Welcome to “Leading & Learning: A Century of Women at Bentley.” This exhibit, curated by the Bentley University Archives, explores over one hundred years of women’s achievements at our institution.
This exhibit presents a chronological narrative of some of the activities and achievements of women over the course of Bentley’s history. As you move through the gallery, we encourage you to think critically about the context in which these events occurred. What opportunities did women of various backgrounds have in our country over the last century? How was this the same or different at Bentley?
We hope this exhibit will be the beginning of a campus-wide conversation about historical narratives and recorded memory. Traditionally, the accomplishments and opinions of women and members of other underrepresented groups have often gone unrecorded. It is partly because of this fact that any exhibit discussing women at Bentley cannot be all-encompassing. We have done our best to provide a broad overview of women’s progress at Bentley, but we acknowledge many archival silences as well.
To help us create a richer picture of Bentley history – and to ensure that records from our current time are similarly robust – please consider donating photographs, documents, and items of memorabilia to the Bentley Archives. Tell us about your unique experiences in the Bentley community, and suggest ideas for other groups whose histories you would like to explore further.
Jennie Belle Bentley, our founder’s first wife, had a profound influence on this school before it even officially opened. Jennie was an administrator and teacher at Mr. Bentley’s first school, the Winsted Business College in Connecticut. When the Bentley School of Accounting and Finance opened, Jennie handled many of the school’s finances and helped to establish policies around admissions, billing, and scheduling. She also managed early marketing efforts, placing advertisements that attracted new students even when enrollments were low during the Great Depression.
When the Bentley School opened its doors in 1917, it offered classes only for men. It was not long, however, until enrollments were quite low due to the number of men being drafted to fight in WWI. Women were needed to take over many vacant positions, including those in accounting, and the Bentley School responded quickly by establishing certificate programs for women. Over 150 women enrolled, though few would go on to graduate. When the war ended, Mr. Bentley anticipated a significant drop in the number of professional positions available to women, and decided to return to admitting only men.
From this first class of women, however, three went on to graduate. Mary Gallagher, Josephine Mahoney, and Frances Sargent graduated in the classes of 1922 and 1923. For several decades, they would remain Bentley’s only female graduates. All three pursued accounting or administrative work after graduation. Frances Sargent even became an administrator at the Bentley School! Alumni from the 1930s and 1940s would remember her well, as her signature usually accompanied Mr. Bentley’s on school diplomas.
In addition to Frances Sargent, many other important female staff and administrators worked for the Bentley School even when women were not being admitted to courses. Two women who played particularly large roles during this time were Bertha Stratton and Dorothea Connors. Bertha Stratton began working for the Bentley School in 1918 and would remain for 30 years, retiring as secretary of the college in 1948.
Dorothea Connors began working at Bentley in 1946 as a receptionist and administrative assistant, and is remembered today with an endowed scholarship fund. Both women supported Bentley’s early female students. Dorothea Connors served for several years as the advisor to both Delta Omega, and to Bentley’s second sorority, Beta Sigma Alpha. Both women were recognized by students and staff for their deep commitment to the Bentley community.
After weathering the enrollment dip associated with the Great Depression, Bentley found itself entering the 1940s with another deficit of students. More men were being called away to fight in WWII, and the school found itself in the same dilemma as it had shortly after opening. Once again, admission was offered to women so they could train to take over accounting jobs that had previously been done by men. Between 1942 and 1946 over 1,000 women enrolled and were credited with keeping the school afloat. When WWII ended, Mr. Bentley and other staff recognized the intellectual contributions women had been making to the Bentley School, and elected to continue co-educational admissions.
The large number of new female students in the early 1940s created the perfect opportunity for new organizations to emerge. Delta Omega, Bentley’s first sorority, formed in 1944. At that time, Bentley students were in one of two “divisions,” depending on if they took day or evening courses. Delta Omega was organized for Day Division female students, and membership quickly grew. In addition to holding social outings and charity fundraisers, Delta Omega served as an important source of female relationship-building and networking as graduates entered a largely male workforce.
