Kathleen McCartney is the 11th president of Smith College.
Her career and life are testaments to excellence, leadership and the power of education. Born and raised in a working-class neighborhood in Medford, Mass., McCartney is the eldest of five children. She attended public schools and was the first in her family to go to college, graduating summa cum laude from Tufts in 1977 with a degree in psychology. She had planned to teach elementary school, but a college adviser and mentor encouraged her to pursue graduate studies. McCartney was accepted to Yale University, where she earned both her master’s and doctoral degrees in psychology. Her dissertation was one of the first studies to compare variations in the quality of child care in the United States, finding that children who received higher quality care demonstrated superior language development.
In 1982, she joined the faculty at Harvard as an assistant professor of psychology. Later, she was tenured at the University of New Hampshire, where she was an assistant professor of psychology and family studies as well as director of the university’s Child Study and Development Center. In 2000, McCartney was recruited back to Harvard as the Gerald S. Lesser Professor in Early Childhood Development at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE).
McCartney’s research has focused on child care and early childhood experience, education policy, parenting, poverty and behavior genetics theory. She has published more than 150 articles and book chapters on those topics and was the principal researcher for Child Care and Child Development, a 20-year study, published in 2005, that examined whether early and extensive child care disrupted the mother-child bond. Data and findings from that study are still being cited by educators and policymakers today. In addition, she co-edited Experience and Development, The Blackwell Handbook of Early Childhood Development and Best Practices in Developmental Research Methods.
In 2006 McCartney was appointed dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, only the fifth woman dean in Harvard’s history. As dean, McCartney oversaw a 25 percent growth in the school’s faculty. She doubled the school’s financial aid for master’s students, raised funds for international faculty research and dramatically increased fellowship support for doctoral students. She also helped strengthen relationships between HGSE and the community, establishing a partner network of more than 30 school districts and nonprofit organizations. A signature accomplishment of her Harvard tenure was the development and launch of an innovative three-year doctorate in educational leadership that was designed in collaboration with the Harvard Business School and Kennedy School of Government—the idea being to graduate education leaders grounded in policy and management experience.
In addition to her scholarly work, McCartney serves on numerous boards and works closely with several prestigious organizations. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences as well as the National Academy of Education. She is a fellow of the American Educational Research Association, the American Psychological Association and the American Psychological Society. She was elected to the Board of Directors of the American Council on Education (ACE) in 2015. She was the recipient in 2009 of the Distinguished Contribution Award from the Society for Research in Child Development. In recognition of her thoughtful and creative leadership at HGSE, The Boston Globe in 2011 named her one of the 30 most innovative people in Massachusetts. In 2013, she received the Harvard College Women’s Professional Achievement Award, which honors an individual who has demonstrated exceptional leadership in her professional field.
McCartney is married to Bill Hagen, who served for more than 20 years on the English faculty at Phillips Exeter Academy. They have four children. She is an avid reader, and she enjoys yoga, hiking and the arts.