By Tahirah ’12 and Caroline ’14
Alumni Association President Carolyn Hampton ’84 said she knew since she was ten years old that she wanted to be a lawyer, so as an incoming ninth grader she shrugged off her geometry grades, joined The UV and focused extensively on her English classes. But when she finally earned her J.D. in 1991, she was surprised to find that women weren’t allowed to wear pant suits, in the courtroom; rather, all female lawyers had to wear skirts. Hampton said she was even more surprised when at one of her trials, a judge asked her to do a little twirl for him, because he said she “looked cute in her skirt.”
In the 1950s, when Hampton’s mentor graduated from law school, there were maybe five other women in her class; none of the established law firms would even consider hiring a woman to fill anything other than secretarial positions. 40 years later, when Hampton graduated from Loyola Law School, about 50% of her class was made up of women.
“When [my friends and I] graduated from Marlborough, we felt like we could do anything,” she said. “It was a different world for my generation, and the world has changed more still. I experienced sexism that probably doesn’t even exist now.”
Since its founding in 1889, Marlborough has held a distinguished reputation as a leader in women’s education. Graduates credit Marlborough with fomenting strong friendships and instilling self-confidence upon graduation.
“I think that Marlborough, whether you know it or not, helps you foster a sense of self-worth,” Hilary Crahan ’84 said.
After conducting interviews with ten Alumnae from the classes of 1961, 1984 and 2003, we’ve determined that love for Marlborough does indeed endure. We may not realize this as students, but once we leave the sheltered halls of the School, the real world doesn’t always take kindly to strong, independent women.
But we have also discovered that the same values have been stressed since Mary Caswell’s time. What has changed is the number of opportunities and the severity of gender bias girls have found in the workplace after graduation. Older graduates from the 1950s and 60s were met with limited possibilities in a male-dominated world, while girls graduating in the 1980s or later, on the heels of the women’s movement, didn’t expect to face discrimination. So how does this all-girls environment prepare us for a man’s world?
Marlborough as an institution never took an active role in encouraging students to achieve the right to vote, equal pay for doing the same jobs as men or liberation from traditional expectations. Mary Caswell herself did not support the women’s suffrage movement. While Marlborough girls have always received a top-notch education in an all-girls environment, graduates of earlier eras said they did not always feel as though they’ve had the same professional opportunities as men, despite the emphasis the School put on leadership while they were students.
“It was a different time,” said Crahan, referring to when her mother graduated from Marlborough in 1953. “[My mom is] 75. Back then, women had a different emphasis on what career and family meant.”
Shirley Macy ’61 graduated from the University of Southern California and became a teacher, one of the few options available to women from her graduating class who chose to purse a career.
“In the 50s, most women went off to become nurses and teachers,” Assistant Head of School and Director of Upper School Laura Hotchkiss ’86 said. During the middle of the 20th century, those were the “socially acceptable” choices for women, she said, adding, “That’s the beauty of Marlborough. Depending on what society or the world has demanded of women, Marlborough has been flexible enough to adjust.”
In reaction to changing standards, the School expanded its athletics, math and science programs, areas considered only 50 years ago to be primarily for men. Julia ’12 said that Marlborough as an institution has not needed to take direct action in improving women’s rights, because by teaching students how to be leaders, the School is already impacting female empowerment.
“I think that Marlborough has taught that we are the ones who can change our environments,” Julia said.
Head of School Barbara Wagner agreed that the School’s role has always been to help women prepare for the demands of the age.
“This School is much more grounded in reflecting first in what our core values are and then responding to the landscape of the world,” Wagner said.
LEADERS FOR LIFE
Many Alumnae said they never expected serving as captain of the Volleyball team would influence their career choices, but copious opportunities for student leadership on campus have allowed generations of women to feel confident taking on leadership roles as adults.
Shirley Macy ’61 said she never expected to make use of the School’s emphasis on work ethic and dedication in her adult life. After graduating from USC, Macy worked as a teacher before the births of her two children prompted her to leave her job. However, at the age of 32, she became a single mom in Los Angeles with two kids.
She had to go back to work.
