Virginia Barnelle was a professor of theatre arts at Marymount College and LMU from 1950 to 1981. In 1953, she established the Theatre Arts Department at Marymount College and served as chair of the department until 1969; she also served as director of the Fine Arts Division from 1966 to 1967 and as a counselor in the teacher-training program from 1953-1967. During the affiliation period between Marymount College and Loyola University (1968-1973), Professor Barnelle served as the assistant to president of Marymount College. During this time she grew Marymount's study abroad program and established the Office of International Education. Following the merger of Loyola and Marymount in 1973, Professor Barnelle returned to teaching while also continuing to direct and expand the newly established Study Abroad Office. In the first years after the merger, she was instrumental in incorporating male students into the Theatre Arts Department as no such department had existed at Loyola University previously. She was elected chair of the department once again in 1979 and served in that capacity until her retirement in 1981. Known as "Miss B" to generations of students and alumni, Professor Barnelle remained one of the most respected educators on the LMU campus long past her retirement. From the time she founded the University's Theatre Arts Department at Marymount College in 1953 as its sole faculty member with a handful of students until she retired as chair in nearly three decades the later, the LMU theatre arts faculty grew to nearly twenty members and close to 100 majors.

After an accomplished career as a stage actor, Professor Barnelle earned her bachelor's degree from UCLA in 1949 and in 1953 was the first woman to earn a master's degree in theatre arts from the same university. Professor Barnelle was a member of Zeta Phi Eta, a national professional fraternity for communication arts and sciences, and Pi Lambda Theta, an education honorary society. In 1978 a scholarship was endowed in her name, by a number of her former students, to support students in LMU's Theatre Arts Department. Following her retirement, a small black-box theatre for experimental student- and faculty-directed works in Foley Hall was dedicated as the Virginia Barnelle Theatre. Professor Barnelle passed away in 1995.