Just over a decade later, in 1956, Beta Sigma Alpha formed. The school’s second sorority was organized for Evening Division students, and its initials – BSA – were chosen to mirror the Bentley School of Accounting. It is not surprising that an Evening Division sorority took longer to establish; many evening students already had jobs or familial obligations that kept them busy during the day. Despite this, the BSA grew quickly and became known across campus for their many activities. In addition to fundraising, they took many off-campus trips to hike or share meals, and hosted speakers to discuss travel and educational topics.
The first officially organized Bentley Reunion was held in 1955. Despite the fact that female students had been continuously admitted for over a decade, much of the advertisement catered to male graduates and their wives – for whom separate activities like teas or fashion shows were sometimes organized. This may have put early female graduates in an uncomfortable position as the networking aspect of Reunion catered primarily to men.
By the 1950s, Bentley’s female graduates recognized the need to organize together to promote the success of female accounting professionals. A Women’s Alumnae Chapter was formed and exists to this day. At one of the earliest meetings of the chapter, Margaret Divver gave a speech about her strategies for professional advancement titled “Getting Along in a Man’s World.” The topic of career planning and navigating male-dominated industries was common in many future meetings. The chapter also participated in fundraising for the school and helped to recruit and mentor new female students.
The above brochure from 1959 shows the mix of attitudes that were prevalent at the time. Women are shown as eager learners in the front of the classroom, and are praised for their “ability and worth” and their “meritorious service” across various professional fields. However, this same brochure also posits that it is the “natural scheme of things” for women to cease building their careers to pursue marriage and motherhood. It is also notable that most if not all of those students in the image are white. As difficult as it was for female students to be seen as serious candidates for professional positions, it was often doubly so for those of other ethnic backgrounds.
In 1948, an instructor named Frances Crawley was hired to teach a series of lectures on Etiquette and Social Ethics to help prepare students in their professional demeanor. While she was the first woman to teach at Bentley, the short nature of the course meant that she was never designated as a faculty member. The first person to be so designated was Eva Anderson, in 1960. Anderson held a Master’s Degree from Syracuse University and was already working at Bentley as a Recorder and a counselor for female students.
While Ms. Anderson was the first official instructor hired at Bentley, Marion Graham Willis was close behind. She joined the faculty as a part-time instructor in 1961 after attending Radcliffe, Tufts, and Boston University. In 1962 she became the first woman to teach full-time at Bentley. In 1974, she became the school’s first female professor to receive tenure, and had over a 30 year career in Bentley’s English department.
Despite the addition of female faculty members in the early 1960s, the faculty at Bentley remained overwhelmingly male for many years. Since many male faculty members were married to women, a Faculty Wives Club eventually organized around 1967. These were common at colleges during this time, and they often served to help acclimate families who’d moved to a new area for the husband’s teaching job.
The Bentley faculty wives did this – helping new hires to find suitable housing and providing information on good schools, where to buy household necessities, and the like. However, they also took on a larger role in the school’s culture. They regularly held benefits and bake sales to fundraise for scholarships, and they actively encouraged increased female enrollment. They also entertained or even housed students who were living far from home or did not have families to return to during holidays and school breaks.
Some early female Bentley students to know…
Jemima Way was an Evening Division student at Bentley in the early 1960s. Her husband, John, was an artist, and both were refugees from the Communist government in China. When John was recognized as an outstanding citizen who was also a refugee, the Bentley community took the opportunity to also recognize their fellow student, Jemima. The couple had been separated from their young daughter for several years, and the story attracted news attention as the Way’s demonstrated the difficult process of reunification.
Mellanee Newkirk was a member of the class of 1966 and was one of the first members inducted into Bentley’s Falcon Society. She was also heavily involved in extracurricular activities, including the student newspaper, when most organizations were populated largely by white students. After graduation, she became a treasurer at Unity Bank & Trust, “New England’s first biracial bank” and volunteered with both the NAACP and the League of Women Voters.
