The women in this feature, selected for their enduring contributions to Brown, share stories of discrimination, hardship, determination and triumph. From Sarah Doyle, whose 19th-century activism brought Brown’s first female students to campus, to Louise Lamphere, whose 1970s lawsuit changed the possibilities for female scholarship, to Karen T. Romer, whose 29 years of administrative advocacy made College Hill a more supportive place for women — these scholars, students, deans and presidents helped pave the way for women at Brown.
Mary Woolley and Sarah Doyle: Pioneers
A full 17 years after Brown received its first application from a woman, the University opened its doors to six female students — Maude Bonner, Clara Comstock, Nettie Goodale Murdock, Elizabeth Peckham, Anne Tillinghast Weeden and Mary Emma Woolley — in October 1891, marking its first steps into coeducation.
The coordinate Women’s College of Brown “grew out of a larger women’s education movement,” said University Chaplain Janet Cooper-Nelson, adding that it “was quite small at its founding.”
The history of women at Brown began with an advocate for women in higher education who never attended college herself: Sarah Elizabeth Doyle. Born in Providence in 1830, Doyle was a schoolteacher for 37 years. In her spare time, she became “active in the women’s club movement,” said Jane Lancaster PhD’98, University historian.
As a clubwoman, Doyle was involved in various social and civic organizations in Rhode Island. She was dedicated to improving education for women and was also an advocate for women’s suffrage.
Both the Rhode Island Women’s Club and the Rhode Island Society for the College Education of Women were started in part due to Doyle’s advocacy. She also contributed to the founding of the Rhode Island School of Design.
As early as the 1870s, Doyle was continually “nudging” the University to admit women undergraduates, Lancaster said.
She knew Elijah Andrews when he was a professor of history and political economy, and when he was named University president in 1889, she spoke to him and his wife about the possibility of accepting female students. Doyle knew Andrews was “sympathetic” to women’s education, Lancaster said.
Doyle and a group of local women united with the president in an effort to persuade the Corporation that women should be admitted.
Despite “grudgingly” deciding to start accepting women, Brown made the choice “far ahead of their peers,” said Shelley Fidler ’68, co-chair of the Women’s Leadership Council of Brown.
While men and women both received degrees from Brown, they studied and lived apart. All students were taught by the same professors but at different times — lecturers were paid to repeat classes for female students in the afternoons. The first women’s dormitory did not emerge until 1900, Lancaster said, adding that most female students were locals.
One of the original students, Woolley, came from Pawtucket. “She already had some higher education when she arrived,” Lancaster said. Woolley proved “very, very bright,” eventually becoming an editor for one of the men’s literary magazines and the first president of the Alpha Beta sorority.
Woolley was “so advanced” compared to her female peers that she was sometimes allowed to study with the men, because holding advanced classes just for her would be too costly, Lancaster said. Men were at first “terrified” by Woolley’s intelligence.
In 1894, Woolley and Weeden became the first female undergraduates to graduate from Brown. A year later, Woolley received a master’s from Brown for her thesis, “The Early History of the Colonial Post Office,” and she eventually went on to become the 11th president of Mount Holyoke College. Woolley received over 18 honorary doctorates by the end of her life in 1947.
It is “unbelievably daunting” to think about what women “went through to assert themselves and ensure they got a great education,” Fidler said, adding that Woolley made “enormous contributions to women and the world in general.”
Doyle continued to advocate for women’s services throughout the 1890s and beyond. In 1894, she became the first woman to receive an honorary degree from Brown.
As the population of the Women’s College increased significantly — by 140 women in the first five years, according to the Office of Institutional Research — Doyle recognized the need for a larger and more permanent space. At the time, Women’s College students were studying in a rented Benefit Street building and an old grammar school where the John D. Rockefeller Library was later constructed.
When Doyle inquired about a new building, Andrews said the University could not afford it. So Doyle and a committee of her female peers raised the money themselves, leading to the dedication of Pembroke Hall in 1897.
During a speech at the building’s opening, Doyle offered her most famous and lasting words: “The women’s sphere is one of infinite and indeterminate radius.”
Pearl Livingstone and Nancy L. Buc: Visionaries
Even before women were allowed equal access to Brown, the students of Pembroke College — the University’s renamed women’s school — were determined to make positive changes for the University.
