Unsung Women Pioneers at Penn Who Paved the Way for the Future
The University of Pennsylvania has had an impressive array of accomplished women among the faculty and staff, and honorary degree recipients, some like these, who were the first to teach in their field or get tenure or hold a particular position in the administration. In honor of Women’s History Month, Almanac presents a sample of such stellar and trail-blazing women from the University’s Archives. For more pioneers, see Women at Penn: Timeline of Pioneers and Achievements.
Emily Lovira Gregory (1841-1897): Penn’s first woman faculty member as well as one of the earliest to give instruction at any but a women’s college. She taught school until the age of 35, when she entered Cornell, where she earned a BA in 1881. In 1888, Penn’s department of biology appointed Dr. Gregory to the position of teaching fellow after she had returned from Europe, where she had earned a doctorate in botany at the University of Zurich. After her year at Penn, she was appointed lecturer at Barnard College. There she played an active part in championing the cause of grad students and encouraged lab assistants by paying them out of her own funds. She died at the age of 56, two years after becoming the first woman to win promotion to a full professorship at Barnard.
Sara Yorke Stevenson (1847-1921): She was the first woman to be awarded an honorary degree from Penn (1894) and the first woman to serve as president or chair of the University Museum Board of Managers. She was a founding member of the Archaeological Association of the University of Pennsylvania (1889), curator of the Egyptian and Mediterranean sections of the archaeological department (1890-1905), and prominently associated with raising funds to build the Museum. She was one of seven women to serve Penn as overseers of the Museum. Born in Paris, she lived in France and Mexico before settling in Philadelphia. Author of numerous articles on archaeology, she also wrote a book entitled Maximilian in Mexico (1899), and was literary editor of the Public Ledger. The Trustees granted her the honorary degree of Doctor of Science in recognition of her founding role in the Museum.
Fanny Rysam Mulford Hitchcock (1851-1936) in addition to being the first woman to receive a PhD in chemistry from Penn (1884), was the first Director of Women Students and in 1898 she had an office in Room 102 of College Hall.
Agnes Irwin (1841-1914): At the Commencement held on June 8, 1898, Agnes Irwin became the second woman recipient of an honorary degree at Penn and the first to be celebrated for advancing the cause of women in higher education. The Trustees granted her the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters in recognition of her accomplishments as the founder of a distinguished college preparatory school for women in Philadelphia and from 1894-1909, dean of Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She was the first woman to be awarded the honorary LittD degree at Penn.
Margaret Majer Kelly (1899-1990): First coach of women’s teams at Penn (and an instructor of physical education for women). In 1921, she organized and trained a women’s basketball team and scheduled the first intercollegiate competitions for women. After only three years at Penn, her achievements brought her well-earned celebrity as the founder of women’s athletics at Penn. She was the mother of actress Grace Kelly.
Jean W. McPherson: Held senior administrative and academic administrator positions at the University Hospital in 1901. Jean W. McPherson combined both functions in a single position, serving simultaneously as superintendent of the Hospital and directress of nurses. As superintendent, she was responsible for one of the largest budgets and largest payrolls on campus; as directress, she was the chief academic officer of the Training School for Nurses. HUP admitted more than 2,600 patients in 1901 and treated another 13,200 on an out-patient basis. She managed annual expenditures of $142,000, which included a payroll of $33,000. No other woman at Penn held an administrative position remotely approaching the authority of the superintendent of the Hospital.
Cecilia Beaux: The first woman to be awarded the honorary LLD degree at Penn. At the celebration of University Day, held on February 22, 1908, Cecilia Beaux, the celebrated Philadelphia artist, became the fourth woman recipient of an honorary degree at Penn. The Trustees granted her the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws in recognition of her achievements in the field of portraiture.
Louise Hortense Snowden (1864-1931): The first Advisor of Women.The University established the position of Advisor of Women in 1920, the first administrator at Penn responsible for women’s student life. Louise Hortense Snowden, an alumna who had earned a BS in biology with honors in 1898, was named the first Advisor. The editors of Women’s Undergraduate Record for 1921 noted, “The girls feel they have a friend who is their very own.”
Edith Baer: The first woman to serve as an Officer of Instruction in the School of Education and the first woman to be a member of the standing faculty at Penn. The School of Education appointed Edith Baer, who had a bachelor of science degree, to the faculty position of assistant professor of home economics in 1921.
Harriet Jean Crawford: In October 1925, Provost Josiah Penniman named Harriet Jean Crawford the first Directress of Women at Penn. She was a 1902 graduate of Bryn Mawr College and “director of halls” at Vassar College at the time of her appointment at Penn. She agreed to live in Penn’s Sergeant Hall (now demolished) and to direct the women’s Bennett Club, as well as “the activities of women students outside the classroom.”
