When Hanna Holborn Gray, president emerita of the University of Chicago and Fellow of Harvard College, was pursuing a Ph.D. in history at Harvard in the 1950s, female role models in academia were scarce. At the time, Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences boasted exactly one female with tenure – Helen Maud Cam – and even she couldn’t enter the Faculty Club by the front door or Lamont Library at all. Gray launched an impressive career in academia nonetheless, refusing to be hobbled by the factor that derailed many a budding female professor’s career: marriage.
Half a century later, Lindsay Hyde ’04 burst into Harvard with a determination and enthusiasm already fueled by female mentors, chief among them her own mother. She soon founded Strong Women, Strong Girls, a community service program that matches college women with Boston girls, and took the reins of leadership in a variety of public service arenas.
Both Gray and Hyde were honored April 21 with Harvard College Women’s Leadership Awards, presented annually since 1998. The two offered multigenerational perspectives on women and leadership at two very different Harvards.
The first female president of a major research university and the only woman on the Harvard Corporation, Gray gave a warm and witty account of her days at a Harvard and Radcliffe where women’s experiences were far different from now. “It used to be said that Radcliffe was co-ed but Harvard wasn’t,” she said.
She shared colorful stories of Cam, recalling how the professor dispatched Gray, her teaching assistant, to fetch her teeth from her nearby apartment; when Gray produced them, Cam inserted the dentures and continued the lecture without skipping a beat. “From Miss Cam, I confirmed what I had already learned at [my undergraduate alma mater] Bryn Mawr: that is, the importance of eccentricity … the willingness to act outside the circle of expected behavior,” said Gray.
Gray also advised the audience, comprising many of the female athletes, public servants, communicators, and social leaders who were nominated for the Leadership Award, on balancing personal and professional life. “Accept the fact that this will be an ongoing process,” she told the young leaders. “Choices made will limit some others but also will perpetuate some new ones.” Gray added that while some might argue that the myriad of choices and freedoms facing women now do not make their lives easier, they certainly make their lives richer.
Leaders: The next generation
Introducing Hyde, Julia Fox, assistant dean of Harvard College, remarked on the immediate impact of Hyde’s leadership on Harvard. “You arrived at Harvard with vision and energy, and you persuaded the rest of us to sign on with you,” said Fox, who is director of the Ann Radcliffe Trust, which presents the Women’s Leadership Award. “How could we say no?”
Hyde launched Strong Women, Strong Girls (SWSG), modeled on a similar program she created at her high school in Miami, her freshman year.
“The rest is history, and Strong Women, Strong Girls is practically a multinational nonprofit, or soon will be,” said Fox, only partly in jest. Next year, on top of pursuing a master’s degree at the Graduate School of Education and serving as a proctor, Hyde will formally establish SWSG as an independent nonprofit based in Cambridge.
“My development as a leader can be attributed to the many fantastic role models I’ve had here at Harvard,” said Hyde. She found mentors not only in Harvard’s faculty and administrators, she said, but also in her classmates and in her elementary school girls, who taught her the importance of play and how to pack a solid New England snowball. “I feel like this award is an honor to all their efforts,” she said.
Julia Appel ’04, whose leadership with Harvard Hillel has enhanced that organization’s service of women, and Sarah Levit-Shore ’04, who has worked on issues of sexual violence at Harvard, received honorable mentions for the award, which was established with an endowment from Terrie Fried Bloom ’75. Also attending the event were some of Harvard’s male leaders: President Lawrence H. Summers, Dean of Harvard College Benedict H. Gross ’71, and Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences William C. Kirby.