In 1969, the state of Massachusetts hired its first three female auditors to work for the state government. Two of them were Bentley graduates – Eleanor Morgan ’52, and Helen Queenan ’52. These appointments were very significant for female accountants in the region who had often been discouraged from seeking more advanced roles in larger organizations. Both Morgan and Queenan had served as national secretary of Bentley’s alumni association at the time of their appointment.
These two articles give some additional context to what campus life was like for women throughout the 1960s and early 1970s. While many women saw Bentley as an equal playing field, others struggled to deal with harassment or simply lack of acknowledgment as peers. This remained the case as the school moved to Waltham, where female students living on campus were expected to abide by a different set of dormitory rules. Many male students echoed the call to create dorm policies that treated both genders equally, and together students called for a policy that would allow male and female students to visit each other’s rooms without excessive restrictions or chaperoning.
In 1972, Title IX began to change the landscape for female students in the United States. The law prevented gender discrimination in educational activities and other school programming that received federal funding. In part as a reaction to this law, a women’s sports program began to emerge at Bentley. The first club teams, including basketball, softball, tennis, and field hockey, debuted around 1974-1975. Coverage of female teams on campus was sparse at first, but sports writers for the student paper noted the profound talent of many of the female athletes, which brought new fans out to watch games. Today, there are 10 varsity women’s sports teams on campus.
Daryl Leonard joined the Athletics department at Bentley in 1973. She was a strong advocate for women’s sports and was the first coach and first director for female athletic teams. For several years, she coached every women’s sports team on campus! However, she only remained at Bentley for a few years. When she left the school in 1978, she spoke out against what she described as significant disparities in scholarships and other financial and administrative support for the women’s sports program.
Sandy Hoffman’s career with Bentley’s female sports program lasted over three decades. She became head coach of the women’s volleyball team in 1982 and would end up coaching 32 consecutive seasons. During those years, she consistently built the success of the program, resulting in 11 NE10 regular season titles, among other accolades. She was inducted into the Bentley Athletic Hall of Fame in 2015, and the NE10 Hall of Fame in 2016.
Barbara Stevens recently celebrated her 1,000th win as a women’s basketball coach, a feat that only four others have managed to achieve. She has been head coach of the Bentley women’s basketball team since 1986, and in that time has led the team to 30 appearances in the NCAA tournament, including 14 appearances in the Elite Eight. Her commitment to women’s athletics at Bentley helped to significantly raise the profile of the program throughout the 1990s and 2000s. It has recently been announced that Bentley’s basketball court will be named in honor of Coach Stevens.
Nancie Roundtree was Bentley’s first female athlete of color, and played 47 games with the Bentley women’s basketball team between 1979 and 1981. In an article for the student newspaper in 1980, she openly discussed racial issues at Bentley – both on and off the court. The article mentions her view that “the close intimacy related with sports gives many of the students their first opportunity to meet a black person on a personal basis.” She advocated for more genuine communication between white students and students of color, as opposed to what she saw as superficial connections based mostly on activities.
Theresa Angell, class of 1977, was a multi-talented athlete. During her time at Bentley she played for three women’s varsity teams – basketball, field hockey, and softball. By the time she graduated she had received nine varsity letters, three from each sport. In 1984, she became the first female inducted into the Bentley Athletic Hall of Fame. This was the first ever induction, and Angell was the only woman in the first class. She was followed in 1985 by Judy Paratore Cottam, class of 1979.
By 1973, feminism and women’s liberation were hot topics in the United States. Political clubs, like the Bentley Democrats and Bentley Republicans, existed at the school but it was otherwise not known as a place for loud political activism. Enter the Bentley Women’s Caucus, established in 1973. The Caucus described itself as a group that provided “a means for women-sponsored, community-centered programs”.
Throughout the 1970s, they ran programming to bring awareness to women’s issues like wage discrimination and sexual harassment. Their occasional newspaper feature “The Feminist Calendar” gave Bentley students a better idea of what gender-related events were taking place on campus. Frequently listed were workshops developed by the Office of Student Counseling and Development. These lectures and workshops, often coordinated by Diane Austin, tackled major issues around sexuality and personal identity, helping to destigmatize many taboo topics on campus.
