The Student News Site of Marlborough School

The UltraViolet

Marlborough School Student Newspaper
The Student News Site of Marlborough School

The UltraViolet

The Student News Site of Marlborough School

The UltraViolet

To kill a mocking-book
To kill a mocking-book
February 21, 2024

Where violets lead, others will follow

By Tahirah ’12 and Caroline ’14

Graphics by Schessa '12.

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?

 

SHIFTING EXPECTATIONS

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.”

 

CONFRONTING DISCRIMINATION

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.

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  • C

    curtriceMar 18, 2012 at 3:47 pm

    Sheryl Sandberg is extremely impressive, and I agree with what you wrote here. If I were going to quibble at all, I would say that she puts more weight on the “women opt out” view of getting women ahead and too little on the “there are barriers” view. Her approach is of course constructive, and I think it’s important, but I think she doesn’t acknowledge well-established barriers, thinking that anyone can just plow through them.

    I also think she should use her completely brilliant accomplishments at fb to pressure zuckerberg to change his board. A threat of resignation would surely get his attention. I made the argument in:

    “why facebook’s sheryl sandberg must resign” at http://bit.ly/zdfcPC

    Reply