In 1953, Pearl Livingstone ’54 P’79 P’82 GP’08 GP’10 GP’16 was elected president of the Student Government Association, the student leadership council of Pembroke College. Her platform was one of institutional change — she transformed Pembroke’s government into a representative system. “In the past, heads of organizations were the leaders of the student government,” she said. With the new system, “students on each floor from each dorm and the city girls all had representatives they voted on,” she said.
A student from Cleveland, Ohio, Livingstone also emphasized the importance of spreading awareness of Brown beyond the local sphere. “One of the planks of my platform was that I thought Pembroke and Brown weren’t known in Cleveland,” she said.
Growing up in Cleveland, Livingstone had never heard of Pembroke. But her high school guidance counselor introduced her to an admission officer, who encouraged her to apply.
While president, Livingstone proposed that alums from all over the country should interview prospective students to help achieve name recognition beyond the local area.
“At the time, no one did this,” she said. “That’s how you get your name around and how you get better candidates.”
Ten years following Livingstone’s leadership and graduation, Nancy L. Buc ’65 was elected president of the Student Government Association in 1964. As president, she supervised the social and athletic associations and worked on revisions to the code of conduct, she said, adding that she also abolished the unpopular tradition of liver and bacon Tuesdays in the Pembroke dining hall.
Livingstone’s and Buc’s achievements were hard-won in an environment that allowed women the same academic experiences as their male peers at The College of Brown University but held them to different social standards. Men outnumbered women about three to one, with about 250 women at Pembroke College, compared to around 750 at The College, Buc said.
Men and women took courses together, with the exception of “Hygiene,” and women also received Brown degrees, Buc said. But Pembroke and the College maintained separate living quarters, dining facilities and student activities.
There were separate clubs, a separate newspaper that published less frequently than The Herald and separate student government systems.
Female students were held to a 10 p.m. curfew, while male students were not limited, Livingstone said. Women were required to make their beds each morning, while the men had maids, Buc said. “Women had junior counselors to teach us how to be ladies,” Buc said.
“Male students didn’t like the words ‘women’ and ‘Brown’ together,” she added.
And even while academics were integrated, the women of Pembroke faced challenges in class.
“Most of us never had a woman professor,” Buc said, adding that female students were generally quieter in the classroom.
Livingstone described a classmate, Ann, who had ambitions to become an engineer. “There were certain areas where it was harder for women to feel comfortable,” Livingstone said, adding that Ann was so intimidated her first semester that she dropped engineering.
“Women were thought of as different,” Buc said. “There’s no question. There were two colleges.”
Buc went on to law school, despite what she described as a lack of support from the University’s deans, only to return years later to serve on the Corporation. Buc spent 14 years participating in the University’s highest governance, as both a fellow and a trustee, and described herself as a “vocal source on issues of discrimination and inclusion of women and minorities.” Buc said, “I love Pembroke and Brown, and I hope we made it a better place.”
Karen T. Romer: Advocate
When Karen T. Romer arrived on campus in 1972 to assume her role as associate dean for academic affairs, she was pregnant. At the time, maternity leave was not an option. And when the University finally allowed it, pregnancy was labeled a “disability,” Romer said. “It gives you a feeling for the times.”
Brown and Pembroke College had merged only one year before Romer stepped on campus. Some women present at the University after the merger referred to it as a “submerger” because they believed women were not receiving equal treatment, Romer said.
Romer set to work establishing programs to offer support where she believed it was lacking.
She helped start a daycare center where working women at Brown could drop off their children. But creating the center was “an uphill battle,” Romer said.
In the 1970s, she helped organize a group of women — including faculty members, administrators, deans, trustees and students — who were concerned with women’s issues. At the time, women’s efforts and concerns were not well-addressed, said Jane Lancaster PhD’98, University historian. This ultimately became the Working Group on the Status of Women at Brown.
Sometimes, Romer would meet with other women at the Faculty Club. Male faculty members would often feel “discomfort” at seeing a group of women in the clubhouse, Romer said, adding that they would tease, “What are they planning now?”
The women behind the working group tried to claim a space to meet, but the University disapproved of gathering women from all spheres of campus life, Romer said. When Brown offered a house on Waterman Street, officials specified it was only for the use of undergraduates. So the women protested.
“We had to say … it’s very important that this space be inclusive of women and women’s experiences,” Romer said, adding that eventually the University “backed down” and agreed that everyone could use the house.
The working group “laid the groundwork” for creating a committee that ultimately led to the creation of the Sarah Doyle Women’s Center, which was established in 1974.
The center was created in part to make up for women’s services that were lost after the merger, Lancaster said.
