Women at Rutgers have been changing history and shaping the university for generations.
They fill top leadership roles: Nancy Cantor serves as the first woman chancellor at Rutgers-Newark; Margaret Marsh was the first woman to lead Rutgers-Camden, followed several years later by Phoebe Haddon; and Francine Conway, an internationally recognized child psychologist, claims the mantle of being the first woman chancellor-provost of Rutgers-New Brunswick.
Rutgers is also a leader in research in women’s history. The graduate program in the School of Arts and Sciences has been ranked number 1 in the nation in U.S. News & World Report for more than a decade.
In honor of Women’s History Month, here are some notable moments in women’s history at Rutgers.
Mabel Smith Douglass
Mabel Smith Douglass founds the New Jersey College for Women at Rutgers in 1918, paving the way for women to pursue higher education in the state. In 1955, the college is renamed Douglass College in honor of its founder and first dean. Since 2007, Douglass is the only residential women’s college in the nation housed within a world-class public research university.
Alice Jennings Archibald
Educator and civic leader Alice Jennings Archibald is the first African American woman to earn a Rutgers graduate degree from the School of Education in 1938. A lifelong resident of New Brunswick, she leads efforts to collect and preserve archival materials documenting African American life in the city.
M. Bernadine Johnson Marshall and Martha Belle Williams
In the late 1940s, Rutgers School of Law-Newark graduates M. Bernadine Johnson Marshall and Martha Belle Williams. They become the first African American women admitted to the New Jersey Bar in 1949.
Julia Baxter Bates
Douglass College alumna Julia Baxter Bates plays a key role in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision as a researcher for the NAACP. Bates researches and coauthors the winning brief used by the NAACP to prove the scientific case against segregation, which led to the historic and unanimous Supreme Court decision that deemed state-sanctioned segregation of public schools unconstitutional.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Women’s Rights Law Reporter, the first legal periodical of its kind in the country, is established at Rutgers in 1972. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, then a Rutgers law professor, serves as its first faculty adviser. In 2020, the university names a landmark residence hall at Rutgers-Newark for the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice.
Sheryl Lee Ralph
Rutgers College admits women to the fall 1972 freshman class for the first time. Emmy-winner Sheryl Lee Ralph becomes the first woman to graduate from Rutgers College in 1975, with a major in English literature and theater arts.
Rutgers hires the nation’s first full-time women’s head basketball coach in 1976. In her 19 years with Rutgers, Theresa Grentz leads the Lady Knights to the 1982 AIAW National Championship and nine consecutive NCAA Tournament berths. Her successor, C. Vivian Stringer, directs the Scarlet Knights to 17 NCAA Tournaments, including two Final Fours, during her 26 seasons on the Banks. Both coaches are members of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Longtime Rutgers professor Evelyn Witkin, whose DNA research played an important role in clinical radiation therapy for cancer, wins two of the most prestigious awards in science: the 2002 National Medal of Science and the 2015 Lasker Award – considered second only to the Nobel Prize. In 2021, the Evelyn M. Witkin Laboratory at the Waksman Institute of Microbiology is named in her honor.
Maternal Health Awareness Day
Maternal Health Awareness Day is founded by Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in 2017 in partnership with the Tara Hansen Foundation, RWJ Barnabas Health, the State of New Jersey and partner organizations. It's now recognized in 34 states.
In 2020, School of Law-Camden alumna Fabiana Pierre-Louis becomes one of three alumni serving on the New Jersey Supreme Court. The daughter of Haitian immigrants blazing a trail as the first Black woman and the youngest justice on the bench of the state’s highest court.
In 2022, Cristine Delnevo, director of the Rutgers Center for Tobacco Studies, is appointed chair of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee. The FDA commissioner selects experts to review and evaluate safety, dependence and health issues related to tobacco products.
Rutgers-Camden alumna Corinne Bradley-Powers becomes the university’s first woman James Beard Foundation Award winner, in 2022, for Corinne’s Place, a Camden destination famous for its soul food.