Anne Bezanson: First woman to join the standing faculty in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. She was also the first woman to earn tenure in that School or in any School of the University and the first to hold a senior professorship at Penn. In March 1921, she helped found the industrial research department of the Wharton School and became its associate director. She served as special lecturer on industrial management for the academic year 1924-1925 and lecturer on industry for the year 1928-1929. In 1929, she earned a PhD from Radcliffe College and was then was appointed to the faculty position of research professor in industry.
Florence Barbara Seibert (1897-1991): She was the first woman to join the standing faculty in the School of Medicine and to earn tenure. The School of Medicine appointed her to the faculty position of assistant professor of biochemistry in the Henry Phipps Institute in 1932. In 1937 she was promoted to associate professor and became the first woman to earn tenure in the School of Medicine. In 1945 the University awarded her an honorary Doctor of Science in recognition of her extraordinary discoveries on the detection and cure of tuberculosis. In 1955 she was promoted to professor of biochemistry, the first woman to hold a senior professorship in the School of Medicine. In 1959 she retired and was appointed Emeritus Professor of Biochemistry in Penn’s Phipps Institute.
Adelaide Thomas Illman: First woman to be awarded tenure in the academic discipline of education and the first woman to hold a senior professorship in that discipline. In 1936 she joined the School of Education as standing faculty in the academic discipline of education.
Althea Kratz Hottel (1908-2000):First woman at Penn to hold the title of Dean. Dr. Hottel was a noted champion of higher education and education for women. At Penn she served as lecturer of sociology, 1936-1959, directress of women from 1936-1943, dean of women 1943-1959 and was a Trustee from 1959-1969. She earned a BS in education in 1929. As an undergraduate here she was president of the Women’s Student Government Association and during her senior year she was voted by her classmates as most popular, hardest working and best “all-around girl.” She subsequently earned an MA in sociology in 1934 and a PhD in sociology in 1940, both from Penn. In 1936 she became directress of women and after the elimination of that position in 1943 she was named dean of women, becoming the university’s first female dean. Her association with Penn did not end after retirement as she was then elected to the Trustees, only the second woman trustee in Penn’s history.
Mary Josephine Deubler: First woman to join the standing faculty in the School of Veterinary Medicine. In 1945, the School appointed her to the position of assistant professor of veterinary pathology. She was also the first woman to earn the VMD degree at Penn, in 1938.
Joyce Michell: First woman to join the standing faculty in the School of Fine Arts, in 1946 as associate professor of music and the first to earn tenure in that School.
Elizabeth (Betty) Farquhar Flower (1929-2001): First woman to join the standing faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences in 1947 (assistant professor of philosophy). In 1956, she was promoted to associate professor and became the first woman to earn tenure in the College of Arts & Sciences. She then was promoted to full professor in 1974. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. audited Dr. Flower’s course on ethics and the history of philosophy while he was enrolled at Crozer Theological Seminary in 1949. Fifteen years later, Dr. King met Dr. Flower again during a one-day seminar.
Virginia R. Park: Second woman to earn tenure at the School of Dental Medicine and the first woman dentist to earn tenure in that School as associate professor of restorative dentistry in 1942.
Mary Hoskins Easby: First woman to join the standing faculty in the Graduate School of Medicine (assistant professor of cardiology), in 1945.
Dorothy Swaine Thomas (1929-1977): First female professor in The Wharton School (research professor of sociology) in 1948.
Elizabeth Wallace: First woman to serve as an officer of instruction in The Wharton School (1946); she was an instructor in the department of Finance.
Theresa Inez Lynch: First woman to be appointed an academic dean at Penn, in 1950 (professor of nursing and dean of the School). Prior to this appointment she had held the academic administrator position of directress of nurses at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania since 1942 and had subsequently succeeded Katherine Tucker as director of the department of nursing education in the School of Education.
Jean A. Crockett: First woman to join the standing faculty of The Wharton School in one of its departments of business education and first woman to earn tenure and the first woman to hold a senior professorship in one of the departments of business education at the Wharton School. The School appointed Dr. Crockett to the faculty position of assistant professor of finance in 1954. In 1959 the School promoted her to associate professor of finance and in 1966 to full professor of finance. She was elected Chair-elect of the Faculty Senate. She was also the first woman to chair the Faculty Senate at Penn and was elected Chair-elect of the Faculty Senate in 1971.
Ruth Elizabeth Smalley (1903-1979): First woman to be appointed dean of School of the Social Work in 1958. She was the second woman to be named an academic dean at Penn.
