Throughout her long life, the late Kathryn Wasserman Davis ’28 served as an inspiration to all those whose lives she touched—whether it was through her work to bring about world peace, her insatiable appetite for learning, or her incredible philanthropic commitment to the many causes in which she believed.
My admiration for this quintessential Wellesley woman was reinforced today. I had the pleasure of hearing Wellesley’s own Craig Murphy, the M. Margaret Ball Professor of International Relations and Professor of Political Science, lecture on Kathryn’s work in the field of global governance, and how she correctly predicted, in her 1934 doctoral dissertation, The Soviets at Geneva, that the Soviet Union would join the League of Nations—a controversial and surprising prediction at the time. She was a pioneer in this seminal work, as she was in many ways—as a woman, as a scholar, and as an American in the field of international relations. In fact, she is most likely the first woman in the world to receive a PhD in this field.
The field of international relations benefitted greatly from Kathryn’s contributions nearly 80 years ago. And though we must ask ourselves how the field might have benefitted even more had Kathryn continued on as a scholar, we also know that the world is a better place because of her many subsequent experiences in and contributions to the world.
The glorious fall weather was picture-perfect this past weekend, as I welcomed to campus Wellesley parents, grandparents, siblings, alumnae, and friends for Family and Friends Weekend and Homecoming.
One of the highlights of the weekend, as always, was celebrating one of Wellesley’s oldest traditions: sophomore tree planting. On Saturday, more than 150 students and their families gathered on the Academic Quad to dedicate the Quercus Rubra, or Red Oak, that the Class of 2016 had chosen as their tree.
At the Wellesley Debates this past weekend, Paulina Perlin ’16, Prerana Nanda ’14, Simone Thibodeau ’14, and Mariya Getsova ’15 debated the topic “The structure of the higher education system in the United States is not consistent with democratic values,” while Sophia Mo ’14 moderated. As always, the students did an excellent job of presenting arguments for or against the motion. The before- and after-balloting indicated that those debating against the motion swayed the audience with their arguments.
For me, the weekend is also a wonderful show of our school pride during our many athletic contests. I was happy to cheer on the Blue as they took on Cedar Crest in soccer, winning 9-0. Congratulations also to the residents of Pomeroy, who had the most Superfans at that game.
Family and Friends weekend was enhanced this year by Pam Melroy’s wonderful talk on Saturday night: From Wellesley to the International Space Station. A Wellesley alumna (class of 1983), and an astronaut who has logged over 900 hours in space, Pam Melroy was only the second woman to command a space shuttle. I am grateful to Pam, who also is a Wellesley Trustee, for returning to Wellesley to speak to students and their families about her experiences. She is always enlightening and engaging and, despite her profession, very much down to earth.
My thanks go to all of the students, families, faculty, staff, and alumnae who made the weekend such a success.
I was saddened to learn that Kathryn Wasserman Davis ’28 passed away this morning. When I first met Kathryn, I was immediately struck by her quick wit, her charm, and her undying devotion for Wellesley. Like so many, I was inspired by her vim and vigor—and this was when she was 102 years old! Our world has been forever changed because of Kathryn.
Kathryn was the quintessential Wellesley woman—she approached life with selflessness and grace, zest and zeal. She had an insatiable appetite for learning that extended well past her 90s. At age 91, she took up kayaking and paddled her way through the Hudson River and the coast of Maine and nearby lakes. At age 96, only after a hip fracture prevented her from playing tennis, she began painting. Not only did she learn the art, she mastered it. Dozens of her paintings filled her home in Hobe Sound, Florida, and she exhibited her lovely work over the last 10 years.
There are so many stories that exemplify her marvelous personality—and her love of Wellesley. In this blog, I will share some of those stories. I hope that the Wellesley community also will share their own memories and stories of Kathryn with one another, and through the comments section on this blog.
When I first met Kathryn, I was struck by her charm and graciousness. The second time I saw Kathryn, I understood how impressive she truly was. In 2008, at the dinner celebrating my inauguration as president of Wellesley, Kathryn gave a speech and delighted the audience with her kind and welcoming words. But it turned out that she wasn’t a scheduled speaker. Surprising me and all those who had organized the event, she got up to the podium and spoke extemporaneously and quite eloquently.
Kathryn loved Wellesley with all of her heart. “Wellesley to me was heaven on earth,” she often said of her time as a student here. Wellesley was already a part of Kathryn even before she entered as a first year student in 1924. Her aunt Cora graduated in 1895, her mother, Edith, in 1897, her sister Margaret in 1922, and her cousin Agnes in 1924.
