09 July 2007
There are seven colleges/universities on the east coast of the United States that were originally founded in the 19th century for women only, though two of them are now co-educational. Their mission was to educate women to the same degree as men. These private colleges and universities continue to provide an outstanding education to women, and the list of their famous graduates is a long one.
They received the nickname of "The Seven Sisters" in the 1920s to link them in people's minds with the eight Ivy League men's colleges (now all coed). Although these highly regarded women's colleges were founded in the 19th century, it wasn't until 1978 that they all had women Presidents.
This nickname also had a classical reference to the Pleiads, the graceful and beautiful stars in the heavens.
One day the great hunter Orion saw the Pleiads as they walked through the countryside, and desired them. He pursued them for seven years, until Zeus answered their prayers for delivery and transformed them into doves, placing them among the stars. Later on, when Orion was killed, he was placed in the heavens behind the Pleiades, immortalizing the chase.
The Seven Sisters
Barnard College (New York, NY) - founded in 1889, adjacent to Columbia University. In 1983 Columbia began to accept women applicants, ending Barnard's exclusive right to enroll women undergrads.
Bryn Mawr College (Bryn Mawr, PA) - this nondenominational college counts actress Katharine Hepburn among its notable alumnae.
Mount Holyoke College (South Hadley, MA) - founded in 1837, this was the first of the Seven Sister schools, and the first institution of higher education for women in the U.S.
Radcliffe College (Cambridge, MA) - emerged in 1893 as an institution adjacent to, yet separate from, Harvard University. In the 1970s, the two schools merged and women were officially granted Harvard degrees.
Smith College (Northampton, MA) - Australian educator and author Jill Ker Conway became Smith's first woman president in 1975.
Vassar College (Poughkeepsie, NY) - coeducational since 1969, its the first of the Seven Sisters to welcome both genders. In 1989, Rick Lazio was the first Vassar grad to be elected to Congress. However, he was defeated in a recent Senate race by a Wellesley grad (Hillary Clinton).
Wellesley College (Wellesley, MA) - Wellesley's presidents have all been women, many of them Wellesley alums. Hillary Rodham initially attracted national attention in 1969 when she became the first student to speak at commencement exercises for Wellesley.
Should you have a daughter approaching college, you might want to look into attendance at one of the seven sisters for a unique experience in education.
Wellesley College Tupelos In Performance