Barnard celebrates Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day (March 8) by honoring 25 groundbreaking alumnae.
- Elsie Clews Parsons, Class of 1896: The first woman elected president of the American Anthropological Association, in 1941. Parsons, whom The New York Times dubbed the “founding mother of anthropology,” focused her early works in the field of sociology that dealt primarily with gender roles, conventions of society, and the effect of society's pressures on the individual. [Photo courtesy of James Parsons]
- Helen Rogers Reid, Class of 1903: A founding member of the Women's City Club of New York, Reid became president of the New York Herald Tribune in 1947. Barnard’s Reid Hall, built in 1961, was named after her. Following her death in 1970, The New York Times quoted her saying: “When I was at Barnard,…the necessity for complete independence of women was borne in on me.”
- Ida Rolf, Class of 1916: A biochemist and founder of Rolfing Structural Integration, Rolf developed the system of soft tissue manipulation and movement education that is now called “Rolfing.” [Photo courtesy of the Rolf Institute]
- Helen Gahagan Douglas '24: Gahagan Douglas was an actress and the first Democratic woman to be elected to the U.S. Congress, in 1944.
- Zora Neale Hurston ’28: Barnard’s first African American student, and a beloved writer and folklorist, Hurston penned the literary classic Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) in seven weeks. More than a million copies of Their Eyes have been published since 1990, and in 2005, Oprah Winfrey produced a film adaptation. In May, her never-before-published manuscript, Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo," will be released in book form.
- Shirley Adelson Siegel ’37: Adelson Siegel has had a life filled with “firsts”: She was the only woman in her class when she graduated from Yale Law School in 1941, the first female lawyer ever at the firm she joined that same year, and the first person to head the New York State’s Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau when it was created in 1959. Read her take on Barnard’s Greek Games and her Barnard Magazine profile feature "Undeterred." [Photo courtesy of Dorothy Hong]
- Helen Ranney ’41: Her landmark research during the 1950s was some of the earliest to show a link between genetic factors and sickle cell anemia. In addition, she became the first woman to lead a university department of medicine in the U.S., to serve as president of the Association of American Physicians, and to serve as a Distinguished Physician of the Veterans Administration. In 1986, Ranney was awarded a Barnard Medal.
- Eileen Ford ’43: Ford Models, which remains one of the world's oldest and most influential modeling agencies, was co-founded by Eileen Ford, who was often dubbed the “queen of the modeling industry.”
- Lila Wallis ’47: Wallis founded and became the first president of the National Council on Women's Health, created the Office of Women in Medicine at the New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center in 1982, and was the only physician in the United States to have board certifications in internal medicine, hematology, and endocrinology and metabolism. She was one of three alumnae honored in Barnard Magazine for her class’s 70th Reunion celebration. For the occassion and to her classmates, she wrote, “I credit Barnard with giving me the impetus and vision of limitless possibilities to contributing a positive change.” [Photo courtesy of U.S. National Library of Medicine]
- Jeane Kirkpatrick ’48: Kirkpatrick was the first woman to serve as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, from 1981 to 1985, and was a high-ranking cabinet member of President Reagan’s national security team.
- Judith Kaye ’58: In 1993, Kaye became the first female chief judge for the New York Court of Appeals, where she served for a record-breaking 15 years. In a 2011 interview for the Historical Society of the Courts of the State Of New York, Kaye said, “When I look back it is only with enormous, enormous gratitude to Barnard College.” Read more about Kaye’s legacy.
- Susan Stamberg ’59: In 1972, Stamberg became the first woman in the United States to anchor a national nightly news program, when she was named co-host of National Public Radio’s All Things Considered.
- Sylvana Foa ’67: The first woman to serve as a foreign editor of a major international news organization, the first female news director of an American television network, and the first Spokeswoman for Secretary-General of the United Nations.
- Karla Jay ’68: A pioneer of lesbian and gay studies, Jay became the first woman chair of the Gay Liberation Front and co-edited the first anthology by and for LGBT people, Out of the Closets: Voices of Gay Liberation (1972).
