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Hatcher, Orie Latham

Orie Latham Hatcher, Ph.D. (December 10, 1868 – April 1, 1946):
educator, pioneer of vocational guidance, founder, Bureau of Vocations for Women,
organizer, Richmond School of Social Economy

by Laura Crouch, Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries


Orie Latham Hatcher
Photo: Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries

Orie Latham Hatcher (1868-1946) was an educator and influential advocate for vocational guidance, both for women and for young people living in the rural south. Possessed of a keen intellect and energetic spirit, Hatcher recognized the relationship between educational opportunities and professional status and satisfaction. She dedicated her life to efforts aimed at broad social change.   

O. Latham Hatcher was born in 1868 in Petersburg, VA. Her father, William Eldridge Hatcher, was a pastor at Grace Street Baptist Church in Richmond, VA and founded Fork Union Military Academy in 1898. Her mother, Oranie Virginia Snead Hatcher, was a trustee of Hartshorn Memorial College, a school for African American women.  

Hatcher attended the Richmond Female Institute and graduated in 1884 when she was only 15. She then went on to attend Vassar College, graduating in 1888. She spent the next few years teaching first at Miss Belle Peers’ School in Louisville, Ky., and then at the Richmond Female Institute. She assisted James H. Nelson, D. D. in planning the Richmond Female Institute’s transformation into the Woman’s College, and became a professor of history, English language and literature when the new institution opened in 1894.  In 1901 Hatcher began graduate studies at the University of Chicago, earning a Ph. D. in English Literature in 1903, the only woman so distinguished that year.

After receiving her Ph. D., Orie Latham Hatcher began to pursue a career in academia.  She was an associate professor of English at Bryn Mawr College and, in 1910, became the Chair of Comparative Literature.  During this time she published notable works, including John Fletcher: a Study in Dramatic Method in 1905 and Book for Shakespeare Plays and Pageants in 1916. Another Petersburg native, Virginia S. McKenney (later, Mrs. Robert W. Claiborne) was a Bryn Mawr student during this time. Hatcher and McKenney would come to work closely on educational issues in the years ahead.   

While Hatcher was continuing in her scholarly career at Bryn Mawr, her interests turned elsewhere. She began focusing her attention on the lack of resources available to southern women who were trying to find employment. The educational standards in southern women’s colleges were often lower than colleges in the north and failed to provide women with the skills and guidance to pursue meaningful employment (Hatcher, 1918).  Eventually Hatcher would resign her position at Bryn Mawr in order to devote herself to this issue.

In 1914, before resigning her professorship, Orie Latham Hatcher and other women met in Richmond at the home of Mary-Cooke Branch Munford. These women were interested in providing Southern women with “reliable information and sound counsel regarding education, occupational choices and sound training.” (Lemmon, 1971, p.152) The following year, the Bureau of Vocations for Women (originally called the Woman’s Occupational Bureau) was organized as a group of interlocking agencies with Hatcher as president. This organization would become Hatcher’s life’s work.

The Bureau’s primary goal was to increase the number of vocational opportunities available to educated southern women. Hatcher was keenly aware of the limitations placed on the career prospects of women based on the socially acceptable gender norms of the time period. Most colleges only prepared women to be teachers, a role that was acceptable because of the profession’s nurturing nature (Hatcher, 1918). Hatcher advocated for opening up new careers for women. She lobbied women’s colleges to provide resources for vocational training and enforce higher educational standards. Under her leadership, the Bureau advocated for the Medical College of Virginia to admit women. (Lemmon, 1971, p.153) 

Richmond School of Social Work and Public Health building located at the intersection of Franklin and Shafer Streets in Richmond, VA 
Photo: Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries

While Hatcher was head of the Bureau of Vocations, she and Virginia McKenney led a group of representatives from Richmond social organizations to establish the Richmond School of Social Economy. The first organizational meeting was held in October 1916, a Board of Directors chosen in December, and a school director hired by July 1917. 

Hatcher recognized the growing field of social work as an opportunity for women to pursue careers that were socially acceptable while also providing women with an outlet for ambition and the possibility of autonomy. The school opened in October of 1917 with a class of 30 women. In 1918, the name of the school was changed to the Richmond School of Social Work and Public Health. This school would become a part of the Richmond Professional Institute, the ancestor of Virginia Commonwealth University.

In 1921, the Virginia Bureau of Vocations for Women changed its name to the Southern Woman’s Educational Alliance. While the organization still maintained its original purpose of providing vocational guidance to southern women, it expanded its mission to include conducting research on existing vocational guidance programs. The organization focused on collecting, compiling, and disseminating this research. One Alliance publication is A Mountain School: A Study Made by the Southern Woman’s Educational Alliance and Konnarock Training School. Issued in 1930, this case study exemplifies their meticulous approach to research by including interviews of students, examination of student life outside of school, and evaluations of their performance in school. It then goes on to include various recommendations for curriculum reform based on the community’s needs (Hatcher, 1930). The Survey, a leading journal in the field of social work and reform, took note of the Alliance’s books and described O. Latham Hatcher as one who “combines scientific interests with a rich human personality and a humorous cynicism with a fantastic capacity for making people do things they did not expect to do.” (Survey, March 1931, p.678)