“I had to summon all of the strength that Marlborough had given me to realize that a woman could do whatever she puts her mind to,” she said, “and that evolved into wonderful things for me.”
A strong resume propelled Macy back into the job market. She worked in residential real estate before a fellow Alumna helped her find work on the Olympic Organizing Committee. In 1990, when her daughter Katherine became a Mustang, she joined the Alumnae Council and later ran the Development Office and the Centennial Campaign.
“Marlborough has opened so many doors for me,” she said, adding that while she was a student, she didn’t realize the value of her environment. Macy held positions on a number of student-run organizations, including All-School Council, Mascot committee, Banner Presentation committee and the Theater Management committee, where she oversaw the production of the talent shows.
When Macy was a Violet, instead of clubs, girls served on committees, councils and honorary societies, all established in 1921. The first Ring Ceremony Committee was established in 1909, and the first sports team captains were chosen in 1891. All-School Council was formed in 1925, and the first issue of the newly named The UltraViolet was published in 1969. Like Macy, numerous women claim to have benefited from these leadership opportunities.
Donna Britain ’86 said she can directly credit her leadership experience at Marlborough to success in her career. As a sophomore, Britain was chosen to write and direct the film for her class’s Colors Presentation.
“This project is one of my best memories at Marlborough and was definitely the catalyst for my career in the entertainment business as a writer,” she said. “It was a little intimidating to be in a position suddenly where you’re telling your entire class what to do, but the experience alone gave me a huge amount of confidence to take charge.”
Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer (COO) Sheryl Sandberg, one of the most successful women in the world, claims that few women fight for managerial positions because they lack the company of other powerful women like themselves.
Which isn’t a problem at this School.
“That’s one of the beauties of Marlborough,” Hampton said. “All of the leadership roles are taken up by girls, from the star athletes to the Assembly Coordinator. On top of that, classes are small, so you can’t hide in them. You’re forced to speak up and assert yourself.”
But becoming a COO is a much larger task than memorizing lines for an all-school play. Nonetheless, the seemingly small roles that Violets assume on a daily basis create much larger impacts after graduation.
“Marlborough has given me the opportunity to test my own limit and work independently,” Siena ’12 said. “I’m fortunate for my ability to be the student who takes charge of my own goals.”
The “1943 Guide to Hiring Women,” published in Transportation Magazine, lists 11 tips for male supervisors who hired women during World War II. Tip number six? Each woman should receive an adequate number of rest periods during the day because “a girl has more confidence and is more efficient if she can keep her hair tidied, apply fresh lipstick and wash her hands several times a day.”
Although today the workforce is comprised almost equally of both men and women, there are still very few female politicians, school administrators and executives. Only 7.5% of the major earners at America’s Fortune 500 companies are female.
In 2005, Sandberg’s own mentor, economist Larry Summers, commented that the under-representation of women in science and engineering was due to a biological inferiority. Largely in response to the backlash caused by these comments, Summers was dismissed later that year from his position as President of Harvard University.
Alumnae have been subject to similar comments and discrimination.
In her first job out of college, Gemma Quick ’03 said she faced verbal abuse from a male colleague.
“I was supervising a male co-worker, but after I got promoted and he didn’t, he belittled me constantly until I ended up reporting him, and he was fired,” she said, adding that her co-worker believed that the managerial position she’d been given had been stolen from him.
However, Quick credits Marlborough for teaching her how to stick up for herself in a male-dominated environment. She was able to report her co-worker because, she said, she felt she deserved to be treated with respect.
According to the Alumnae we spoke with, at Marlborough girls can ignore the gender biases of the real world and focus instead on achieving their best.
“I didn’t realize it before I went to college, but Marlborough is one of the few places in my life where I wasn’t subliminally aware that I was female. I was just a person,” Maile Borthwick ’03 said. “It’s nice to just be a person, accepted for who you are based on your abilities.”
Alumnae praised their alma mater for instilling in them a sense of pride and self-worth that allows women to assert their leadership on local, national and global scales.
“I’m confident as a woman in this world, and Marlborough teaches you early on that we have boundless options and infinite possibilities,” Quick said.