Romer also helped form a concerns group for women in universities and colleges, which started in New England.
The view that it was important to bring women of various positions in a university together was “ahead of the times,” Romer said. At the groups’ meetings, women would talk about crisis situations and offer input on how to respond to them, Romer said. Eventually the group turned into a formal organization, she added.
Romer also served as a hearing officer for sexual assault cases involving student victims and faculty assailants.
Romer and the Office of the Dean of the College were critical in pushing the institution to look at what harassment issues existed on campus, said Robin Rose, senior associate dean of Continuing Education.
“As academic dean I could see what it could do to women’s academic work when they had a semester of something like this,” Romer said.
Other colleges at the time had “very formal step-by-step processes” for dealing with sexual assault cases, but under Romer’s leadership, Brown established a more sensitive approach involving more confidentiality and fewer administrators, she said.
“We were trying to brainstorm what we would need to set up that would make sense to students,” she said.
Romer’s love of working with students inspired her to stay on College Hill for 29 years, retiring in 2001. At the end of her career, she was honored with the naming of two awards: the Karen T. Romer Undergraduate Teaching and Research Awards, for students pursuing research projects with professors, and the Karen T. Romer Prize for Undergraduate Advising and Mentoring, for faculty members.
“I take my hat off to Brown undergraduates,” Romer said. “They’re just wonderful.”
Louise Lamphere: Crusader
It was early June of 1974 when Louise Lamphere decided to sue.
She asked to see Philip Leis, the chair of the anthropology department, two weeks after she’d been denied tenure. “I had decided that this was pretty unfair and that I had a better record than they said I did,” Lamphere said.
Lamphere had spent a total of six years at Brown as an associate professor of anthropology. In addition to researching Navajo culture, she had been an active member of a growing feminist movement on campus, along with the small number of young female faculty members and graduate students at Brown.
“We joined consciousness-raising groups, supported abortion rights, and protested against the University Club, where male faculty and administrators conducted university business over lunch, but women could not be members,” Lamphere, now famous for her 1970s suit, said in a 2012 TED Talk.
During the 1972-1973 academic year, Lamphere took advantage of the new Open Curriculum and taught a Group Independent Study Project called “Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Women.” She also worked together with Michelle Rosaldo to publish “Woman, Culture and Society,” a book that has since sold 75,000 copies — an “academic best-seller,” she said.
But all of this had resulted in a conversation on May 24, 1974 in which she was told that her scholarship, specifically on women, was “theoretically weak,” Lamphere said.
Leis told Lamphere there were concerns about her teaching. “This was news to me. I thought my teaching was fine, and I was pretty shaken when I came out of that meeting,” Lamphere said. “I felt like I had poured a lot into my professional career, but I just lost my job.”
The notification came two weeks late, after the window for filing a grievance had closed, according to Polly Welts Kaufman’s book, “The Search for Equity: Women at Brown University 1891-1991.” Lamphere wrote a letter to Donald Hornig, the president at the time, and tried to contact Provost Merton Stoltz, and Dean of the Faculty and Academic Affairs Jacquelyn Mattfeld, the sole woman in the top administration. But no one responded, Lamphere said, and when she approached Mattfeld in person, “she said her hands were tied.”
So Lamphere and lawyer Milton Stanzler, along with his nephew Jordan Stanzler, filed a federal complaint under Title VII.
The federal court required the Department of Anthropology to rehear her case in the fall of 1974. The six tenured men in the department reaffirmed the denial of her tenure, and the Academic Council approved the decision.
On May 10, 1975, Lamphere filed for a class action suit, defining the class to include all women who had or would serve on or apply to the faculty. The class was confirmed in July of 1976 by the judge on the case, Raymond Pettine.
Pat Russian, Claude Carey and Helen Cserr, women from the German department, Slavic Languages and Literature department and the Division of Biology and Medical Science, respectively, joined the class.
Between May 1975 and the fall of 1976, Lamphere and her legal team worked to collect interrogatories, answers to questions posed by either side of the case to be used as evidence, and depositions, evidence given by parties sworn under oath.
“The University just didn’t want to answer any of the questions,” Lamphere said. She and the Stanzlers had to go to court to get information, like the numbers of men and women on the faculty and the number of women hired in the last five years.
It was during this period that a set of letters was brought to light — letters between Leis and George Hicks, a tenured anthropology professor. Portions of these letters were blacked out when originally submitted, Lamphere said, so there was a hearing in which Pettine held them in contempt of court. Hicks and Leis then had to submit the complete letters, which revealed collusion in an effort to “orchestrate the outcome” of ridding the department of Lamphere, she said. There was also evidence that Hicks had pressured graduate students to submit negative letters about her.
