Across the U.S. and at the University of Michigan, March was Women’s History Month. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter declared the week of March 8 “Women’s History Week,” but it was not until 1987 that the National Women’s History Alliance successfully petitioned Congress to dedicate the entire month to commemorating the accomplishments of women in the United States.
The University admitted the first female students in 1870, over 50 years after it was founded in 1817, and the first women’s residence halls were opened in 1915. Since then, the Michigan League was built as a space to support women on campus and the Center for the Education of Women (CEW+) was founded to provide women and underserved students with financial and academic support.
Activism for women’s rights at the University has persisted into the present day, with community members continuing to call for support for both reproductive rights and sexual assault survivors, among other things.
In celebration of Women’s History Month, The Michigan Daily is commemorating the life and legacy of five influential Wolverine women who have made, and continue to make, an impact on the campus community.
1. Susan Collins
Provost Susan M. Collins, executive vice president for academic affairs, was appointed on July 6, 2020, after serving as interim provost since January 2020 following the firing of former Provost Martin Philbert. Before her tenure at the University, Collins was Public Policy Dean, an economics professor at Georgetown University and an associate economics professor at Harvard University.
In an interview with The Daily, Collins said bearing witness to the incredible diversity of the University’s 19 schools and colleges was one of her favorite parts of being provost. She said the initiatives she worked on to support student mental health and wellness are some of her proudest accomplishments to date.
“That’s an initiative that is a joint partnership between the provost’s office — so academic space — and student life,” Collins said. “We want students to thrive, and given the challenges that were exacerbated by the pandemic and our racial reckoning, it’s just really important to (support students).”
Collins will step down from her role as provost on May 15 to serve as president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. In her new position, she will also participate in national monetary policymaking as a part of the Federal Open Market Committee.
In light of her retirement, the University’s Board of Regents unanimously voted on March 24 to award Collins with a Regents’ Citation of Honor for her dedication to her role at the University.
Collins said she thinks her identity as a woman of Color has positively impacted her style of leadership, emphasizing that too often she finds herself to be the only woman of Color in the room.
“Too often there’s a sense that if you talk about being a Black woman, for example, it downplays your ability to be seen as a strong leader,” Collins said. “I think we need to push back on that. Women have so much to offer, people of Color have so much to offer, and we need to listen to one another and work together in those spaces and recognize that there’s not only one way to lead and to make a difference.”
At their meeting on March 24, the regents approved Dentistry Dean Laurie K. McCauley to replace Collins and serve as the University’s next provost and vice president for academic affairs. In an email to The Daily, McCauley commended Collins for her involvement in the campus community, a quality McCauley said she hopes to emulate.
“Provost Collins has led our University’s academic mission with grace and unwavering resolve and has achieved tremendous success during a challenging period,” McCauley wrote. “She demonstrated steadfast leadership that was highly collaborative with campus deans and other leaders and was inclusive of the greater community. I sincerely hope to demonstrate similar dedication to the University mission and display the thoughtful consideration that she has.”
For young women pursuing higher education and administrative roles, Collins offered some words of wisdom she has found pivotal to her time as provost.
“Be true to yourself, recognize that it does take hard work,” Collins said. “Don’t be afraid to ask for help and leverage those networks — your friends, your family members and other supports — and then look at that sweet spot between your strengths and where your passions are.”
2. Eliza Mosher
After receiving her medical degree, Mosher moved to New York to open a medical practice. After working at different practices throughout the next several years, the University asked her to serve as the first dean of women and a professor of hygiene.
In a letter from Lucinda Stone — an advocate for equal educational rights for women in Michigan during the 19th century — that was sent to Mosher on Jan. 29, 1896, Stone wrote that she believed Mosher will be accepted with open arms as the University’s first female professor.
“The young women students greatly need a woman friend and advisor,” Stone wrote. “I think the women of the place have been generally anything but favorable to the idea of women professors, but they will forget in a few years that they ever opposed it.”
Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, a medical doctor from Tyrone, Mich., also wrote to Mosher after hearing of her appointment. Kellogg said he was delighted to hear the news and believed Mosher’s appointment would benefit the University by adding a new perspective to conversations involving faculty and administration.
“I am delighted that our University is to have so valuable an addition to its faculty and especially that the young ladies of that great school are to have the advantage of your wise counsel and supervision,” Kellogg wrote. “I do not know of a better thing that could have come to our University than your acceptance of this call to this important position.”
At the same time as Mosher’s appointment, the Barbour Gymnasium was scheduled to open. The Barbour Gymnasium was the first building on campus specifically designed for women. As a professor of hygiene, Mosher advocated for women’s physical education and lectured on human anatomy.
Mosher went on to lead a successful career as a medical professional and a U-M faculty member. Mosher-Jordan Hall was established in 1930 in honor of Mosher and Myra B. Jordan, Mosher’s successor as dean of women. Today, the hall is home to the Women in Science and Engineering Residence Program (WISE RP), which honors the legacy of Mosher.
LSA sophomore Eleanor Mancina currently lives in Mosher-Jordan Hall as a peer mentor for the first-year WISE RP students. In keeping with Mosher’s legacy, Mancina said she has found a sense of community through WISE RP and has been able to connect with other women on campus who share her academic passions.
“I met a lot of my best friends there,” Mancina said. “It’s just a wonderful community of people who identify as women that are trying to pursue STEM degrees and just support one another in trying to do that, which I think is really great.”
3. Marcy Kaptur
Representative Marcy Kaptur has been in the U.S. House of Representatives for 39 years, making her the longest-serving U.S. congresswoman in the Capitol today and the second longest serving ever. As a member of the Democratic party, Kaptur represents the 9th Congressional District of Ohio, which includes the cities of Toledo and Cleveland.
But before her political career, she earned her master’s degree in urban planning from the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University in 1974. In 2010, she returned to the University to speak to students about her career.
In an email to The Daily, Kaptur wrote that she has witnessed the positive impact that women have on politics every day throughout her time in office.
“As the longest-serving woman in the U.S. House of Representatives, I have seen firsthand how the strength, insight and creativity of bold women leaders brings about real, lasting change in local neighborhoods and in cities and countries around the globe,” Kaptur wrote. “I look forward to seeing the progress the next generation advances for all humankind.”
Kaptur currently serves as the Chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, the first woman in Congress to hold this position. She recently introduced a new bill to Congress, titled the Great Lakes Authority Act, which aims to create a federal body dedicated to the care and conservation of the Great Lakes. In a March 17 press release, Kaptur discussed the importance of the legislation.
“The Great Lakes region is the industrial workhorse that powers America,” Kaptur wrote in the press release. “By investing in workforce development, innovative energy technologies and manufacturing processes and responsible stewardship of our precious Great Lakes ecosystem, the Great Lakes Authority will unleash the Heartland’s full potential for this 21st century.”
Kaptur is also the co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional Ukraine Caucus and has repeatedly called for international assistance for Ukraine following the Russian invasion. In her email to the Daily, Kaptur wrote that several women are emerging as leaders in global politics.
“It is women like Oksana Markarova, Ukraine’s steadfast and unflinching ambassador to the United States, who are rallying the United States to Ukraine’s aid,” Kaptur wrote. “Now more than ever, we need women to step up and take the reins.”
Kaptur celebrated Women’s History Month with an address on the congressional floor March 30. She spoke about the importance of paying tribute to the outstanding American women of the past, present and future.
“During this Women’s History Month, let us celebrate the women who truly make our nation and world run,” Kaptur said in her address to Congress. “This month, we honor remarkable women who build families and communities, who lead governments, who serve and protect their fellow citizens and break new ground in industry, in science and technology, literature, medicine and so much more.”
