Women’s History Month

Issue Date: 
March 2, 2009
Pitt’s 1924 women’s basketball teamPitt’s 1924 women’s basketball team

1895 Sisters Margaret and Stella Stein enroll as sophomres at the University of Pittsburgh, then known as the Western University of Pennsylvania. The Steins are the first women in the University’s history to be admitted as full-time undergraduates.

The Stein sisters have an advantage over previous female applicants because Chancellor William Jacob Holland believes that two women can look after each other and keep each other company. The sisters take all the mathematics courses offered, plus astronomy, mathematical chemistry, and surveying.

Agnes Irwin, president of Radcliffe College, receives the University’s first honorary degree presented to a woman, a Doctor of Laws.

1898 Stella and Margaret Stein graduate, tied for first place in their class at Pitt. The sisters decide Stella should be the valedictorian.

Mary E. Hamilton graduates from the Pitt-affiliated School of Pharmacy and, two years later, Mary L. Glenn graduates from the School of Dentistry.

1901  Margaret and Stella Stein enroll as Pitt graduate students and are among the first women to earn master’s degrees from the University. Stella goes on to teach modern languages and mathematics at South High School, and Margaret is principal at Avalon High School until she marries.

1908 Pi Theta Nu, the first sorority, forms in 1908. Women’s organizations are rare until after 1910.

1909 Shortly after the University moves to Oakland, Pitt opens the School of Education. Women flock to the new program, with the number of women students at Pitt jumping from about 40 to more than 300 in the first year. Teacher training continues to be an academic haven for female students for more than 60 years.

1910 Jean Hamilton Walls receives the bachelor’s  degree at Pitt, the first Black woman to do so at the University. In 1938, she becomes the first Black woman to receive the Ph.D. degree here.

1914-15 Women’s basketball organizes, the first competitive sport for women at Pitt.

1918 Pitt hires its first woman faculty member, Blossom Henry.

1919 Virginia Proctor Powell Florence is the first African American woman in the United States to complete a professional education program in librarianship. She graduates in 1923 from the Carnegie Library School, which later becomes part of Pitt’s School of Information Sciences. (In 2004, a plaque honoring Florence is installed in the Information Sciences Building lobby.)

The Women’s Athletic Association forms to manage intramural sports.

Pitt’s first Dean of Women, Thyrsa Wealhtheow Amos, arrives from the psychology department at the University of Kansas.

1920 Lantern Night, a candlelight ceremony for freshman women, begins.

1924 Girls’ Varsity Basketball team sweeps its home game opponents and loses only one game on the road.

1942 Eighty-two percent of the students in the professional nursing program enlist in a unit of the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps organized by the University. Because of a wartime shortage of nurses, the federal government mandates that nursing schools receiving federal money accept Black students. Adena Johnson Davis becomes the first African American admitted to the School of Nursing. She graduates in 1947.

1946 Margaret E. “Peg” Covert, a pioneer for women’s athletics at Pitt, joins the Pitt faculty as an assistant professor, rising to full professor by 1953. Covert leads Pitt’s first female cheerleading squad (despite resistance), pushes for equal sports facilities for men and women before federal requirements are enacted, and, in 1972, becomes head of women’s athletics. She also introduces modern dance into the University curriculum in 1947 and brings fencing to Pitt in 1959. Covert dies in 2006 at age 95.

1959 Pitt alumna Anne X. Alpern (LAW ‘27) is appointed first female attorney general of Pennsylvania by Governor David Lawrence. Appointed in 1942 as Pittsburgh’s first female city solicitor, Alpern champions clean air and affordable transit and utilities and fights government corruption. Alpern retires in 1974 after 13 years as a judge on the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas. She dies in 1981.

1969 Chancellor Wesley Posvar creates the Advisory Committee on Women’s Opportunities to address the agenda of the newly formed University Committee for Women’s Rights.

1972 The Pitt Women’s Studies Program is founded.

1983 The Provost’s Advisory Committee for Women’s Concerns is created.

2000 Katherine Detre, Distinguished Professor of Epidemiology in Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health, begins leading a national study—involving 2,368 patients at 40 sites across the United States—to determine the best way to treat people with both Type 2 diabetes and early coronary artery disease. The study attracts funding for the largest combined grant in Pitt history, $65 million.

2004 Wangari Muta Maathai, who earned the Master of Science degree in biology at Pitt in 1965, is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her 30-year effort to reforest her native Kenya and improve the economic status of women there, while fighting for democracy and against corruption and tribalism. Pitt confers on Maathai an honorary Doctor of Public Service degree during an Oct. 26, 2006, ceremony in Alumni Hall.

2005 The director of Pitt’s European Union Center, Alberta Sbragia, is named Jean Monnet Chair ad personam by the European Commission, which also designates Pitt’s center a European Union Center of Excellence. Sbragia, a Pitt professor of political science and director of the University’s Center for West European Studies, is one of only two academics to be named Jean Monnet Chair ad personam in 2005. In 2006, Sbragia is named the inaugural holder of the Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg University Chair.