By the 1980s, Bentley’s female faculty population looked much different than it had when Eva Anderson and Marion Graham Willis arrived. Many women changed the learning culture at Bentley around this time. Here are just a few to know:
Barbara Paul-Emile joined the Bentley faculty in 1980, and in 1984 became the first African-American professor to receive tenure. Known for her powerful creative writing and her scholarship on 19th century Caribbean and English literature, she has shaped generations of Bentley students. In 2001 she was appointed the Maurice E. Goldman Distinguished Chair in Arts and Sciences.
Pat Flynn became Bentley’s first female academic dean in 1992, with her appointment as Dean of the McCallum Graduate School of Business. At that time, she was one of only a small group of women serving as business deans in the U.S. Aside from this milestone, Prof. Flynn has over 30 years of teaching and research experience at Bentley. Her work to increase the number of women on corporate boards, and to support women who might become academic deans are just a few examples of her commitment to women’s advancement in the field.
Jill Price Mason was a professor of physics and astronomy in the department of Natural Sciences, and was the first faculty member to receive the Gender Issues Council award in 1992. This recognition was in part due to her involvement with the council itself, but also recognized a study she’d done on women’s faculty status at Bentley and her mentorship of female STEM students.
Prof. Emerita Evelyn Shakir taught writing for many years at Bentley. In addition to helping students develop their voices, she became well known for her own work as a writer. She published “Bint Arab: Arab and Arab American Women in the United States” in 1997. The book presented first-person perspectives from women, primarily immigrants from Lebanon and Palestine, who were not well understood by the American public at large.
In 1982, the Women at Bentley Projects formed to “make the Bentley community aware of gender issues and views.” Led initially by Yvonne Yaw, the WBP grew over the course of several years to focus on several priorities for Bentley women. It sought to influence the development of Bentley’s curriculum to address gender issues in business and it promoted faculty research on the same. The WBP also sponsored or co-sponsored women speakers on campus and disseminated news about Bentley women and women in the business world.
Ruth Nemzoff, a professor of Government, also served as coordinator of the Gender Issues Council and was recognized for her programming efforts around the council’s annual conference. Under her direction, the council increased outreach to teenaged girls to encourage them to think about potential careers in business and to learn about issues for women in the work world.
Yvonne Yaw was a professor of English and the first coordinator of the Women at Bentley Projects, which eventually became the Gender Issues Council. She organized many of the council’s events and built its reputation with off-campus organizations. She taught some of the first courses focusing on women’s literature and also helped to establish the Gender Studies minor which began in 1991.
By the late 1980s, the Women at Bentley Projects had changed its name to the Gender Issues Council. The council sponsored the “Gender Issues Newsletter” to disseminate information about gender-related events on and off-campus, as well as to discuss the achievements of many Bentley women. They developed conferences, screened films, held panel discussions, and mentored female students. In the early 1990s they began awarding the Gender Issues Council Award, which recognized work that helped to advance gender equity on Bentley’s campus and beyond.
The Gender Studies minor was officially approved in 1991, and since then has offered students of all genders the “opportunity to study how gender structures out lives, ideas, institutions, society, and cultural practices.” As an interdisciplinary program, courses in the Gender Studies minor address a wide range of topics including history, law, literature, sociology, media studies, natural sciences, and more. Students in the minor can also complete 4th credit research projects – many of which address issues on Bentley’s campus. Some projects proposed in 4th credit research include a campus Equity Center, gender neutral restrooms, and adding LGBTQ related volunteer projects to Bentley service-learning.
In the 1990s, Students for the Advancement of Women organized some of the largest gender-related events on Bentley’s campus. In 1990, members participated in a state-wide student walkout to support reproductive freedom. In 1993, they held the first “student-initiated regional women’s conference” titled Educating Ourselves. This full day conference discussed issues around women in the workplace, as well reproductive health, women in the media, and other topics.
