Illustration of an older, white-haired woman, standing in front of a large, framed picture of a girl in a cap and gown

Credit: illustration By Chelsea Beck

Pioneering Women

In the spring of 1974, 88 female undergraduates walked across the stage at Johns Hopkins to receive their diplomas. This year, during Alumni Weekend, held April 5–7, many of those women returned to campus to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the university's coeducation program.

"The reunion weekend began with dinner at Gertrude's and included a very impactful video featuring alumnae discussing their experiences as the first female undergraduates," says Pat Conklin, senior associate director of reunions and homecoming for Hopkins' Office of Alumni Relations.

Mindy Farber, A&S '74, a retired civil rights lawyer, chaired the reunion committee and was featured in the video. She recalled how different the Homewood campus was in the early 1970s. Female professors were scarce, the first coed dorm wasn't built until 1972, and fake flowers were placed in urinals to signify a women's restroom.

"Being one of the first women to graduate from Hopkins was one of the most pivotal parts of my life," Farber says.

At the time, the women in the Class of '74 didn't think of themselves as trailblazers. Linda Pickle, a renowned biostatistician, A&S '74, '77 (PhD), said it was only after spending a semester as the sole female in her math classes that she recognized how the female undergraduates were making history.

"These women had a real impact on our campus," says Conklin, noting that the coeds founded a Women's Center that attracted prominent women speakers, including actress and activist Jane Fonda and Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to Congress. They also worked to create a campus health clinic for women, a female soccer team, and a women's history class.

During the 50th anniversary celebration, Hopkins President Ronald J. Daniels and the university deans highlighted the women from the Class of '74. A service of remembrance was also held at the Glass Pavilion to honor classmates who had died.

Gail Williams Glasser, A&S '74, director of compliance and risk management at the League for People With Disabilities, recalls how nervous she initially felt being one of the only women of color in her classes.

"Then one day I realized I know the material, I was going to speak up, and I could do this," she says. "After that, my confidence shot up."

"The women from the Class of 1974 are all phenomenal and very accomplished," Conklin says. "They spoke up then and are still speaking up on behalf of women."