She Leads Academia

She Leads Academia
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

After attending my nephew’s college graduation, I began thinking about women leaders in academia. Certainly, female college presidents are more common now than they have ever been in U.S. history. In spite of their small numbers, women leaders in academia have made tremendous contributions to institutions of higher learning in the U.S. Match the woman with her accomplishment:

____ 1. The second president of Bryn Mawr College, she worked to facilitate the admission of women to the John Hopkins University School of Medicine.

____ 2. The first African-American to lead an Ivy League institution; previously the first African-American woman to head a major college or university.

____ 3. The first African-American woman to lead a major research university.

____ 4. The first female African-American president of Spelman College.

____ 5. Co-founder and first president of Radcliffe College.

A. Elizabeth Agassiz

B. M. Carey Thomas

C. Johnetta B. Cole

D. Ruth Simmons

E. Shirley Ann Jackson

The co-founder and first president of Radcliffe College, Elizabeth Agassiz, like many women of her day, was educated at home. As an adult, she conducted a school for girls in her home and published in the field of natural history. Having always been interested in education for women, she chaired the Committee of Seven Lady Managers, through which she led the effort to establish an institution where women could receive an education equal to that the men received at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 1882, the “Harvard Annex”, formally known as the Society for the Collegiate Instruction of Women, was established. Harvard University refused several merger offers from Agassiz while she was at the helm of the Harvard Annex. Thus, in 1894, Radcliffe College was chartered. It took more than a century for Radcliffe to be merged with Harvard.

M. Carey Thomas served as the second president of Bryn Mawr College. After becoming envious of the education available for her brothers but not for her (due to her gender), she investigated Cornell University at the behest of her father to determine if he should attend. She wanted to go! He was not enthusiastic but did finally relent and Thomas graduated in 1877. She applied for and was accepted to graduate school at Johns Hopkins, the first woman, but precluded from attending lectures due to her gender, she withdrew. Although she applied for the inaugural presidency of the newly opened Bryn Mawr College, a man was selected and Thomas became the Dean of the College and the first Professor of English. She served as president from 1894-1922. She did not forget Johns Hopkins, however. She is well-known for facilitating the admission of women to the medical school and, forty years after her withdrawal from its graduate school, Thomas became the first woman awarded an honorary degree.

The first African-American female president of Spelman College, Johnetta B. Cole assumed this position in 1987. Educated at Fisk University, Oberlin College, and Northwestern University, Dr. Cole received her Ph.D. in anthropology. As president of Spelman College and later as president of Bennett College, Dr. Cole spent many years at the helm of colleges established specifically for the education of African-American women. During her Spelman presidency, she became the first woman elected to the board of Coca-Cola Enterprises. Later, she was the first African-American chair of the board of United Way of America. Today, Dr. Cole is the director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art.

The first African-American to lead an Ivy League institution, Ruth Simmons served as President of Brown University from 2001-2012. Making her mark, she was named America’s best college president during that time. Previously, she had served as President of Smith College, the first African-American woman to head a major college or university. Close to my heart, she started the engineering program while President of Smith. Simmons received her Ph.D. from Harvard University and served as provost at Spelman College while Dr. Cole was its president. She has received many honors including the Ellis Island Medal of Honor for her many humanitarian endeavors.

A nuclear physicist who was the first African-American woman to graduate with a Ph.D. in any field from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Shirley Ann Jackson is today the President of Rensselaer Polytechnic University. The first African-American woman to lead a top research university, Jackson has held this position since 1999. A previous chair of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, she began her career at AT&T Bell Laboratories. The recipient of many awards, a sought after corporate board member, a member of the National Academy of Engineering and a participant or leader of Presidential councils and boards, Jackson has been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

Learn about more she-roes and celebrate amazing women. These women all understood the importance of education for women and are among the more than 850 women profiled in the book Her Story: A Timeline of the Women Who Changed America. I am proud to tell women’s stories and write women back into history. I stand on their shoulders.

(Answers 1-B, 2-D, 3-E, 4-C, 5-A)

Before You Go

Popular in the Community