Rebecca Jean Brownlee (1911-1995): First woman to be appointed dean of the College of Liberal Arts for Women. In February 1960, the University appointed Rebecca Jean Brownlee to the academic administrator position of dean of the College of Liberal Arts for Women. She was the third woman to be named an academic dean at Penn.
Alice (Tish) F. Emerson: Was Penn’s dean of women from 1966-1969 and the first woman at Penn —and the first woman at an Ivy League institution —to be dean of students. As dean of students, she was Penn’s chief student affairs officer and her responsibilities were equivalent to those of the present-day vice provost for University Life. She served the University as dean of students for six years, until she was elected president of Wheaton College in Massachusetts, the first woman president of Wheaton College (1975-1991). In 1975, her final year at Penn, the dean of students was responsible for the management and performance of 12 distinct offices of student affairs at Penn.
Patricia Ann McFate: First woman to hold the position of Vice-Provost at Penn (VPUL). In September 1975, Provost Eliot Stellar appointed Patricia Ann McFate to the senior academic administrator position of vice-provost for Undergraduate Studies and University Life. She was the first woman to hold the position of vice-provost at Penn. The University simultaneously appointed Dr. McFate to the faculty positions of professor of technology and society in the College of Engineering and Applied Science and associate professor of folklore, with a secondary appointment of associate professor of English.
Stanislawa Nowicki: First woman to hold a senior professorship at the School of Fine Arts. The School promoted her from the faculty rank of associate professor to that of professor of architecture in 1958, making her the first woman professor in the School of Fine Arts (now the School of Design).
Phoebe S. Leboy (1936-2012): First woman to earn tenure at the School of Dental Medicine. The School promoted Dr. Leboy from assistant professor of biochemistry to associate professor of biochemistry in 1971. In 1976 she was promoted to professor of biochemistry, the first woman to hold a senior professorship at the School of Dental Medicine.
Janis Irene Somerville: First woman to hold the position of secretary of the University and the first woman to serve as one of the Statutory Officers of the University. In September 1977 President Martin Meyerson appointed her to the senior administrative position of secretary of the University. She was the first woman to hold the position of secretary of the University and the first woman to serve as one of the Statutory Officers of the University. Prior to accepting her appointment at Penn, Dr. Somerville had been secretary of the Graduate Record Examinations Board of the Educational Testing Service in Princeton, New Jersey.
Linda Bradley Salamon: First woman to hold the position of director of the Office of the President in 1977.
Helen B. O’Bannon (1939-1988): First person (and first woman) to hold the title of Senior Vice President at Penn (the position was created in 1983).The position of the EVP was created by the President Sheldon Hackney under the title of Senior Vice President. The role of was to be the top administrative assistant to Penn’s President. The title was changed to EVP in 1992. Ms. O’Bannon was the first woman to hold any vice presidency at the University of Pennsylvania.
Cultures in the Crossfire: Stories from Syria and Iraq
(At left) Limestone mortuary portrait of a woman, 1st to 2nd centuries BCE, Palmyra, Syria, from the Penn Museum collection, in the new exhibit. (At right) Lost, 2016, Issam Kourbaj. Repurposed clothes dipped in plaster with text in Arabic and Greek. Highlighting the atrocity of refugees from war-torn Syria and Iraq trying to cross the Aegean Sea to reach Lesbos, Greece, the pieces of Lost, including this one, are made from children’s clothing. The text on this piece reads: Unknown Boy, 7 years old, Checked shirt.
Nimrud. Aleppo. Palmyra. Ebla. These ancient sites and many others in Iraq and Syria have found their way to the top of international news today, as the destruction of cultural heritage becomes both a by-product and a tactic of ongoing war throughout the region.
What is really at stake? Why does it matter? What is the human story that accompanies this unprecedented loss? And what is being done to prevent further loss of the material culture, vast human history and diverse cultural identities in the region of the world long known as the “cradle of civilization”?
Cultures in the Crossfire: Stories From Syria and Iraq, a new special exhibition at the Penn Museum opening April 8, considers these questions. Developed in conjunction with the Museum’s Penn Cultural Heritage Center, the exhibition explores the rich cultural heritage, human diversity and achievements—as well as the movements and displacements of people and objects caught in the crossfire—through more than 50 objects from the Museum’s exceptional Near East and Mediterranean collections, as well as a range of Arabic manuscripts from the University of Pennsylvania Libraries, music and sounds and documentary film clips. Contemporary artwork from Syrian artist Issam Kourbaj, interwoven throughout the exhibition, provides an art intervention—a modern-day response to the artifacts and exhibition themes.
The exhibition puts the spotlight, too, on current work being done by the University of Pennsylvania and the Smithsonian Institution in conjunction with individuals and groups in the Middle East to help combat the loss of irreplaceable cultural heritage. The exhibition runs through November 26, 2018.
