Women students reached a milestone on June 4, 1888 as the college faculty reviewed the candidates for degrees. They concluded that "Cadets G. G. Bryan, E. E. Curtis, R. Payne and F. V. Bartlett and Miss Belle C. Gunn" had "creditably finished the course prescribed for the degree of Bachelor of Science, it was unanimously resolved to recommend them to the Board of Directors for that degree." Even though women received certificates from the Normal Department as early as 1884, Gunn became the first woman student at State College eligible for a baccalaureate degree.
Arabella Clement Gunn, a Lexington native, spent her childhood on a farm near Shelbyville, Kentucky. While living in Shelby County she attended the well-respected Science Hill Academy for girls. Her family returned to Lexington in the early 1880s and Gunn attended the public schools of Lexington and Sayre Institute. At State College classmates remembered Gunn as "well above average in scholarship, but not so brilliant as to inspire envy and jealously." She participated fully in the limited social life available, including the literary societies.
Before the commencement exercises that year President Patterson summoned Belle Gunn to his office. He asked the only woman graduate, "I suppose you will not want to sit up on the platform with the young men on Commencement Day, will you Miss Gunn?" Gunn's reply was brief and pointed: "I've been through four years in classes with them and I don't see why I shouldn't sit on the platform with them now." At commencement the president was reportedly "most gracious" to the first woman graduate who he referred to as the "Eldest Daughter of the Institution."