4. Ellen Tomek
Three-time Olympic rower Ellen Tomek graduated from the University in 2006 with a degree in economics. After competing for the U-M women’s rowing team during all four years as an undergraduate student, she went on to be an 11-time member of the USRowing national team. During her time on USRowing, her boats won seven international medals.
As a Wolverine, Tomek was a 2006 Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association All-American athlete and the 2006 U-M Rowing Athlete of the Year. She helped the Wolverines win two consecutive Big Ten Championships and was named the USRowing Female Athlete of the Year in 2017.
Tomek told The Daily her time at the University instilled in her a strong work ethic and sense of self-determination that she relied on when she competed in the 2008, 2016 and 2020 Olympic Games.
“Throughout my career, I’ve had a lot of supporters, but I’ve also had a lot of naysayers,” Tomek said. “Whenever people doubt me, I want to prove to myself that even if no one else believes in me, I can do it. It is so important to look internally to find your capabilities. Don’t listen to everyone else.”
Women’s rowing coach Mark Rothstein, who was also Tomek’s coach during her time on the U-M women’s rowing team, said her success at the collegiate, national and Olympic levels did not come easily. He said Tomek’s tenacity sets her apart from other athletes, and she will be a role model for U-M rowers for years to come.
“She’s a model of perseverance,” Rothstein said. “She teaches a great lesson that if you have a dream and you’re willing to work towards it, then you can achieve it.”
As Tomek retires from competitive rowing and transitions to a new career in finance at Visa, she said she hopes her experiences will inspire young women in sports.
“As a woman competing in the Olympics, I wanted to be a role model for other women after me,” Tomek said. “I want to show that even if it’s hard, find something that’s going to keep you coming back (to do it) day in, day out. That’s how you improve.”
5. Penny Stamps
As graduates listened to University alum Penny Stamps give the commencement address at the 2018 Art & Design commencement ceremony prepared to toss their caps in the air, Stamps shared what she had learned on her life’s journey.
“Live a glorious and fantastic life and do it with courage, grit and determination,” Stamps said.
By all accounts, Stamps herself lived a full life. After growing up in Chicago, Stamps graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in Art & Design — and a teaching certificate — in 1966. She later moved to Boston to head her own residential design firm, Penny W. Stamps Interiors and then married her husband E. Roe Stamps.
In 2012, the Regents voted to name the School of Art & Design after Penny Stamps. The Stamps family then donated an unprecedented $32.5 million to the Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design in 2012 to support programs and facilities for Art & Design students. Though Penny Stamps passed away in 2018 at the age of 74, Roe Stamps told The Daily there were few things in the world she cared about more than the University.
“There were a few things that were special to Penny,” Roe Stamps said. “Most importantly, her family … but next on her list was always Michigan — the Maize and Blue. To have her Art & Design school named after her and then to receive an honorary degree from Michigan, that was special.”
In 2006, Penny and Roe Stamps launched the Stamps Scholars Program at their alma maters: Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Michigan. The program, which provides merit-based scholarships for undergraduate students, has since expanded to 37 different institutions across the U.S.
Through the academic journey of each Stamps Scholar, Roe Stamps said, Penny Stamps’s legacy and generosity will continue to live on.
“There are now thousands of remarkable young men and women nationwide who have benefited from her support of their education,” Roe Stamps said.
In an email to The Daily, Gunalan Nadarajan, dean of the School of Art & Design, wrote that Penny Stamps continues to empower students in many ways. From listening to Art & Design leaders at the Penny Stamps Speaker Series to exhibiting student work in downtown Ann Arbor at the Stamps Gallery, every Art & Design student recognizes the name Penny Stamps.
“Penny understood the dynamic of creative power, challenging students to let their imagination be limitless,” Nadarajan wrote. “Penny’s legacy is deeply felt and will reverberate throughout the University of Michigan and beyond for generations to come.”
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