- Laurie Anderson ’69: In 2002, the performance artist became NASA's first artist-in-residence. The position carried a $20,000 stipend to create and perform a theatrical piece about the organization, which Anderson did in a 90-minute monologue called The End of the Moon.
- Linda Laubenstein ’69: A physician and researcher who treated some of the first HIV/AIDS patients in the country in 1981, Laubenstein co-published the first medical paper on the increasing incidence of Kaposi’s sarcoma and its link to what would eventually become known as AIDS. In 1983, she also created the first full-scale medical conference on AIDS.
- Jacqueline K. Barton ’74: The chemist is among the first to demonstrate the electrical conductivity of DNA and has shown that certain damaged DNA molecules do not perform this property. In 2011, she was named one of seven recipients of the National Medal of Science, the highest honor bestowed by the United States government on scientists; in 2018, she became a National Academy of Inventors Fellow; and in 2019, she received the National Academy of Sciences Award in Chemical Sciences. Read more on Barton’s groundbreaking success.
- Sheila Abdus-Salaam ’74: The first African American woman appointed as a New York Court of Appeals judge, the state’s highest court, in 2013, Abdus-Salaam’s thoughtful approach to law helped 30 New York City female bus drivers, who were passed over for promotions, win an anti-discrimination case.
- Chai Feldblum ’79: An advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and disability rights, Feldblum became the first openly lesbian commissioner of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2010 and played a major role in negotiating the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. [Photo courtesy of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission]
- Georgia Pestana ’84: An attorney and the first woman and first person of Hispanic heritage to hold the position of First Assistant Corporation Counsel in New York City, Pestana is the second-in-command of one of the country's largest law offices. In November 2017, she was the inaugural guest at the College’s new discussion series, “Being the First.”
- Maria Hinojosa ’85: The 2012 John Chancellor Award for Excellence in Journalism recipient was the first Latina hired at National Public Radio, where she helped launch one of the earliest public radio programs devoted to the Latinx community. Hinojosa was the first Latina CNN correspondent; the first Latina PBS correspondent; and, the first Latina to anchor a “Frontline” report. Read more about her journey.
- Erinn Smart ’01: A 2008 Olympics fencing silver medalist, Smart became one of the first athletes trained through the Peter Westbrook Foundation (an organization dedicated to using fencing as a vehicle to develop life skills in young people from underserved communities), who went on to succeed in the international athletic stage. She is also a five-time U.S. national champion and was awarded Barnard’s Young Alumna Award in 2011.
- Sana Amanat ’04: In 2014, Marvel Comics’ director of content and character development co-created and introduced the company’s first Muslim woman superhero, Kamala Khan. Amanat will be featured in the “Being the First” event on March 27. [Photo courtesy of © Marvel Comics]
- Greta Gerwig ’06: The first woman to receive an Academy Award Best Director nomination for a directorial debut—2017's Lady Bird. Gerwig has also acted on both the stage (The Village Bike) and on the big screen (Frances Ha, for which she co-wrote the script). Read more about Gerwig here.
- Kelsey Lynch ’17: Lynch became the first student in the College’s 128-year history to be commissioned as a U.S. Navy Officer. She was also one of the first students to be commissioned since the return of the Columbia program in 2012. Barnard is proud of the many alumnae who have served or who are serving this nation or their nation of origin as commissioned officers or otherwise. Read the Spring 2011 issue of Barnard Magazine featuring the service of five alumnae. [Photo courtesy of Bruce Gilbert]
Read here for more of Barnard’s Notable Alumnae.
To learn more about Barnard trailblazers, pioneers, and those who were “the first” in their field, check out Barnard’s new series, “Being the First.”
Photo of groundbreakers: (Left to right) Zora Neale Hurston ’28, Eileen Ford ’43, Jacqueline K. Barton ’74, Maria Hinojosa ’85