Pettine was “astounded” to discover the University had no rules governing the tenure process and was likely guilty of gender discrimination, Lamphere said. “At the very least, it was a very schloppy process,” she said.
When Howard Swearer became president in 1977, the University had accumulated more than $1 million in legal fees, and the case was gaining momentum. The faculty was growing tense, and Swearer had to protect the University’s name, Lamphere said. “He was eager to get rid of this case.”
The case was settled out of court in the fall of 1977. Representatives from the University, establishing a set of rules and regulations for the tenure process, granted Lamphere, as well as two other plaintiffs, places on the tenured faculty. The fourth, Russian, was awarded a cash settlement because she was not on a tenure track.
Two committees were formed: one to manage continuing responses by other members of the suit’s class, and one to monitor the progress of women in the University’s ranks. In a moment when only 25 women, 12 of whom were tenured, served on the faculty, the University set goals to grant 57 women tenure in ten years and to hire a total of 100 others. “We called it 57 by 87,” Lamphere said.
According to “The Search for Equity,” Leis was later quoted in a Brown Alumni Monthly article as saying, “There may be much lost to the University as a result of the decree and little gained.”
By this time, Lamphere had been working at the University of New Mexico but came back to Brown in the fall of 1979, staying through 1985.
“By ’85 I decided that Howard (Swearer) was still angry about the case … I felt that nobody was going to let me do anything at Brown. It was sort of like a dead end,” she said. Leis and Hicks, “friends who had turned into enemies,” were making her time at Brown difficult, she added.
Today, Lamphere is still teaching classes at UNM. “Suing Brown was the most important thing I have done. I learned that it is possible to transform an institution and create long-term change that goes beyond resolving of personal injustice,”she said in her TED Talk.
Today, Brown’s faculty comprises 249 women, or 33.8 percent of the total, according to the University website.
The Lamphere case “had a huge impact on how searches were done for faculty and staff,” said Belinda Johnson, former director of Psychological Services, who began working at Brown in 1977. Lamphere’s impact was “far-reaching,” she said.
In 2008, Lamphere donated $1 million to Brown and created the Louise Lamphere Visiting Professorship, a two-year joint appointment for young or untenured professors to teach in gender studies, The Herald reported at the time. “It’s so that those courses get taught,” Lamphere said, referring to the classes on women she taught as an associate professor in the early 1970s.
“I really helped transform an Ivy League university,” Lamphere said. “My feeling is that (my case) helped transform the University into a much more egalitarian place with more room for women.”
Barbara Tannenbaum: Activist
Barbara Tannenbaum is best known on College Hill today for her popular course, TAPS 0220: “Persuasive Communication.” But for a few decades in her history at Brown, students were drawn to her for a different reason.
In the early 1970s, female graduate students approached Tannenbaum with concerns about things happening in their departments, she said. For instance, women were being kissed inappropriately when visiting their professors’ homes. They asked her to form a support group, which she agreed to do as long as the students helped her lead the meetings. “I was always looking for moments of teaching,” she said.
Tannenbaum, senior lecturer in theatre arts and performance studies, came to Brown in 1970 at age 22 for a one-year appointment, but 44 years later, she’s still here.
“Brown gave me two things that I needed as a young person: They gave me freedom and they gave me confidence,” Tannenbaum said, adding that the University told her to “teach anything that you want.”
After Brown and Pembroke merged in 1971, the campus environment still felt like that of a men’s school, said Belinda Johnson, former director of Psychological Services, who later consulted with Tannenbaum in leading a support group. Tannenbaum’s work with women helped develop an atmosphere comfortable for both male and female students, Johnson said.
Tannenbaum’s support group met at the old Sarah Doyle Women’s Center, she said, adding that women from outside the Brown community were welcome to join in on weekly topics of conversation.
In the late 1970s, Tannenbaum also started a support group for rape and incest survivors that met every Thursday night. Women reported their experiences to her, and she felt it was important they also heard each other’s stories. “There’s power in that,” she said.
As support group numbers rose past 20, a graduate student began to assist her in running it, she said.
Tannenbaum became interested in working for the sexual assault resource center Rhode Island Crisis Center — now known as Day One — after women at the support group spoke about their volunteer work there.
