Praise for Penn women

“We can do better than that,” Judith Berkowitz (CW’64) thought to herself when she came across a sculpture celebrating 25 years of accomplishments by Yale women one day. We, meaning the women at Penn, who have been here for 125 years.

This chance encounter came only days after Sandra Williamson (CW’63), a former chair of the Trustees’ Council of Penn Women, had approached her about heading the 125 Years of Women at Penn celebration. She agreed, of course.

Though Berkowitz, a University Trustee, notes that Penn women today share “equal parts at the table,” she remembers a time when women were not always allowed in the Quad, nor could they enter buildings wearing pants.

Yet given the cultural climate 125 years ago, Penn’s stance on coeducation was considerably progressive. Even though Gertrude Klein Pierce Easby and Anna Lokhart Flanigen, the first female enrollees at Penn in 1876, were not allowed to receive university degrees, their participation in a coeducational university program was unusual.

Given the obstacles women faced, Berkowitz said the achievements of Penn women are remarkable. The list of such accomplished individuals ranges from Caroline Burnham Kilgore, who received a bachelor of laws in 1883 and was the first woman admitted to the practice of law before the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, to Susan Ness (W’83), former commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission, and Andrea Mitchell (CW’67), chief foreign affairs correspondent for NBC News.

“You shouldn’t underestimate the importance of these women,” Berkowitz said. “They were driven by their will to advance. Their dreams are the dreams we are celebrating.”

Sponsored by the Trustees’ Council of Penn Women and hosted by the Alumni Association, the event will take place the first two days of November. Highlights include a private performance by Eve Ensler, author of “The Vagina Monologues,” and several panels on educating women for leadership today. But the celebration won’t end there. Berkowitz said the Women’s Walkway and Generational Bridge, which will pave the Class of 1949 Bridge over 38th Street with stones inscribed with the name and class of Penn alumnae, will serve as “living, ongoing parts of the celebration.”

More event and registration details at

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Originally published on September 13, 2001