When chemical engineer Elisabeth Drake '58 entered MIT 50 years ago, there were 15 women in her class, yet women's leadership and community were already vital. Katherine Dexter McCormick, a 1904 graduate and a leader in the movements for women's suffrage and birth control, played a large role in Drake's era. She invited female students to white-gloved teas and asked important questions.
Speaking at the Women's Leadership Conference held April 30 at the Hotel@MIT in Cambridge, Drake described her first tea: McCormick graciously turned to the students and said, "Young ladies, I assume you know about birth control, but I wonder if you have thought about how you are going to manage your career and your reproductive life?"
McCormick's question broke the ice that day, and she proceeded to fund a women's dormitory, which helped increase women's enrollment and build community. McCormick's leadership, drive and clear focus on balancing professional development and personal life exemplified themes that recurred throughout the day of panels and conversations among some 200 alumnae at the conference. The event, subtitled "Innovating Success," was sponsored by the MIT Alumni Association.
Leading alumnae shared stories about the challenges they had overcome in their fields through determination and hard work. Some incidents, related in breakout sessions on topics ranging from "Corporate Leadership" to "Medicine/Health Care," were overt. A skilled physician was denied board certification in San Francisco because, she was told, they only accepted one woman every other year--and it was the wrong year. Some challenges are ongoing, such as balancing work with raising children.
Learn more about the Women's Leadership Conference on the MIT Alumni Association Web site.