An Opening Celebration and a Look at International Law Perspectives
The exhibition opens Saturday, April 8 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 11 a.m. and a special celebration—free with Museum general admission—of Syrian and Iraqi culture, including regional folk music, talks and more.
The Center for Ethics and the Rule of Law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, in collaboration with the Penn Museum and the Museum’s Penn Cultural Heritage Center, hosts an international, by-invitation-only conference for international experts on The Preservation of Art and Culture in Times of War at the Museum. The keynote panel discussion, New Frontiers in the Protection of Cultural Property, is open to the public Tuesday, April 4, from 5 to 6:30 p.m.
Exploring Identities, Scholarship, Daily Life, and the Movement of People
The exhibition surveys the cultural diversity of the region through the millennia, where Arabs, Kurds, Arameans, Assyrians, Armenians, Circassians, Turkmens, Sunnis, Shias, Druze, Ismailis, Christians, Jews and Yazidis are among the many peoples with unique histories and claims for the preservation of their heritage. The region has rich diversity—and much of the ethnic targeting and cultural heritage destruction has been sectarian in nature. Palmyrene funerary reliefs, a Hebrew tombstone, an eye idol, incantation bowls and a manuscript page from a Qur’an provide tangible evidence of a long history of religious and ethnic diversity in the region.
Unfathomable to many Americans, in the Middle East people go about their daily lives alongside ancient ruins, inhabit cities that date back millennia and value their historic neighborhoods and markets because of their association with the past. Everyday items, some thousands of years old, speak to traditions handed down from generation to generation: a drum, a rattle, a pot, a bowl and a ladle, a lute and a trumpet, a Kurdish doll. These items provide insight into the continuity of household and family life.
The fertile crescent has played a key role in intellectual developments for more than 5,000 years, and the exhibition highlights the development of writing and literature, advances in education, mathematics, astronomy, and medicine, philosophy and the arts. A clay tablet bearing early writing, and ancient cylinder seals and stamps for signing documents, are among the Penn Museum collection objects that tell this story. From the University of Pennsylvania’s Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, a selection of illustrated manuscripts on complex mathematics, botany, medicine and surgery, music theory, astronomy and more, bear witness to the intellectual flourishing in the region.
Long a land of cross-cultural interactions, the region that is now Iraq and Syria has experienced waves of migrations of people and been a trading center throughout history. Gold ornaments, ivories, coins, glass pitchers and containers, and a mosaic panel are among the ancient materials that speak to a long history of cultural interaction, trade, influence and migration under the rule of multiple empires.
A Contemporary Perspective: Through the Art of Issam Kourbaj
Syrian-born artist Issam Kourbaj offers an “art intervention” via stand-alone artworks installed throughout the exhibition. Taken together, the seven works create a space to contemplate the tragic current events in the region. From Strike i, ii, and iii, a series of video installations featuring a performance of burning matchsticks, to Dark Water, Burning World (2016), an installation of boats repurposed from old bikes’ mudguards and inspired by 5th century BCE Syrian boats, to Seed (2016), an installation of a soft children’s toy caught in a hand grinder clamped to a tall stand, with seeds below, Kourbaj’s works reflect upon the human suffering, despair, struggle—and hope—in his native land.
Mr. Kourbaj’s work has been widely exhibited internationally. Sound Palimpsest, a collection of his sketches, inspired in part by the Epic of Gilgamesh and also by language, war and memory, was acquired by the British Museum in 2008. His current traveling installation, Another Day Lost, based on Syrian refugee camps, was exhibited in London, New York City, Dubai, Cambridge, the UK, Budapest and Philadelphia, in 2015 and 2016. He was trained at the Institute of Fine Arts in Damascus, the Repin Institute of Fine Arts in Leningrad (St. Petersburg), and at Wimbledon College of Art (London).
The Museum’s Penn Cultural Heritage Center has been involved in a number of projects over the years, working closely with Syrians and Iraqis to identify, monitor and find ways to preserve cultural heritage of importance to local communities and at risk of destruction. It is not an easy task. Woven throughout the exhibition are stories of some of this work: at Ebla in Syria; at Erbil, and Dohuk in Iraqi Kurdistan; at a mosaic museum in Ma’arra, Syria; and with a refugee community in northern Syria.
Stewardship of Museum collections is another kind of action to preserve cultural heritage; in the gallery adjacent to Cultures in the Crossfire, the Museum reopens its popular In the Artifact Lab conservation exhibition and program with a new name and an expanded focus: The Artifact Lab: Conservation in Action. Beginning April 8, Museum conservators will concentrate on ancient art and artifacts of the Middle East, working on objects in a lab behind glass, with open window times when guests can ask questions several times each day.