Tonya Groover (A&S ’07) creates the Technology Leadership Institute (TLI) and Pitt launches the six-week academic enrichment program, aimed at helping high school students from underrepresented populations build the skills needed to gain admission into competitive college programs in computer science and information science. Grover is currently director of TLI and is also pursing her master’s degree in computer science at Pitt.

2006 Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg tells the University’s Board of Trustees that Pitt will honor Helen S. Faison—Pitt alumna, emerita trustee, and trailblazing educator—by creating the Dr. Helen S. Faison Chair in Urban Education, the first fully endowed chair in the 96-year history of Pitt’s School of Education, where Faison earned her B.S., M.Ed., and Ph.D. degrees in 1946, 1955, and 1975, respectively.

Susan G. Amara delivers a Provost’s Inaugural Lecture Nov. 21 to mark her formal installation as the Dr. Thomas Detre Endowed Professor in Pitt’s School of Medicine. Amara, who also chairs the school’s Department of Neurobiology, was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2004.

2007 Anna Quider, a Pitt Honors College student majoring in physics and astronomy, the history and philosophy of science, and religious studies, is named a Marshall Scholar. Quider is the ninth Pitt student to win a Marshall Scholarship, one of the most competitive and prestigious merit scholarships available to graduating American seniors. No other Pennsylvania college or university has won more Marshall and Rhodes Scholarships than Pitt in the last quarter century. (Laura LaFave (A&S ’93) was the first Pitt woman to receive a Marshall Scholarship, winning it in 1993.)

Anna C. Balazs, the Distinguished Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering and Robert Von der Luft Professor in the Swanson School of Engineering, wins a Women in the Material World award from the Women and Girls Foundation (WGF) of Southwest Pennsylvania for her work in determining how building and manufacturing materials interact at the molecular level—and setting yet another example of the careers young women and girls can pursue through math and science.

Kay M. Brummond, professor in the Department of Chemistry in the School of Arts and Sciences, receives a Carnegie Science Center Award for Excellence as an Emerging Female Scientist for her work in synthesizing organic compounds for use in drugs, among other accomplishments.

Delanie Jenkins, chair of the University’s Department of Studio Arts, is named Artist of the Year by the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts.

Sabina Deitrick, codirector of the University Center for Social and Urban Research’s (UCSUR) Urban and Regional Analysis Program; Chris Briem, an UCSUR regional economist; and Pitt political science professor Susan Hansen release a report revealing that the wage gap between men and women in the Pittsburgh region exceeds the national average, despite the fact that women make up nearly half of the area’s workforce and that many local men earn more than the national average for men in the same position.

2008 Deborah Brake, a professor of law in Pitt’s School of Law, testifies before Congress in support of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which would reverse the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2007 ruling in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. that required complainants to challenge any pay discrimination under the statute within 180 days of the time the discriminatory decision was made, even if the discrimination was ongoing and not discovered until years later. Brake had previously coauthored an amicus curiae U.S. Supreme Court brief on behalf of plaintiff Lilly Ledbetter. The Fair Pay Act is signed into law Jan. 29, 2009, the first bill signed by President Barack Obama.

For an exhibition on influential women in Pittsburgh, the Senator John Heinz History Center features portraits of
E. Maxine Bruhns, director of Pitt’s Nationality Rooms and Intercultural Exchange Programs, and Arcangela Balest, a graduate of Pitt’s School of Medicine, chair of Pitt’s Italian Nationality Room, and a neonatologist at Allegheny General Hospital. The exhibition was part of yearlong festivities to celebrate the Pittsburgh’s 250-year history.

The Pitt women’s basketball team plays its way to the Sweet 16 for the first time in school history. The Panthers exit the tournament in the regional round after a loss to Stanford University.

Honors College junior Eleanor Ott—a triple major in chemistry, history, and French—is named a Harry S. Truman Scholarship winner for her superior academic and leadership abilities. A Chancellor’s Scholar and a Lawrence, Kan., native, Ott is Pitt’s 11th Truman winner.

2009 Dawn Lundy Martin, assistant professor of English in the Department of English, is awarded the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Poetry Prize. Martin is among five poets to receive the award, which recognizes emerging poets of exceptional promise and distinguished achievement.

Honors College senior Katherine M. MacCord, majoring in anthropology with a minor in German, is named a Gates Cambridge Scholar. MacCord, who also is pursuing a certificate in Conceptual Foundations of Medicine through Pitt’s Department of History and Philosophy of Science, is the first Pitt student to receive the Gates Cambridge Scholarship since it was established in 2000 through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. MacCord is one of only 37 U.S. students selected to receive the award.

Alumnus Lucile L. Adams-Campbell (GSPH ’83G) is elected to the Institute of Medicine, an honor membership organization of the National Academy of Sciences that serves as a national advisory body on matters of health and science policy. She is associate director for minority health and health disparities research and professor of oncology at Georgetown University Medical Center’s Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center.