At 106 years old, she was our oldest known living alumna, and she was also one of our most loyal. For nearly 85 years, Kathryn was committed to higher education and service to her community. A Trustee Emerita (she served on the Wellesley College Board of Trustees from 1984 to 2002), she was a longtime volunteer for our Office for Resources and was actively involved in the Alumnae Association for many years. While living in Switzerland in the early 1970s, Kathryn started the Wellesley Club of Switzerland and hosted an annual luncheon for Wellesley students and alumnae in the area. At her most recent reunion, her 80th in 2008, she received the Alumnae Association’s Syrena Stackpole Award to honor her longstanding devotion to her alma mater. I know she very much looked forward to attending her 85th reunion this June, having solidified many months ago her plans to attend.
Through her philanthropy, Kathryn had a lasting impact on Wellesley, having contributed more than $50 million to the College over her lifetime. Her incredible generosity, and that of her late husband, Shelby Cullom Davis, established the Davis Museum and Cultural Center in 1993. Her philanthropy also supported many other pursuits in which she believed, including financial aid for students, global education initiatives, professorships in Asian Studies and Slavic Studies, and restoring the campus landscape. Specifically, her vision enabled Wellesley to return Alumnae Valley—which was a parking lot at the time—to its original beauty, with the creation of the Davis Parking Facility in 2005.
My visits with Kathryn—in Maine, in Florida, and in New York—were always memorable. The first time I went to her house for dinner she had invited another scientist so I “would have someone to talk to.” She hoped I wouldn’t mind. The “other” scientist was Jim Watson (of Watson and Crick). I didn’t mind.
The last time she came to campus, this past September, she insisted on taking a boat ride on Lake Waban. I will forever hold in my mind the image of Kathryn—a beautiful 105-year-old woman—enjoying a glorious fall day on Lake Waban. Last summer, I had the pleasure of having lunch with her at her home in Maine. She regaled me with stories of her classes and her beloved Claflin Hall. She told the most wonderful stories—from her time at Wellesley and her experiences and travels around the world—each complete with incredible detail and color.
Indeed, Kathryn’s life was filled with interesting experiences around the world, beginning at a young age. In her New Year’s letter to me, she commented that 2012 was perhaps the first time in 100 years that she did not travel internationally. Kathryn’s love of travel is attributable to her mother. As Kathryn explained in 1988 in an interview to document her oral history for the College, “My father always wanted to buy a summer home where the family would settle for the summer. Mother said, ‘Oh, no. We have to travel every summer and show the children the world.’” After World War I, the family began traveling to Europe in the summers.
Kathryn subsequently spent the vast majority of her life traveling abroad. In 1929, she took her first trip to Russia, traveling through the Caucasus Mountains on horseback with a group including her sister that was led by an anthropology professor—an adventure in which their food and horses were stolen by bandits. “We ate wild berries for breakfast and spit-roasted mountain goat for dinner,” she told The Moscow Times in 2002. “And I couldn’t have been happier.” Kathryn subsequently returned to Russia more than 30 times, including a trip in 1997 with Marshall Goldman, the Kathryn Wasserman Davis Professor Emeritus, who led a group from Beijing to Moscow, by way of Mongolia and Siberia via train.
That first trip to Russia in 1929 had a profound influence on Kathryn, broadening her view of life and the world, she said. After that trip, Kathryn, an English major at Wellesley, subsequently earned a master’s degree in international relations from Columbia University and a PhD from the University of Geneva. Her PhD thesis was on The Soviets at Geneva, in which she correctly predicted—although controversially at the time—that the Soviet Union would join the League of Nations.
Kathryn was a self-described pacifist, as evidenced by the 100 Projects for Peace that she established on the occasion of her 100th birthday in 2007. (The Projects for Peace initiative, open to students around the country, funds creative student initiatives throughout the world focused on building peace in the 21st century. Every year since 2007, Wellesley students have been awarded funding for their peace projects.) In 2007, when she received the prestigious Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service, Kathryn spoke about the need to build peace around the world: “My many years have taught me that there will always be conflict. It’s part of human nature. But I’ll remind you that love, kindness, and support are also part of human nature,” she said. “My challenge to you is to bring about a mindset of preparing for peace, instead of preparing for war. We don’t know what tomorrow holds, and therefore let us take advantage of today to be as useful as possible.”