“It felt to me like the work they did mattered,” Tannenbaum said. She underwent “very intensive” training in order to be able to work on call. At times she would go to the hospital at midnight, return home by 3 a.m., and then get called in again at 5 a.m.
Besides working on call, Tannenbaum also did outreach for the center, taught hospital personnel about sensitivity and worked with local police on how to interview victims of sexual assault, she said.
At the time, Brown students often called campus police in times of trouble. Tannenbaum said she “realized there was a need” for women responders, so she created a system called Woman On Call.
Staff members everywhere from the deans’ offices to the Chaplain’s office volunteered their time, Tannenbaum said.
“Her advocacy on these issues in the early 1980s was really important,” said Robin Rose, senior associate dean of Continuing Education. “Because of her work, other areas of the institution got more involved.”
Toby Simon, former associate dean of student life, worked with Tannenbaum at the R.I. Crisis Center and participated in Woman On Call. “Most of the women who served at Woman On Call put the needs of the students coming forward ahead of the institution,” she said.
The 1980s saw a slew of protests centered on sexual assault and the treatment of women.
“It seemed like Brown was one of the first campuses in the mid-1980s and early 1990s to start talking and organizing around sexual assault,” Simon said, adding, “a lot of other schools weren’t doing much at all.”
By then, “a whole crew of women administrators were working pretty hard on these issues,” said Rose, who started the Women’s Peer Counselor program in the early ’80s.
Women no longer tolerated “disrespectful” men on Wriston Quad, Simon said, citing some fraternity men’s habit of sitting on their patios and rating women with cards as they walked by. In 1985, over 150 women rallied on Wriston to “reclaim it,” she said.
In 1990, the University made national news when female students began writing the names of their sexual assailants on a John D. Rockefeller Library bathroom wall.
The wall sparked controversy on campus, “because the men felt they were being attacked without a way of defending themselves,” Tannenbaum said.
Simon decided to start SAPE, the Sexual Assault Peer Education program, after the University held a student forum about the issue of sexual assault on campus. The program drew wide participation, Simon said. “If there was … a student who had been hurt in a way that I found to be totally unfair, then I was never afraid to take a stand,” Simon said.
Tannenbaum continued to offer support groups into the 1990s, when she was appointed University ombudsperson by President Vartan Gregorian. Her role in sexual assault activism grew less hands-on as she directed various complaints to the right offices.
And beyond her role as an advocate, Tannenbaum said she has “a whole other life” in which she is dedicated to teaching students how to build self-esteem and confidence through persuasion and communication.
Before she began using a waitlist for her Persuasive Communication class, Tannenbaum used a lottery system, which naturally skewed toward male students, since they outnumbered females at Brown. So she made women a “protected class” in enrollment.
“I’m sure there was this reputation that I was discriminating against men, but it was my own form of affirmative action,” she said.
As a woman who wanted to “change the world on many issues” she found that “persuasion was a science that had been studied and that we could learn from it.”
When working with people at the R.I. Crisis Center on communication skills, she used to say, “If you could talk to a middle school auditorium filled with boys in the back giggling about sexual assault, you can talk to anyone about anything.”
Sheila Blumstein: Chief
When Sheila Blumstein, longtime faculty member and professor of cognitive linguistics, was named interim president in 2000, she became the first female to lead Brown. But there was little to-do about the milestone, as Blumstein dove into her role while a search for her replacement began.
University Historian Jane Lancaster PhD’98 said both the faculty and administration welcomed Blumstein.
“She’s a good academic and a good administrator, which is a rare combination — not many people do both,” Lancaster said. “She was really a competent person with a lot of experience with the University who happened to be a female.”
Blumstein echoed Lancaster in saying that her being a woman was incidental, adding that though she was technically the first woman to hold the role of president at Brown, she doesn’t think of herself as Brown’s first female president.
Regardless, Blumstein’s tenure marked the start of 14 years — and counting — of top female leadership at Brown.
But a Brown that hosted a female president was far from the one Blumstein knew when she arrived in 1970 as an assistant professor. There was no orientation system in place for new faculty, so when she was invited to an event for Women at Brown, she took the chance to meet female colleagues — only to discover the event was for faculty wives. Upon receiving tenure six years later, she joined eight to 10 other women who carried the title, she said.
Despite the history of low female representation on the faculty, which Blumstein said was not unusual in academia at the time, she would go on to chair her department, hold the title of dean of the College and serve as interim provost and president.
