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A History of Remarkable Women

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Classroom, circa 1928.

At Rutgers University in Newark, Women’s History Month this March is celebrated with a five-day women’s film festival, a Paul Robeson Galleries exhibition (through July) featuring women artists, an “Evening of Music and Art” featuring Akua Dixon’s Quartette Indigo (pictured, right), and the annual Women's & Gender Studies Symposium 2014: Women & Health. But the history of Rutgers Akua DixonUniversity in Newark (RU–N) is filled with accomplishments by remarkable women, some famous, most not, whose contributions deserve to be embraced every day, not just in March.

The latest in this line of remarkable women is Nancy Cantor, the first female chancellor of a Rutgers campus. She took the reins at Rutgers University in Newark on Jan. 1.

But this is not the first time Rutgers University in Newark has led the way.

In 1911 the first graduating class of the New Jersey Law School included a woman: Elizabeth Blume-Silverstein, who would go on to pass the bar in 1913 and practice law in Newark until the mid-1980s.

Back in the 1930s, female students in what was then called the School of Business Administration - today the Rutgers Business School - begin to enroll in the school’s bachelor’s program. Two women were among the members of the Rutgers Business School Class of 1951, and by 1962, female students were earning MBAs.

In the late 1940s the Rutgers School of Law-Newark graduated two African-American female students, M. Bernadine Johnson Marshall and Martha Belle Williams. In 1949 the two become the first African-American women admitted to the New Jersey Bar.

The 1970s were a whirlwind of milestones. In 1970, the RU–N Women’s Studies program was established, one of the nation’s first as well as the first at Rutgers University; its faculty's research specialties range from feminist literature and women’s history to women’s legal rights and gender and politics. Rutgers School of Law-Newark hired its first black woman professor, Peggy Cooper Davis. The Women’s Rights Law Reporter, the oldest legal periodical in the U.S. focusing exclusively on the field of women’s rights law, moved to Rutgers and became formally affiliated with the law school in 1974. Among The Reporter’s founders was U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, then a professor at the law school. The 1970s also saw Law School Professor Nadine Taub found the Women’s Rights Litigation Clinic.

In 1971, a group of determined women professors fought against Rutgers’ treatment of female faculty and won a victory for themselves and future generations. They spearheaded a federal complaint, claiming discrimination by Rutgers against female faculty. The federal government ultimately ruled in their favor, and ordered Rutgers to adjust current and future pay scales for equity with male professors. Their courageous actions forever changed Rutgers.

Author: 
Carla Capizzi