There will be more women in this year's freshman class than at any time in MIT history. The incoming class will include 444 women, a 21 percent increase compared with last year's 368. This increase results in an incoming class in which 40 percent will be women.
"We are committed to expanding opportunities for women at MIT," said Provost Mark S. Wrighton. "Our educational programs should encourage more women to pursue independent careers in fields that have not traditionally had high numbers of women."
Michael Behnke, MIT's director of admissions said, "There are a number of special programs we put into place to recruit more women to MIT this year. The Dean of the School of Science, Professor Robert Birgeneau, sent a letter to prospective female applicants to encourage them to apply to MIT." Dr. Birgeneau's daughter was a 1993 graduate of MIT with a major in biology.
"We also radically changed the image of our admissions materials because we realized our past brochures weren't communicating the creativity that is part of a science and engineering education at MIT," Mr. Behnke said. The greater variety of campus activities depicted in the new brochure may have attracted more women to apply to MIT, he explained.
"We are grateful to see so many outstanding students entering our freshman class this year, and it is rewarding to see the efforts of our admissions staff and faculty paying dividends in achieving a stronger, more diverse student body," said Dr. Wrighton.
MIT has had a long history of educating women. Ellen Swallow Richards was the first woman to get an MIT degree, an SB in chemistry, in 1873. She came to campus only six years after classes began and remained associated with the Institute for the rest of her life. In 1876 she became the director of the Women's Laboratory and was appointed an instructor in 1883. Mrs. Richards became an internationally known authority on contaminants in food and water.
Between 1881 and 1890, more than 100 women enrolled as students and 19 women earned SB degrees, according to a 1976 thesis on the early women of MIT by Marilynn A. Bever.
The number of women at MIT has grown rapidly since 1970, before which fewer than 100 women entered as freshmen each year.
A version of this article appeared in the July 20, 1994 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 39, Number 1).