Though Blumstein said she was never aware of how her salary might have compared to her male colleagues’, she said, “I wasn’t treated, as far as I know, differently from the men. Certainly not (by) the men in my department.” Blumstein found mentors in male colleagues who encouraged her to get involved with faculty governance and expand her influence past the linguistics department.
“I’ve always found Brown receptive to women, although over the years it’s been clear there have been issues,” she said.
Blumstein said she’s faced subtle discrimination at times. One frustration she’s shared with female colleagues is not always receiving credit for their ideas, seemingly because they’re women.
“Somebody else says something, and it’s exactly what you said, and it’s attributed to the man,” she said.
She remembered a phone call in which a male colleague, “called me ‘sweetie.’ I said, ‘don’t call me sweetie.’ And it went downhill from there,” she said. But such incidents are rare, and Blumstein doesn’t consider them a remarkable feature of her time at Brown.
She identified the Lamphere case as her most distinctive memory of gender tensions within the University. “Brown lost because, frankly, we didn’t give her due process,” she said, adding, “Negative as that was, out of bad can come good.”
Despite the Lamphere case, Blumstein believes the University was ahead of its peers in terms of conducting job searches that were not “the ‘old boy’ network at work” and in awarding promotions and tenure to women, due in part to the public scrutiny following the court case.
Blumstein was tapped to be dean of the College in 1987. But into the start of the next decade, women constituted a small minority of Brown’s senior administration, said Robin Rose, senior associate dean of Continuing Education.
Blumstein said she and enjoyed positive relationships with both presidents with whom she worked: Howard Swearer and Vartan Gregorian.
“She understood the whole student. Even though she was dean of the College, she didn’t just look at students from an academic perspective,” Rose said. “She thought a lot about the student experience outside of the classroom.”
The values that have dictated the University’s academic mission are principles in which Blumstein believes strongly, and which she felt she could support as dean of the College. She named her involvement with the Women in Science and Engineering program, the Mellon Minority Fellowship and endowing the Undergraduate Teaching and Research Award program as some of her biggest accomplishments as dean.
Blumstein said she was considered for the provost position that became available in 1998 largely because of her success as dean of the College, but she only agreed to an interim role because of the position’s “distance” from students. And only two years later, she was asked to serve as interim president after Gordon Gee left to head Vanderbilt University.
Blumstein remembers the time as arduous, noting the lack of power that accompanies all interim roles. She dealt with several challenges, including the 2001 Horowitz debate, in which students protested the publication of an anti-slavery reparations advertisement in The Herald, and penalties from the NCAA for recruitment policy violations.
Lancaster said it’s possible the Ivy Group, which facilitated the process of addressing the NCAA complaint, saw an opportunity to “make an example” of Brown because Blumstein was an interim, and because she was female. But Blumstein said she didn’t face gender discrimination during the ordeal.
Yet other problems persist, Blumstein said. “There’s this thing called the glass ceiling, and I think it’s still alive and well,” she said.
Academia was “ahead of the game,” in naming female presidents, she said — referring to the absence of a female U.S. president — but representation in university corporations is still lacking.
The day-to-day issues she sees involve “having enough self-assuredness or confidence to speak up and say ‘my idea is right’ or ‘I don’t agree with your position,’” she said. “That’s hard for a lot of women.”
Blumstein said she’s observed a tendency for female faculty members to lend themselves to “helper” roles, such as advising positions. Since there is often less female and minority representation in these positions, such faculty members are often asked to “be role models,” she said. While important, this sometimes leaves them with insufficient time for research or teaching, she said.
When Ruth Simmons was announced as Blumstein’s official successor in November of 2000, there was a flurry of media attention surrounding her status as the first black president of an Ivy League institution, and as Brown’s first female president.
Simmons, like Blumstein, was adamant that her race and gender were a matter of chance, and preferred to focus on her professional skills and goals for the job, The Herald reported at the time.
But the fact that Brown had named its first official female president was not insignificant. “I think it was time,” Blumstein said. Simmons’ race and gender “made a critically important contribution to, again, what is Brown and what is our mission,” she said. “We did what we said we are.”
As to whether Blumstein’s actions during her time as interim president influenced the decision to find a female replacement in Ruth Simmons, Lancaster said the choice was undoubtedly more related to Simmons’ own qualifications.
Simmons was a “strong, competent, extraordinary individual who, whether she were male or female, would have knocked everybody’s socks off,” Blumstein said. She expressed her faith that the choices of both Simmons and President Christina Paxson were motivated by criteria that didn’t include gender. At the end of the day, she said, “you want the person.”