Douglass Centennial Kickoff Speech

Good evening!

Welcome to the kickoff of the Douglass Centennial year! Thank you for joining us to mark such a wonderful occasion.

We are honored to be joined by: The NJ Assemblywomen Nancy Pinkin, Mayor of Highland Park, Gayle Brill Mittler, Rutgers University President Robert Barchi, former Douglass faculty and staff, current Douglass staff, alumnae, students, members of the Rutgers community, and the general public.

I also want to thank those who made this night and our 100th Anniversary celebration possible: PSEG, the Rutgers Office of the President, the New Brunswick Chancellor’s Office, the Douglass Advisory Board, Center for Women in the Arts and Humanities, Associate Alumnae of Douglass College and The Douglass Fund, the Institute for Women’s Leadership, Dr. Eileen L. Poiani DC ‘65, Rutgers Athletics, Rutgers Global, Rutgers University Libraries, Thank you.

A special thank you also to the co-chairs of the 100th Anniversary committee, Edith Prescod and alumna Terre Martin. And thank you to all the members the 100th Anniversary Committee and especially Maria Depina, who have made this night possible.

Since we are here to celebrate Douglass' impending 100th year, allow me to begin with remarks by our founding Dean, Mabel Smith Douglass in 1932.

“In material things, she said,...the College started with nothing—that is the precise and literal truth. In things of the spirit—loyalty, friendship, encouragement, vision, faith, hope, yes, even love—we were rich. We were rich too in obstacles, in heartaches, in difficulties and troubles, and in overcoming these we built into our College a spirit of cooperation among the students, faculty, and staff, which if not unique is surely rare among colleges. … My earnest hope is that, as the years pass and the students of the future come and go, the old spirit of cooperation, helpfulness, and sacrifice for faith in an ideal may ever continue a living reality on this campus.”

New Jersey was the last state in the U.S. to provide public higher education for women. Rutgers, as the state university, didn't help in this regard: women were denied access to state funded scholarships at Rutgers College and access to the federally funded land grant institution. Into this environment stepped the New Jersey State Federation of Women’s Clubs who saw the need for public education for women, enlisting the talented Mabel Smith Douglass to lead the effort. She lobbied the legislature, organized a door-to-door campaign asking households to donate 1 dollar. She negotiated land and building donations from donors James Neilson, Leonor Loree and Elizabeth Voorhees, and convinced the state legislature to start with a 100,000 gift and later to provide maintenance funds for the school. In the spring of 1918, the Rutgers Trustees passed a resolution to establish the women’s college.

Women at this time still did not have the right to vote, but exactly 99 years ago, today, on September 18 in 1918 the doors of College Hall opened and 54 brave young women entered, ready to chart the course of history. As the first public institution for women's education in New Jersey, NJC experienced rapid success: enrollment increased to 1100 in 1929, (more than Rutgers), state appropriation increased from 50 to 430 thousand dollars, and faculty increased from 16-80, all within 10 years.

Our curriculum went well beyond the traditional model of women's education, which focused largely on preparing white Protestant women for motherhood and ethics. At NJC, a "home economics" model -- the predominant model at the time -- demanded scientific prowess—leaving us a legacy of strong science programs. The intentional inclusion of the liberal arts brought us to close to the liberal arts education that men received at Rutgers College.

At times, the college had to face its own exclusions -- as it was in 1934 with the admission of Julia Baxter Bates, the first African American woman accepted by the college. Although she faced innumerable challenges, she would be proud to know that the college today is a community for all races, ethnicities, faiths, countries, physical capabilities, sexual orientations, economic backgrounds, and traditional and non-traditional age students.

Our more recent history shows the imposing legacy of the College. "It all started here," -- in the words of Lisa Hetfield, Interim director of the IWL. Consider the IWL Consortium – nine units each advancing research and applications of feminist work, the department of women's and gender studies, among the top five departments in the country, the women's history specialization, the top in the nation, the colleges' leadership on women in STEM, the feminist art movement, and alumnae leaders in their fields.

True to Dean Douglass's vision, women continue to live up to the ideal of cooperation, helpfulness, and sacrifice. We are now a diverse and vibrant community of 2,500 undergraduate women scholars, 39,000 alumnae, and Rutgers faculty and staff, all committed to the advancement of women's academic and leadership excellence. Today’s Douglass students receive all the benefits of the women’s college experience, intertwined with the outstanding academic opportunities and resources of Rutgers University – one of the leading research universities in the nation. Douglass women are truly receiving a unique and tremendous experience that began 99 years ago today.

The New Jersey College for Women, Douglass College, and now Douglass Residential College have remained true to Dean Douglass' vision of cooperation and helpfulness. As we look forward to the next 100 years of Douglass, we will be grappling with a rapidly changing, globally and technologically connected world. However, one thing will not change – Douglass women will still be rich in -- loyalty, friendship, encouragement, vision, faith, hope, and of course love.