You may have seen hundreds of MIT alums sporting bright red jackets over Tech Reunions weekend. Harder to spot were the 1.5% of them also wearing gray scarves. Who were they?
They were women, but not just any women. These seven graduates from the class of 1963 who returned to campus – Frances Dyro, F. Margaret Hickey, Christina Jansen, Patricia Marzilli, Ruth Nelson, Vicki Peterson, and Joyce Wolf – were celebrating their 50th reunion.
Photo: Darren McCollester.
To honor these distinguished women, the Association of MIT Alumnae hosted a special reception for them on June 6 in the Margaret Cheney Room overlooking Killian Court. There, AMITA president Sze-Wen Kuo ’73 presented each of seven alumnae with gray scarves to complement their red jackets on reunion weekend.
“When you graduated, MIT was 2.9% female,” said Kuo. “You are our forebears. This year, 48% of the graduating class is women.”
Clearly, the stat impressed. But one alum was quick to add, “Let’s have a bigger celebration when it gets to 50.”
Having hit the half-century milestone, the graduates were encouraged to participate in the Margaret MacVicar Memorial Oral History Project at MIT, an invitation extended to them by class of 2007 graduate Jean Choi.
Choi began her work on the project in a UROP for Professor Margery Resnick, who founded the program in 1990, but has continued to interview alumnae in the years since.
“It’s been a very interesting experience,” Choi said, “interviewing these women about their MIT experience and their lives, and transcribing them for the archives. I didn’t realize how much women went through so that I could be here. I’ve learned a lot of history.”
Housed in the Institute Archives and Special Collections, the women’s histories are available for public viewing and are becoming digitized as well. The oldest graduate interviewed comes from the class of 1922. In all, transcripts from over 30 interviews are available.
“We want to fill in the lacunae about women’s participation at MIT,” Professor Resnick said in an interview with the New York Times about the project. “We not only want to do women who have followed their career line as predicted by MIT…but women who have done different things that might be more interesting, but less visible, in terms of their MIT-ness.”
Thursday afternoon’s reception took place in a treasured space for MIT alumnae. The Margaret Cheney Room is named in honor of an 1882 graduate. After Cheney’s untimely death, MIT’s first alumna and Cheney’s instructor, Ellen Swallow Richards, lobbied the Institute to create a space solely for women to congregate, network, and feel at home.