Kathryn’s commitment to peace, justice, and art can be seen in her most recent gift to the College. This spring, a “Davis Peace Project” banner will be installed on an exterior wall of the Davis Museum portraying a dove and an olive branch. That banner will complement Charming, an indoor installation of origami hummingbirds—symbolizing creatures who make change through tenacity and persistence, little by little—that now hangs in the Davis. It is a most fitting gift from Wellesley’s own hummingbird, as Kathryn referred to herself.
Ever the graceful Wellesley woman, Kathryn always kept an open mind about people. Even when she disagreed with someone, she had the ability—and the willingness—to see and appreciate their point of view, always maintaining an air of dignity and respect. That openness translated to Kathryn’s personal philosophy. As she would say: keep listening, keep learning, keep loving, keep laughing, and keep making new friends.
Through her diplomacy, her charm, her philanthropy, and her commitment to the causes in which she believed, Kathryn made this world a better place. Wellesley, and the world, has lost a friend, a model citizen, and a champion for peace.
We should all be so fortunate to live a life as full as Kathryn’s.
Last night, I shared the stage with four amazing alumnae—journalist Callie Crossley ’73, pediatric-fetal surgeon Diana Farmer ’77, author and philanthropist Barbara Lubin Goldsmith ’53, and feminist scholar and cultural historian Marilyn Koenick Yalom ’54—for the 44th Annual Alumnae Achievement Awards. The event is a wonderful celebration of Wellesley and our alumnae, recognizing the recipients with the College’s highest honor.
Award winners are selected for their outstanding personal accomplishments. Last night each of them spoke about Wellesley’s influence on them, including the interesting—and unforeseen—paths that led them to their current successes and, in some cases, that enabled them to have second and even third careers. For instance, Marilyn Yalom, a French major at Wellesley who went on to become a professor of French and comparative literature, never imagined that she would become a feminist scholar, and later the author of nine books.
Similarly, Diana Farmer, the world’s first female fetal surgeon, said, “My path has not at all been straight, nor a trajectory of success.”
What I like most about this special annual event is that it is a wonderful reminder of the value of a Wellesley education, and that a Wellesley woman’s place in the world is wherever she chooses it to be. These four remarkable and inspiring women served as evidence of this.
I had the pleasure of attending a one-year-old’s birthday party this morning. It wasn’t an ordinary party, though. Nor was it an ordinary one-year-old. As part of A Day to Make a Difference, I joined Wellesley students and alumnae at the Stoneham Zoo, where Paddy, a white-cheeked gibbon, turned one. We were there helping out with the party.
I also had an opportunity to stop by the Greater Boston Food Bank, where Wellesley women were busy inspecting, sorting, and repacking food in the product recovery warehouse. In fact, those who worked the morning shift organized 4,500 lbs. of food, or enough for 3,000 meals.
Last night was a wonderful night to be at Wellesley. I joined the Alumnae Association in recognizing and celebrating three amazing women—Susan McGee Bailey ’63, Wendy Gillespie ’72, and Mary Jeanne Kreek ’58—who are the recipients of this year’s Alumnae Achievement Awards.
The award ceremony is always an inspirational event. I love to hear the stories of the women who receive the Alumnae Association’s highest honor, and to see so many alumnae–including past award winners– return to their alma mater for the event.
Last night was the perfect example of the power of a liberal arts education. Where else will you find on the same stage a gender and public policy scholar, an award-winning viola de gamba player, and a physician who pioneered treatment for addictive diseases? Despite their diverse interests and professions, there was a common theme among the three honorees last night: they each spoke about the twists and turns, the unexpected intersections that their lives took once they left Wellesley. As students, none of them could have imagined that their lives would have turned out the way they did.
It’s a theme I hear echoed so often from our alumnae and I hope it’s one that our students will take to heart: It’s okay to be insecure about the future so long as you trust your dreams and follow your passion.
Greetings from Tokyo, where it is a sunny autumn day. This past Saturday, I had the privilege of receiving the first honorary degree given by Japan Women’s University, where I addressed students, faculty, and alumnae on the 110th anniversary of this distinguished institution. I also enjoyed the opportunity to meet with many Wellesley alumnae in Tokyo.
This is my second trip to Japan; the first was a visit guided by my former postdoctoral students, who had returned to Japan after completing immunology training at my laboratory at Yale. This time I had the good fortune to be led by Yoshiko Arikawa, President of Japan Women’s University, where I was given a tour of the campus, strolled the spectacular Izumi Float Garden, visited an analytical chemistry lab class, and enjoyed tea with young women who will be studying at Wellesley as part of our international exchange program. In the past few days I have been moved, as I was the first time, by this beautiful city with its magnificent history, and by the enduring spirit of the people I’ve met.
