A woman at the helm at Harvard! A distant dream not so long ago, when the last Harvard President (Larry Summers) was questioning the ability of women to succeed in the sciences, this weekend the Harvard Corporation (their version of the Board of Trustees) announced the appointment of Dr. Drew Gilpin Faust as the 28th President of Harvard.
Best news: Dr. Faust is a graduate of Bryn Mawr College, one of the nation’s distinguished women’s colleges. And she takes the helm at Harvard from the position of Dean of the Radcliffe Institute, the branch of Harvard that was once the estimable Radcliffe College, one of the “seven sisters” women’s colleges. For more on Dr. Faust’s background read today’s article in the New York Times and Jay Mathews’ profile of her in today’s Washington Post.
2007 is shaping up as a great year for women’s colleges and our alumnae. In a few short weeks, we’ve seen one of our graduates sworn-in as the highest-ranking woman ever in the American government and the first female Speaker of the House — our very own Nancy Pelosi, Trinity ’62. Just a few weeks later, another women’s college graduate — Wellesley’s Hillary Rodham Clinton — launched her campaign for the U.S. Presidency, and she’s the first woman ever to have a serious shot at winning.
Now, today, Dr. Faust joins this rarified group of exceptional women leaders who are blasting through some of the most significant barriers to women’s achievement in contemporary culture.
The fact that this group of women are all graduates of women’s colleges is hardly surprising to those of us who know the power of the graduates of women’s colleges. These three women exemplify all of the reasons why Trinity and other women’s colleges persist in this important mission. For more than a century these institutions have produced some of this nation’s most outstanding women leaders — in numbers quite disproportionate to the actual size of our institutions in American higher education. Consider Trinity: a relatively small institution that has had two members of Congress (Nancy Pelosi and now-retired Barbara Kennelly ’58), including the Speaker of the House, a Governor (Kathleen Sebelius ’70) who is now the first woman to head the Democratic Governors Association, two federal judges (Rosemary Collyer ’68 and Claire Eagan ’72) and scores of other public officials and citizen leaders.
Some people say that, with coeducation now normative, there’s no longer a need for women’s colleges. I say: behold Speaker Pelosi, Senator Clinton, President-elect Faust. They are the latest, but far from the last, in a centuries-long tradition of women’s achievement that is promoted, honored, respected and advanced by colleges and universities that focus on women’s education and leadership. Imagine how impoverished our world would be without these and so many other pioneering women who are among our alumnae. Our day is not over, far from it — inspired by the great example of these women leaders, I wager that women’s colleges and our students will grow even stronger in our determination to succeed and surpass their achievements! In the ways in which we honor, encourage and expand women’s horizons, the value of this form of education to our world will continue to be a gold standard for women’s education everywhere.
Visit the website of the Women’s College Coalition