While a Women’s Alumnae Chapter had existed for many decades, it was not until the 1990s that alumni of color successfully established their own chapter. When they did, in 1996, several women were at the helm. Male alum Julius Babbitt ’91 served as the first president of the chapter, but its first VP was Issa Beltran ’94, secretary Gaea Honeycutt ’93, and board members Bonita McAllister ’90 and Georgiana Melendez-Brown ’94. All four women helped bring the Alumni of Color Chapter to fruition at a time when Bentley was seriously investigating its commitment to diversity and its outreach to international students and domestic students of color.
Another milestone in Bentley’s growth was the establishment of the Multicultural Center. Still an invaluable resource to Bentley students today, part of the original mission of the MCC was to “help to build community and to build bridges between people.” When it first opened in 1996, it was under the direction of a woman, Kesaya Noda (right). At the official opening of the center, Noda recognized Reprographics Services Manager Debi Gaudet (left) for her commitment to the creation of the physical space which would become a home base for many Bentley students.
In late 1998, Bentley student organizations responded to a series of racist and homophobic events on campus. Among the victims of this harassment were the Black United Body and the Bentley Lesbian and Gay Alliance. Two female students, Kiana Baskin of the BUB and Kari Hanson of the student newspaper, worked together with Miguel DaSilva of the Diversity Affairs Board to organize a campus-wide response to these events. They gathered hundreds of students to post over 5,000 flyers reading “This is our home, bigots not welcome” which was eventually memorialized with a campus mural.
While we now have several student organizations that openly address issues of gender identity and sexuality, this was not always the case. When the first Bentley Lesbian and Gay Alliance attempted to form in 1990, it was met with significant backlash from students who did not believe the group should receive student org. funding. When the group did successfully form, programming around lesbian issues helped women who may have felt unsupported on campus. Student Cara Hrubes was one of the first female leaders of what became Bentley PRIDE, and wrote a powerful article on the difficulties of coming out as a lesbian on campus. Early events also recognized women like librarian Sheila Ekman, and Director of Admissions MJ Knoll for being some of the first “out” lesbians on Bentley’s staff.
In 2003, the Bentley Women’s Center opened on campus under the direction of Jo Trigilio and Suzanne Hinton of the Philosophy department. The Center was envisioned as a central space to support the growth of female students at Bentley by providing educational resources as well as programming. Since then, the Women’s Center has become known across campus for its brown bag events, performances of the Vagina Monologues, Love Your Body Day, and more. Students and staff at the center have also prepared educational resources for women on campus about how to succeed in male-dominated fields, and have helped to raise political awareness around women’s issues on campus.
In addition to the new Women’s Center, 2003 saw the arrival of the Institute for Women in Leadership on Bentley’s campus. Founded by Professors Maureen Goldman and Gesa Kirsch, the Institute originally focused on grant-based projects examining gender in faculty and curriculum development. It was organized under Bentley’s Alliance for Ethics and Social Responsibility in Business and saw gender issues as part of an ethical business practice. In addition to supporting faculty research, the Institute sponsored fellowships, seminars, and workshops as well as student assistantships. In 2005, the name changed to the Women’s Leadership Institute and was directed by Prof. Marianne Kulow. Prof. Kulow oversaw the direction of the WLI as it eventually helped to form the foundation of the Center for Women and Business.
Prof. Emerita Maureen Goldman was one of the co-founders and first Executive Directors of the Women’s Leadership Institute. She helped secure grant funding for the Institute and emphasized its commitment to ethics and social justice. During her tenure at Bentley, she served as dean of the Undergraduate College and as chairperson of the English department. Her scholarly interests often focused on gender, both in literature and industry.
Gesa Kirsch is a professor in the English and Media Studies department and was one of co-founders and first Executive Directors of the Women’s Leadership Institute. Her research and publications have focused in large part on feminist scholarship and rhetorical studies. Prof. Kirsch also writes on the history of women in medicine, and recently published a newly researched and edited edition of Dr. Mary Bennett Ritter’s autobiography, More Than Gold in California.