As I said in my speech, I have been struck by the similar philosophies, educational principles, and convictions shared by our two institutions. We are geographically separated, but Japan Women’s University and Wellesley College are sisters in our mission. The commitment to educating women has transcended any of our cultural differences throughout the last century. When Jinzo Naruse opened Japan’s first women’s university in 1901, he wanted to revolutionalize education for women in Japan—and, in turn, women’s freedom and opportunities. Similarly, soon after the visionary Henry Durant opened the doors to Wellesley in 1875, he declared, “The higher education of women is one of the great world battle cries for freedom, for right against might.” Our links are very direct. Jinzo Naruse spent time at Wellesley College in the late 1800s, and he was inspired by what Henry Durant had accomplished. He returned to Japan and founded JWU.
I also noted in my speech that Japan Women’s University and Wellesley College share an important history of educating women who make a difference in their communities and the world—but we share an even more important future. In these complex and perilous times, we need great leaders. And in the 21st century, women will have to be full partners leading with men, active designers and architects of a new, global society. The world’s leadership core emerges from the educated, from those who are lifelong learners. Wellesley women and the women of Japan Women’s University are among a core group who will take the lead to make the world a better place.
On my final day in Tokyo, just a few days before Thanksgiving, I am grateful for the partners we have in institutions like Japan Women’s University. I am thankful to President Yoshiko Arikawa for the kindness she has shown me during my time here. And I am inspired by the better future I can envision, which will be made possible thanks to the voices, perspectives, and ideas of the women we will send out into the world. Together, our institutions will continue to work to provide the great women leaders that are so desperately needed.
This past March, I told you about an exciting partnership with a critical goal. The Women in Public Service Project—a collaboration among the State Department, Wellesley, and four of our sister colleges: Mount Holyoke, Barnard, Bryn Mawr, and Smith—seeks to advance women in public service and government leadership around the world. Over the past few months, the collaboration has taken shape in a number of exciting ways, and I’m thrilled to share some major news:
–On December 15, the U.S. Department of State will present the inaugural Women in Public Service Colloquium. As the project’s first global event and launching pad for future programs, the colloquium will convene public officials and policy makers as well as alumnae and students representing each of the founding colleges. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will deliver the keynote address.
–Wellesley will host the pilot Women in Public Service Summer Institute that will help train the next generation of the world’s women leaders. From June 11 through June 22, 2012, we will welcome to our campus promising women leaders from across the globe, including regions undergoing political and social transformation.
The project could not have come together at a more crucial moment in our history. Women hold only 17.5 percent of the world’s elected offices—and that percentage is even smaller in the U.S. In these complex times, we need strong and capable leadership that includes more women. And in our increasingly interdependent world, young women who will go on to lead must be given the opportunities and tools to build networks and engage with peers and mentors from near and far.
By sharing Wellesley’s extraordinary network, and by joining our resources with the State Department and the sister colleges, we can overcome the barriers that prevent more women from entering positions of public leadership, not only for the sake of women, but for the sake of the world. That’s why I’m so proud that Wellesley is playing a leading role in the Women in Public Service Project—it’s a natural extension of what we do: educating and empowering women who will make a difference.
I will join our students, faculty, and alumnae in representing Wellesley at the State Department in December—and I look forward to sharing the progress of this important endeavor with you.
Last night, I had the pleasure of attending the College’s annual Wilson Lecture—one of our most important intellectual events of the year—where Maleeha Lodhi, former Pakistani Ambassador to the United States and Britain, and Anne Patterson ’71, former U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan, engaged in a dialogue about diplomacy, foreign relations, and their experiences in Pakistan. During the question and answer period, several questions came from students who identified themselves as new members of the Class of 2015. These women were at Wellesley for our annual Spring Open Campus, where we try to convince some 800 admitted students and their families that Wellesley is the place for them.
I always wonder at what moment an admitted student decides that Wellesley is the right fit. Is it as soon as she steps on campus? Is it in conversation with a student? An alum?
In fact, earlier that afternoon, our admitted students had an opportunity to connect with alumnae during a panel held in the Diana Chapman Walsh Alumnae Hall. I was able to drop in briefly and I heard panelist Crystal Fleming ’04 sum up her feelings for her alma mater: “There are a lot of great colleges,” she said, “but there’s only one Wellesley.”
For the students and families who attended Spring Open Campus, I hope you’ll agree.