Thursday we celebrated Jill Ker Conway’s 80th birthday. Conway began her tenure as Smith’s first woman president in 1975, at a time when women’s rights and ascension into the professions were reshaping society. A longtime supporter of the liberal arts and, especially, women’s education, she built her presidency around, as she noted in her inaugural address, fostering “research and the creation of new knowledge around matters of central importance in women’s lives.”
To that end, she supported the development of a number of groundbreaking programs, including a management program for executive women and the Project on Women and Social Change. Recognizing the changing needs and lives of women, she also launched the Ada Comstock Scholars program. In the first year of her presidency, Time magazine named her a “woman of the year.” Following her retirement from Smith in 1985, she authored three best-selling memoirs, including The Road From Coorain and A Woman’s Education.
Conway was an early and outspoken advocate for keeping college affordable, and recently the college raised nearly $3 million in student scholarships through the Jill Ker Conway Challenge. A true pioneer and leader in higher education, she continues to be a great friend to Smith and fierce promoter of, as she once said, women’s “intellectual bravado.”