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New Endowed Chair to Honor Gloria Steinem ’56
Smith College is honoring one of the world’s most visible and pioneering advocates for equality and justice with one of its highest academic distinctions. Thanks to a recent anonymous gift of $3 million, the college is establishing the Gloria Steinem ’56 Endowed Chair in the Study of Women and Gender.
Michael Thurston, provost and dean of the faculty, says the endowed chair will enable continuing scholarship in the academic areas that have defined Steinem’s work and activism over the past 50 years. “The Steinem Chair heightens the visibility of the study of women and gender,” says Thurston. “It will focus on the intersection of sex and gender studies and race in a variety of contexts.”
President Kathleen McCartney said that it is only fitting that Smith celebrate Steinem’s status and achievements as a leader in the movement for women’s rights. “All of us have been touched by Gloria’s remarkable accomplishments throughout her life,” McCartney said. “We cannot speak of women’s history, women’s progress, or women’s equality without acknowledging Gloria’s work.”
Creating a position to honor the iconic activist’s commitment to equality comes at a time when personal freedoms are being challenged globally. “Students are hungry for [answers to] what we do in the face of Dobbs, the overturn of Roe, and the rolling back of women’s rights that we saw under the [previous administration],” says Carrie N. Baker, chair of the Study of Women and Gender and chair of the search committee for the new professorship. “We are a long way from equality in this society, and students understand that.”
Steinem has long been involved with her alma mater, and Smith has shown its admiration and respect in numerous ways. Most recently, the college created the Special Collections in Action Fund in Honor of Gloria Steinem ’56 to support the acquisition, preservation and digitization of special collections and papers of women activists. Last spring, the Special Collections Reading Room in the newly renovated Neilson Library was renamed the Steinem Reading Room. Both initiatives acknowledge Steinem’s desire to preserve the history of women’s activism for new generations.
Even though Steinem came to prominence in the 1970s, she has remained a vital, relevant figure to today’s students, perhaps because she has always understood the importance of intersectionality. “Gloria was always clear that we need to include the voices of women of color, at a time where this just didn’t happen,” says Baker. “She insists on speaking with young women, speaking across generations, and speaking with women who are different from herself.”
A search for a scholar to fill the Steinem Endowed Chair will begin immediately. Thurston envisions “a highly visible and accomplished scholar who investigates the interrelation of sex/gender and race.” Smith is casting its net broadly, says Baker. “We want to hire the most qualified, amazing person that we can bring to Smith, and—like Gloria—will be a feminist who will be an inspiration to our students,” she says.