The Seven Sisters are a group of historical elite women's collegiate institutions in the Northeast US founded between 1837-1889 whose primary was to not only give female students a liberal arts education equivalent to men, but provide opportunities for women in academia.
The Seven Sisters received that nickname in 1927 and are Barnard College,in New York City; Bryn Mawr
College, in suburban Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, MA;
Radcliffe College in Cambridge, MA; Smith College in Northampton, MA; Vassar
College in Poughkeepsie, NY; and Wellesley College in Wellesley, NY.
Radcliffe and Vassar were once women only colleges, but became coed institutions. The remaining Seven Sisters institutions had debate about the issue, but decided to remain women's colleges.
They were founded in an era in which their mission was to give women a college education, and they have been exceedingly successful at that mission.
The Seven Sisters count as their alumni such notable people as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Emily Dickinson, Secretary of State Madeline K. Albright, Diane Sawyer, Glenda Hatchett, Debra Martin Chase,Yolanda King, Sen. Tammy Baldwin, Joan Rivers, Cynthia Nixon, Ntozake Shange, Molly Ivins, Gloria Steinem and Katharine Hepburn along with thousands of other alums around the world that include several friends of mine..
But in the late 20th and early 21st century, the question of how to accommodate transgender students has arisen. The definition of womanhood has evolved, but the admissions policies of the Seven Sisters haven't. Those hypocritical policies allowed trans men to matriculate on those campuses if they started their transitions after being admitted as female bodied people but barred trans feminine students from even enrolling.
When Calliope Wong was denied admission at Smith, that brought new scrutiny to those Smith policies and triggered reexamination of those policies to ensure they admitted all women who wished to attend.
Mount Holyoke because the first of the Seven Sisters to admit trans feminine students in 2014, and now Barnard College starting this fall will do so.
“As expected, a wide range of passionate and deeply held beliefs were
discussed and debated,” Barnard’s president, Debora Spar, and the chair
of its board of trustees, Jolyne Caruso-FitzGerald, wrote in a joint
June 4 letter to the Barnard community. “But on two main points, the responses
were compelling and clear.
“There was no question that Barnard
must reaffirm its mission as a college for women. And there was little
debate that trans women should be eligible for admission to Barnard.”
will consider applications from anyone who now “consistently identifies
as a woman,” but not those who have transitioned to become men, or
those whose gender identity is fluid.
It will be interesting to see what happens now that trans feminine students can matriculate at Barnard and the other Seven Sisters campuses.