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at Penn: The First 125 Years
to celebrate 125 years
of achievement for women at Penn, says Judith Roth Berkowitz CW64. To
say, How did women get to Penn, why did they come, what did they do while
they were here, and what were the results? Was it worth it to go through
all this aggravation to educate women? Because it certainly wasnt easy.
Nobody wanted to let them in, [but] once they got here, they did very
Penn trustee, is the chair of the Celebration of 125 Years of Women at
Penn scheduled for November 1-2, 2001, the Thursday and Friday before
Homecoming. Planners hope to attract up to 2,000 alumnae back to campus
for the Celebration, which will include a ceremony honoring women firsts
at the University, a talk by NBC Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent (and
Penn trustee) Andrea Mitchell CW67, panel discussions, a book signing
and party for Penn women authors, and a networking reception, among other
Roth Berkowitz CW'64 heads the Celebration of 125 Years of Women at
Penn, scheduled for November 1-2, 2001. A Women's Walkway and Generational
Bridge honoring Penn families at 38th Street will mark this milestone.
a sculpture honoring women at Penn will be commissioned; and the existing
Class of 1949 Bridge across 38th Street and its approach will receive
a major refurbishing to create a Womens Walkway and Generational Bridge
recognizing Penn families. Also planned is a book that will combine photographs
and essays on notable Penn women. Fundraising for the Celebration, with
a goal of $3 million (of which $2 million has been raised so far), will
also go to support an endowed scholarship, adds Berkowitz.
marks the century and a quarter since the first womenGertrude Klein Peirce
and Anna Lockhart Flanigenwere admitted to a degree-granting program
at the University, specifically the Towne Scientific School. There were
plenty of women at Penn before, but they were not in degree-granting programs,
explains Berkowitz. (Most were enrolled in non-degree courses similar
to those administered today by the College of General Studies, or which
led to a certificate rather than a degree, such as a three-year program
in Interior Decoration.)
is the prime mover behind the 125th Celebration, shes far from alone
in putting it together. We tapped into this chord, and when we started
to see if people would be interested in this kind of endeavor, it turned
out that they were very interested, she says. Of 35 people invited
to an initial meeting, 33 showed up. Since then, the group of core volunteersmembers
of the working committeehas swelled to more than 400, most of whom really
do have active roles.
well-placed alumna is Penns president, Dr. Judith Rodin CW66. Of course,
it really does help to have a woman president at the University at the
time when all this is going onbecause she serves as the role model for
everybody, says Berkowitz. Shes been a tremendous help to us in this
With the assistance
of the Universitys Archives and Records Center, Celebration volunteers
have been tracking down milestones for women at Pennsuch as Dr. Rodin
herself, Penns (and the Ivy Leagues) first female president, and Sadie
T.M. Alexander Ed18 Gr21 L27, the first African-American woman to earn
a doctorate at Penn and to graduate from the Law School. And the search
is still on. Were trying to reach the first of everything, says Berkowitz.
When she decided
to become involved in heading the Penn celebration, Berkowitz recalls
visiting the sculpture created by Maya Lin to mark 25 years of women being
admitted to Yale University. Its beautiful, really quite beautiful but
to myself I was sort of saying, 25 years? Were talking about 125
years. We offered an opportunity to women when opportunities didnt exist.
For Penns sculpture,
which will be located near 34th and Walnut Streets, in front of either
Hill House (originally a womens dormitory) or Bennett Hall (once home
to the College for Women), selected artists designs were submitted in
April to a committee headed by Deborah Marrow CW70 Gr78, director of
the Getty Grant Program at the Getty Center in Los Angeles, with a final
decision expected before November.
The other major
physical change the Celebration will bring will be at the 38th Street
Bridge, linking the old and new campuses, says Berkowitz. A Womens
Walkway, with pavers honoring Penn women, will lead up to the bridge.
On the bridge itself, more new pavers will be installed on which donors
can inscribe their familys Penn history. New lighting and plantings will
also be added, improving the overall appearance of the structurewhich,
as Berkowitz delicately points out, has never been beautiful.