Gloria Larson’s long record of achievement in law, government and public policy made her the perfect choice to lead Bentley into its second century. The first female president, she joined Bentley from the prestigious Boston law firm Foley Hoag, where she led the Government Strategies Group. A nationally recognized public policy expert in education, economic affairs and job creation, her career includes positions in Washington DC and several in Massachusetts state government in the administrations of both Democrats and Republicans. Following her career in public service, President Larson served as the first woman Chair of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, as well as Chairman of the Board of the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority.
Gloria Larson’s leadership of Bentley reflects her experiences and passions. She has championed the university’s innovative curriculum in business and the arts and sciences as effective career preparation for Millennials and brought this fusion model to graduate education with the launch of the 11-month MBA program in 2013. She established the Center for Women and Business in 2011, which quickly earned a national reputation for innovative research, pedagogy and professional programs aimed at advancing women’s career goals. And she has emphasized even more strongly the university’s long-standing commitment to business ethics and corporate social responsibility. Facilities initiatives under her leadership include additions to the main faculty building and the Student Center, a comprehensive renovation of Jennison Hall, and the construction of the Multipurpose Arena. In 2008, Bentley officially became a university, reflecting a new level of international prominence and prestige.
In 2010, Donna Marie Blancero joined Bentley’s faculty, teaching Management courses related to organizational behavior and diversity. In 2016, she became the school’s first Hispanic dean. Much of her research work has focused on issues of diversity and inclusion in the workplace. She emphasizes the need to shift focus from hiring and “retaining” employees of color, to promoting and supporting them in a fully inclusive workplace culture. She has worked on campus with first generation students, women’s leadership organizations, and the Bentley Brave campaign, among others.
In 2010, Bentley received its first major gifts toward what would become the Center for Women and Business. The CWB officially launched in 2011 with Betsy Myers as its founding director. Since then, the CWB has offered a dynamic range of services to the Bentley community. The Center frequently produces research examining gender diversity in corporate environments, generational workplace attitudes, sponsorship of young professionals, and more.
In 2014 they worked with Gov. Deval Patrick to launch the Corporate Challenge which succeeded in getting over 100 organizations to commit to recruiting and retaining female employees. The CWB also sponsors programming including lectures, conferences, brown bags, and working groups. A recent success is the launch of the Women’s Leadership Program which sponsors female students throughout their four-years at Bentley to become future business leaders.
In 2013, groups including HerCampus Bentley, Coming Full Circle, and PRIDE joined students from the Women’s Center to combat pervasive online harassment of female students. Known as the “Respect Bentley Women” campaign, an event was held outlining the treatment of female students and discussing strategies to combat harassment. Student leaders on the project included Kathryn Burgner, Rachel Spero, and Kayla Marandola. In addition to responding to harassment, the students worked with the Equity Center to produce videos discussing the misperceptions of feminism on campus.
There are many organizations on campus today that continue to engage with gender equality issues. While we cannot fully profile all of them in this space, we encourage you to seek them out! We hope to document their activity in the Archives so that future Falcons can learn about their important work in the next century. Among them:
The Bentley Women’s Network which holds conferences, networking events, employer meet and greets and more to advance the status of professional women.
Coming Full Circle, a group organized through the Multicultural Center which holds dialogues, networking events, and annual retreats for women faculty, staff, and students of color.
The Graduate Women’s Leadership Organization, formed in 2004 to “enhance Bentley graduate women’s professional and personal development.”
HerCampus Bentley which sponsors gender-related events and provides blogs and other informational content about the experiences of women on the Bentley campus.
SAGE, Students Advocating Gender Equality which promotes the development of women through members of all genders. They sponsor brown bags, performances, and more to advance the cause of gender equality.
PRIDE, which provides a space for people of many genders and sexual orientations to advocate for understanding and equality.
Our current sororities including Alpha Phi, Gamma Phi Beta, and Phi Sigma Sigma, as well as the Bentley Panhellenic Council who participate in numerous philanthropic causes and promote women’s mentorship and networking.
Our female athletes on club and varsity teams who represent Bentley on the field!
The Bentley Archives is actively seeking additional information and materials related to women’s history at Bentley. We also welcome questions, comments, and suggestions based on this exhibit. To discuss any of these matters, please email Jaimie Fritz, University Archivist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.