President Jill Ker Conway
Jill Ker Conway was the first female president of the college. Her selection, a watershed in the history of Smith, was a hallmark in an era of significant change in the perception of women and their role in society. In her inaugural address, she stressed the importance of not only supporting women through their undergraduate education, but furthering the college mission ”…to foster research and the creation of new knowledge about matters of central importance in women’s lives.” Some of the most significant accomplishments of her tenure reflect this vision. She focused much of her energy on developing and funding women-centered projects such as the Smith Management Program, Ada Comstock Program, and Project on Women and Social Change.
Conway was only 39 years old when she accepted the Smith appointment in 1974. A native of New South Wales, Australia, she received her undergraduate education at the University of Sydney (1958). Two years after completing her B.A., she left Australia to pursue her Ph.D. at Harvard University. While at Harvard, she met and married John Conway, a Canadian historian and a native of Toronto. Together they moved to Canada where both obtained positions at the University of Toronto. Jill Conway remained at the University of Toronto for more than ten years, beginning in 1964. She began as a professor of U.S. social and intellectual history, then gradually rose through the administrative ranks to serve as the vice-president for internal affairs (1973-1975). Conway assumed the Smith presidency in July 1975. Several administrative and curricular changes were enacted during her tenure. Administrative offices, such as the Career Development Office (previously the Vocational Office), Dean of the College, Dean of Students, and Public Relations, were reorganized. The Women’s Studies, Comparative Literature, Peace and War Studies, and Engineering Dual Degree programs were added to the curriculum during this period, and academic minors were introduced. Lasting physical reminders of her presidency include the Ainsworth Gym, expanded outdoor athletic facilities, as well as renovation and additions to Neilson Library. The Alumnae Gymnasium was also renovated during this period, and became home to the Smith College Archives, the Sophia Smith Collection, and the Nonprint Resource Center. Following her departure from the college in 1985, Conway has been a visiting professor in MIT‘s Program in Science, Technology, and Society. She has authored and edited a number of books of fiction and nonfiction. Three volumes of her memoirs provide detailed biographical information about Conway. The third volume A Woman’s Education, chronicles her years at Smith. Conway continues to play an active role in the promoting women’s education and improving the life of women in the U.S. and abroad.
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