Wellesley's old girls rocket to success

January 5, 2001

America's women-only Wellesley College celebrated its 125th anniversary last September with claims that what some see as an outmoded educational fashion is enjoying renewed relevance in the United States.

Some of the evidence was high in the sky above the campus in the form of Wellesley graduate Pamela Melroy, a US astronaut.

Equally remarkable has been the success of the most prominent of the college's alumnae, Hillary Rodham Clinton. Her victory in New York's senatorial election virtually clinches the school's hallmark definition of itself as a place, according to Victoria Herget, chair of the college's board of trustees, "whose very specific mission (is) to educate women who will make a difference".

Senator-elect Clinton told The THES : "At Wellesley we learnt to reject the notion of limitations on our abilities to make the world a better place. We were inspired by our education to bridge the gap between our expectations and realities.

"So thank you, Wellesley College, for remaining devoted to your important mission to 'educate women who will make a difference in the world' for 125 years. We thank you for nurturing, challenging and guiding us."

Changing social conditions have long since forced Wellesley's male counterparts, the so-called Ivy League schools, into relinquishing their claim to exclusivity.

The final milestone was arguably passed a year ago when Harvard University finally subsumed Radcliffe College, another of America's century-old Seven Sisters of single-sex education.

Many senior figures in US higher education see single-sex education as outdated, but the school's confidence rests on solid foundations. David Blinder, vice-president of resources and public affairs, said: "Wellesley has had a long and illustrious history of students coming from abroad who have a disproportionate impact on the places they return to."

Mr Blinder was speaking on the eve of a trip to Taipei, Hong Kong and Tokyo where he would be fundraising with graduates who had returned to their original homes or, as Americans, gone out into the world to fulfil their alma mater's guiding principle.

"It's striking how pervasive the knowledge of Wellesley is, not only in Taiwan where you would anticipate it, but on mainland China and in Japan and Korea. The impact made by its early oriental graduates was enormous. One of the pioneers was Mei Ling Sung who turned up one day virtually unheralded at Wellesley. Miss Sung, who graduated in 1917, was to become celebrated as Mme Chiang-kai Chek, wife of China's long-reigning nationalist leader.

Wellesley assiduously develops its Asian presence, which Mr Blinder calls "a little niche of our own". It is from the east that a $25 million (Pounds 17 million) gift came during the most recent fundraising campaign, to which a remarkable 53.1 per cent of the graduate body donated. The donation is earmarked for a campus centre.

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