Doris Ulmann Photograph taken circa 1930
Photo: Library of Congress 
Digital ID: cph 3b16176

By 1937, the Southern Woman’s Educational Alliance changed its name once more to the Alliance for the Guidance of Rural Youth. The name change reflected a shift in priorities to encompass vocational guidance for rural girls and boys across the country. While the organization was always involved in conferences, it began to focus more of their attention on sponsoring and participating in nation wide conferences (Daley, 1988). Orie Latham Hatcher and the Alliance also commissioned photographer Doris Ulmann to take photos which were used to catalyze discussions about rural education. Radio broadcasts disseminated information about the organization to the public. In 1938, Hatcher was interviewed by Eleanor Roosevelt on her program My Day and the two discussed the future of education for rural youth. A year later, Eleanor Roosevelt mentions in My Day that she attended a diner hosted by the Alliance and Hatcher. The Alliance established chapters in Atlanta, Chicago, New York, Washington, and Richmond in order to broaden its scope of influence.

Orie Latham Hatcher’s exemplary achievements through the Alliance for the Guidance of Rural Youth and the Richmond School of Social Economy were far from her only accomplishments in a life distinguished by service and prominent national leadership. She was a founder of the Virginia Writers, Vice President of the National Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs, Chair of the Rural Section of the National Vocational Guidance Association, Executive Board Member of the National Council of Women, member of the Board of Trustees for the National Vocational Guidance Association, Technical Director of the Pine Mountain Guidance Institutes, member of the White House Conference on Children in a Democracy, Chair of the Institute for Rural Guidance, and member of the White House Conference on Rural Education

Orie Latham Hatcher died on April 1, 1946 and was buried in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia. The New York Times, the Richmond News Leader and the Richmond Times-Dispatch published obituaries and appreciations of her tremendous contributions. One writer noted, “Hers was the sort of constructive service which endures in the lives of future generations. Its significance for our society is past measuring” (Richmond Times-Dispatch, April 3, 1946, p.10).


This work can also be read at


This work can also be read at


This work can also be read at


For further reading: 

Friedman, B. B. “Orie Latham Hatcher and the Southern Woman’s Educational Alliance” (PhD diss., Duke University, 1981), 45.

Hatcher, O. L. (1927). Occupations for Women; a study made for the Southern Woman’s Educational Alliance. Southern Woman’s Educational Alliance. 

Hatcher, O. L. (1930). Guiding Rural Boys and Girls: Flexible Guidance Programs for Use by Rural Schools and Related Agencies. McGraw-Hill Book Company Inc.

Heidelberg, R. P. (1922). Pioneering for Southern WomenThe Virginia Teacher 3(2) February, 25-29.

Whittenburg, C. L. S. “President J. A. C. Chandler and the first women faculty at the College  of William and Mary” (2004). Dissertations, Theses, and Masters Projects. Paper 1539618661.

War Open Up New Fields For Women’s Endeavor…Vocations Bureau is Active. Richmond Times-Dispatch. (Richmond, Va.), 01 July 1917. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Library of Congress. 

Professional Building for Women is Unique. Richmond Times-Dispatch. (Richmond, Va.), 11 August 1918. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Library of Congress. See also the location 210 E. Grace St., Richmond, Va. 

Richardson, E. R. (1930). Liberals in Richmond. Plain TalkVI(February), 213-219.


Lemmon, S. M. (1971). Orie Latham Hatcher.  In James, E. T., James J. W., & Boyer, P. S., Notable American women, 1607-1950; a biographical dictionary. (pp. 152-153). Harvard University Press.

Daley, Virginia. (1988, June). Guide to the Alliance for Guidance of Rural Youth records, 1887-1963 and undated, bulk 1914-1946. Duke University Libraries: David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library. Retrieved May 27, 2020, from

Special Collections and Archives staff. (n.d.). Making VCU. VCU Libraries Gallery. Retrieved May 27, 2020, from

(1946, April 2). Dr. O. Latham Hatcher, Pioneer Educator, Dies. Richmond Times-Dispatch, p. 11.

(1946 April 3). Dr. Orie Latham Hatcher. Richmond Times-Dispatch, p. 10.

Hatcher, O. L. (1918, June 1). The Virginia man and the new era for women. The Nation, 106(2761), 650-652.

Hatcher, O. L. (1930). A Mountain School: A Study Made by the Southern Woman’s Educational Alliance and Konnarock Training School. Garret & Massie Inc.

Pruette, L. (1931 March). Neglected country children. The Survey, LXV(12), 678-679.

Richardson, E. R. (1930 February). Liberals in Richmond. Plain Talk, VI, 213-219.

How to Cite this Article (APA Format): Crouch, L. (2020). Orie Latham Hatcher, Ph.D. (December 10, 1868 – April 1, 1946): educator, pioneer of vocational guidance, founder, Bureau of Vocations for Women, organizer, Richmond School of Social Economy. Social Welfare History Project.



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