What matters to you.

Jill Ker Conway

writer, historian

Jill Kathryn Ker Conway (born 1934) was a historian interested in the role of women in American history. She became the first woman president of Smith College in 1975. For this achievement, Time magazine named her one of its 12 "Women of the Year." Conway's appointment heralded a change in leadership of the so-called Seven Sisters Colleges, and as a result of this breakthrough all of them became headed by women by the early 1980s. In the first portion of her presidency, Conway changed the college from a genteel institution which eschewed feminist ideals into a women's college that respected and reflected feminist values. Through a strong financial aid program, Smith for the first time admitted older, working women and welfare recipients as Ada Comstock scholars. Conway expanded the career development office and took pride in promoting the "old girl" network among alumnae. She endorsed the expansion of athletic facilities, enabling Smith to become the first women's college to join the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Conway articulated a concern that Smith tenure more women faculty, and she frequently publicized the plight of women scholars and the value of women's institutions in educational journals. While not in favor of a women's studies program at Smith per se, Conway did encourage the development of the Smith College Project on Women and Social Change funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Out of her presidential budget she helped launch The Society of Scholars Studying Women's Higher Educational History, a group of researchers studying women's intellectual history.