We think that
when you come to Penn with your children, this is the first place youll
goto the Generational Bridge, she adds. I dont think anyone really
knew what kinds of Penn-family traditions there really are. Women only
go back a certain amount of time, but even among the women, their daughters
come, their sisters come, children come.
Penn connections include her husband, Howard P. Berkowitz W62 (they met
as students), and her daughter, Sandra Berkowitz C92. My brother-in-law
went, and his daughter went, and his first wife went. And my husbands
sisters husband went, she adds. So we have quite a [number], but its
more horizontal than vertical.
that she considered womens colleges when she was applying to collegeuntil
she visited Penn. I thought, This is really the place I want to be.
she says. Though it was still rather unusual for women and men to be
on campus together, Berkowitz, who had gone to a coed high school, didnt
think anything of it. The thing that did shock me was The Bennett
Newsthat you couldnt be on the staff of the DP. Women had
their own newspaper.
project has revealed generational similarities and differences among Penn
alumnae, reflecting the changing roles and views of women in higher education
and the workplace. Recent graduates have been very, very active, in
planning, Berkowitz says, adding: Were trying to reach out into the
fifties, the forties, the thirties; were trying to go back as far as
of discrimination may still smart for some older alumnae, for the women
who have come up to join uswe all know that there was a different standard
back then but we all had a wonderful opportunity, says Berkowitz.
I believe that the ones who have come forward to join in the project
are the ones who took the opportunity and made something of it.
had always worked, and she always assumed she would, too. She recalls
graduating from Penn in 1964 ready to get a job at IBM, and instead,
I became a secretary at IBM. That was my reality check, she says.
The sixties and seventies were definitely difficult. But it wasnt because
of what happened at Penn; it was because of what was happening all over.
By the 1980s,
women were starting to be more aware of their place and be more secure
of their place in the universe, Berkowitz says. The nineties women are
there. They are there. She describes these younger alumnae as a breed
apart. They are very self-confident, they are very assured.
And they alsomost
of them, anywayhave an awareness of womens history. Asked whether the
notion of having a separate celebration of women seemed irrelevant to
younger alumnae, Berkowitz replies: We thought we might run into more
of that than has been the case. The more introspective ones know that
theyre where they are because others have done things to help them get
there. And the others, who are not quite as introspective, understand
that theyre there because they have a right to be there. And both of
those points of view are correct. And were going to celebrate both.
The 125th Celebration
will kick off on November 1 with a book-signing and party at the Penn
Bookstore in Sansom Common, where a poster featuring images of covers
and spines from books by more than 200 Penn women authors will be displayed.
Fridays programs will include the formal opening of the Womens Walkway
and Generational Bridge, the ceremony honoring women firsts, and four
panel sessions on women in medicine, business, politics and the media,
and philanthropy. Scheduled participants include Andrea Mitchell, Ndidi
Okonkwo W95, executive director of the FATE Foundation, a private-sector-led
initiative to assist wealth creation and entrepreneurship in Nigeria;
Willow Bay C85 of CNN, Jean Chatzky C86, columnist for Money
magazine and Today show regular; the photographer Mary Ellen Mark
FA62 ASC64 Hon94; Rebecca Matthias CW75, president of Mothers Work,
Inc.; Marcia Greenberger CW67 L70, president of the National Womens
Law Center; and Anne DHarnoncourt Hon88, director of the Philadelphia
Museum of Art. The panels will be followed by a networking session for
many of us will be going to the Alumni Award of Merit dinner, says Berkowitz.
For those not attending the dinner, there will be affinity tables at
some major restaurants in Philadelphia. The last scheduled event will
be the annual Homecoming alumni run, within which women will do a special
2-mile walk, says Berkowitz.
But that wont
mark the conclusion of the 125th Celebration, she emphasizes. We want
to make sure that the celebration doesnt just end. We want it to become
how women associate themselves with the University in a major way.
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Copyright 2001 The Pennsylvania
Gazette Last modified 5/2/01