent, including through the Legal Aid Justice Center in Charlottesville, which she helped found.

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Eric Williamson
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