A women’s dormitory, McCormick Hall, was built a half-century ago on the banks of a river named for a man near a bridge named for another man, on a male-dominated campus preparing graduates for male-dominated fields.
A hall built just for women in 1963 and later expanded to the two towers that students (still all-female) live in today, McCormick has become an integral part of the MIT experience for its residents. More than 300 alumnae gathered there to celebrate that, and mark McCormick’s 50th anniversary, last weekend.
Alums collaborated on a commemorative quilt celebrating McCormick Hall.
The weekend celebration, which included a panel of distinguished alumnae and an evening reception and dinner, stirred memories in alums who came from as far as Thailand and across the United States.
Anne Street ’69, SM ’72, member of the MIT Corporation and former president of the MIT Alumni Association, helped organize the event.
“Without McCormick Hall when I was there, MIT would have had no women students,” said Street. “Without McCormick Hall now, MIT would have no place for those women who prefer a single-sex living situation.”
“I wanted to help bring alumnae together because it gives me chills to see gals rekindle friendships that nurtured them through failed quizzes, tough problem sets, disappointing lovers, and being far from home,” Street said. “Even if we have not been in touch with other McCormick gals since graduation, they are still our sisters.”
MIT alumnae have long had challenges finding equal career opportunities both on and off campus, challenges that benefactor Katharine Dexter McCormick sought to alleviate in advocating for its existence. Female students have begun activities and programs, both curricular and extracurricular, to support one another at MIT, but since 1963, McCormick has catered to the most basic need for space and solidarity.
After living at McCormick for three and a half of her four years, Karen Arenson ’70 pursued a successful career in journalism, becoming a writer and editor for the New York Times for three decades.
Arenson led a symposium of McCormick alumnae on Saturday afternoon. Panelists included Barbara Gilchrest ’67, Monisha Merchant ’99, Pat Callahan ’75, Chiquita White ’85, Jasmina Aganovic ’09, and Hanna Jethani ’14. They discussed their careers and aspirations in engineering, entrepreneurship, and science.
Arenson observed some of the long-term trends that the panel uncovered.
“Our early McCormick residents were mostly white Americans,” she said. “Later decades included more minorities and more international students. The diversity in careers was interesting too: on our small panel, we had a doctor, a banker, a science researcher in big business, a woman in the political world, a woman who founded her own online company, and a student who has spent summers working at NASA and ridden in the zero-gravity plane. Plus me–a journalist. But all of us felt a growing sense of confidence and empowerment after four years at MIT–and in McCormick.”
“I [also] loved learning more about Katharine Dexter McCormick,” Arenson said. “Professor Margery Resnick gave a fascinating keynote reporting that [McCormick] had to earn a bachelor’s degree at another college before she was allowed into MIT. We were all lucky that she was so tenacious.”
To commemorate the memories of 50 years past, Judy (Frankel) Lemire ’81 organized a memory quilt, to which alumnae added squares they designed at home ahead of time or on the spot as memories emerged from the past.
“It ties the past to the present, and allows each of us to recollect on our time at McCormick,” said Lemire.
Watch a video celebrating McCormick’s 50th on TechTV.