On Thursday Sept. 27, members of the Wellesley College community gathered in the Library Lecture room to hear Dr. Barbara Newell speak. Newell, a renowned economist and the 10th President of Wellesley College (1972-1980), was invited to campus by the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) to launch its history project, “Looking Back & Looking Forward: A Half Century of Social Change.” According to the WCW website, the history project will “feature a collection of historical information about the foundation, growth, projects, events, social impact of, and people/partners related to the Wellesley Centers for Women’s research-and-action work.”
The WCW is one of the many legacies of Newell’s eight-year presidency. In 1974, she founded the Center for Research on Women in Higher Education and the Professions. It merged with the Stone Center for Development Services and Studies at Wellesley College in 1995 to become the WCW. The center is, according to its website, “a premier women-and-gender-focused, social-change oriented research-and-action institute at Wellesley College.”
Newell shared in an interview that she was happy to return to Wellesley. “I was delighted to be invited to come back. As you can probably realize, I have personal investment in the women’s center [WCW].”
The collection will feature presentations from individuals who, like Newell, influenced the course of the WCW’s history. In the talks, speakers are expected to discuss their involvement with the WCW and why their work remains relevant. The history project will be complete in 2024, the year the WCW celebrates its 50th anniversary.
Donna Tambascio serves as the deputy director of communications and external relations for the Wellesley Centers for Women. She shared that WCW selected Newell to be the first presenter in the history project initiative because she founded the institute and has continued to support it over the years.
“President Newell has been an ongoing advocate and supporter of the center since its inception. She’s attended all our milestone events, and has stayed connected with the work we are doing.” Tambascio said, “As we started to think about what we wanted to do for our kickoff event, we thought, ‘let’s start at the foundation of why we were established.’”
Tambascio indicated that one of the goals of the talk was to explore similarities and differences between society today and how society was in the years leading up to Newell creating the center. “We took a look at what was happening today in the political climate and saw a lot of the same issues that were happening in the ‘60s in terms of women’s rights, women’s advancements and gender-based violence. We wanted to see how things were similar and different from what President Newell was seeing when she decided to establish the center,” she stated.
Newell was not the only person contributing to the discussion about the history of the WCW and how women’s issues have progressed since she created the center. Layli Maparyan, the Katherine Stone Kaufmann ’67 Executive Director of WCW, led the talk. Additionally, Linda Wertheimer ’65, senior national correspondent for National Public Radio (NPR) and a member of the WCW Council of Advisers, joined Newell onstage.
Corrine Taylor, a senior lecturer in the Quantitative Reasoning (QR) program, was one of the many faculty members who attended the event. Taylor shared that she especially enjoyed hearing Newell’s thoughts on how data-driven research could serve to improve things for women globally: “I enjoyed hearing her talk about her vision about how data-driven research could be utilized to help improve policies and opportunities for women and girls. Fifty years later, we are still working to support the same mission, and while we have made great progress, it is obvious that there is more work to be done.”
Tambascio hopes that these talks will show the Wellesley and greater community how far the issue of women’s equality has come but also remind its members that there is still a significant amount of work to be done. “We hope that these talks will remind people that there has been a lot we’ve accomplished to advance women’s equality and social justice, but there is still a lot more to do. The work that WCW does in terms of studying the issues that are important to girls, families and communities can really help inform policymakers going forward,” she said.
Newell offers students the following advice as they continue their educational journeys at Wellesley College: “I hope that everyone examines their own life and figures out what they really care about. If you’re doing what you really care about, you’re more apt to be able to jump the hurdles.”
The WCW will host another seminar on Oct. 4 in the Library Lecture Room. The event is titled “On-Campus With Kids: Supporting Parents in Higher Education.” In the meantime, students can view the full discussion between Newell, Maparyan and Wertheimer on the WCW’s website.