In honor of March being Women’s History Month, we invite you to take a look at some of the notable women that have come through Teachers College. From researchers to artists to politicians, TC has a rich history of strong, pioneering women that have made their mark — both in the College and in the world.
- Grace Dodge
Kicking us off is our founder, Grace Hoadley Dodge! In 1892, Dodge founded the New York College for the Training of Teachers, which later became Teachers College. Coming from a wealthy family known for its philanthropic work, she carried on the tradition of helping others throughout her life. In addition to founding TC, Dodge helped form the Kitchen Garden Association, the New York Travelers’ Aid Society, and the National Travelers’ Aid Society. She was also involved in the organization of a club for working women that would later turn into the Association of Working Girls’ Societies. She helped merge this association with another to ultimately create the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), for which she served as the president until her death.
- Georgia O’Keeffe
Georgia O’Keeffe is known as one of the most influential figures in modernist painting, best recognized for her interpretations of flowers, bones, New York skyscrapers, and New Mexico landscapes. O’Keeffe first became familiar with Teachers College during a summer course in 1912 for art teachers at University of Virginia, Charlottesville, where she studied under TC professor Alon Bement. Bement connected her with TC colleague Arthur Wesley Dow, who took her on as a student for a year. By the late 1920s, O’Keeffe had become one of New York’s most celebrated modernist artists. Today, she is an icon of American art, and her work can be found at most major museums, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Brooklyn Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.
- Dr. Mary Swartz-Rose
Teachers College alumnae Mary Swartz-Rose founded the first nutrition education program in the United States at Teachers College. Her received a B.S. in Household Arts from TC in 1906. She later returned as a professor in the same program. In 1923, she founded the programs in Nutrition along with Henry Sherman. From that point on, she served as Professor in Nutrition at the College. Along with her work in academia, Swartz-Rose was heavily involved in nutrition research. In this vein she worked with Herbert Hoover, then head of the U.S. Food Administration, during World War I to create meals and menus for the military, leading to her role in helping to create Army rations.
- Shirley Chisholm
Shirley Chisholm, known for her groundbreaking contributions to politics, is also a Teachers College alumni, graduating from the Early Childhood Education program in 1951. After working in education for many years, Chisholm made the switch to politics, becoming the first African American woman in Congress in 1968. She was also involved in chapters of the League of Women Voters, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Urban League, and the Democratic Party Club in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Throughout her career, Chisholm was a champion for both women’s rights and African American rights in politics. In addition to other firsts she had accomplished, Chisholm’s run for president in 1972 made her the first African American to do so for any party, and the first women to do so for the Democratic party. She was blocked from participating in televised debates, and after taking legal action, she was allotted just one speech on air. Even with this obstacle and an extremely underfunded campaign, she was able to get 142 delegates’ votes, 10% of the total. After retiring from Congress in 1982, Chisholm finished her career teaching at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts.
- Ruth Westheimer
Ruth Westheimer began her career in sex advocacy after earning a doctorate in Family-Life Studies at Teachers College in 1970. After TC, she worked briefly at Planned Parenthood in Harlem, where she taught women how to teach sex education, ultimately leading herself to a career in studying and advocating for human sexuality. She gained the nicknames “Grandma Freud” and the “Sister Wendy of Sexuality” as she revolutionized the way society, and women in particular, talked about sex and sexuality both on the radio and television. By 1980, she had her own radio show “Sexually Speaking” which gained 250,000 listeners each week despite the network never promoting it. By 1984, she was hosting several television programs, and by 1985 she even tried her hand at acting. Most recently, people have begun creating their own adaptations of Dr. Ruth Westheimer’s life—in October 2013 an off-Broadway play called “Becoming Dr. Ruth” debuted, which has since been produced with three different actresses reprising the role of Dr. Westheimer. Even more recently, Ryan White directed a documentary called “Ask Dr. Ruth” which premiered in theaters and is now streaming on Hulu. The documentary won a 4th Critics Choice Documentary Award for “Most Compelling Living Subject of a Documentary” and was a 19th AARP Movies for Grownups Awards nominee for “Best Documentary.”