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325 Years Later, William and Mary Has a Woman President

325 years after its founding, the College of William and Mary (W&M) in Williamsburg, VA has appointed scholar Katherine Rowe to serve as its first female president.

Rowe will serve as the 28th president of the college and will take over the role beginning July 1st. She will succeed the retiring W. Taylor Reveley III, who has served as president for W&M for ten years.

She said she was drawn to the institution – which is the second oldest in the nation – because of its strength in combining qualities that seem unconventional but end up working well for the research university.

“This is an institution that was founded by a woman as well as a man. It feels right,” said Rowe. “It’s the centenary of the first women enrolled. That’s an incredibly moving thing to know as I step into this leadership role.”

Rowe is an English literature scholar and served as provost and dean of faculty for Smith College in Massachusetts. She is also the co-founder of Luminary Digital Media, a company that focuses on student engagement with Shakespearean works through interactive reading applications.

“It is an incredible privilege to be at institutions that are devoted to access for underrepresented students,” said Rowe. “That’s the deepest lesson that I’ve learned, what it means to be thinking about the pipeline of exceptional human beings into fields that they currently aren’t represented.”

W&M board rector Todd Stottlemyer referred to Rowe as an innovator and entrepreneur.

“Katherine is a widely respected and recognized leader,” said Stottlemyer. “She is a passionate and articulate advocate for the importance of the liberal arts and their critical intersections with technology and research.”


Rowe’s appointment in a leadership position at the college marks a significant change in gender representation in authoritative roles.

A 2014 Forbes report showed that only about 26 percent of collegiate presidents in the United States were women. The article also highlighted that while there were a significant number of female students in colleges and universities, those numbers didn’t translate to leadership roles in higher education for a variety of reasons, such as lack of opportunities and discouragement among colleagues.

“We will never be done striving to affirm and not cover over our differences to address inequity and to seek to make William and Mary a place where students, faculty and staff from diverse backgrounds, income levels and identities participate fully,” said Rowe.

The long road to gender equity and equality is far from over, but Rowe will go down in W&M’s history as an inspiration to other aspiring female leaders. This marks a significant stride forward for inclusivity of qualified women in collegiate leadership positions.

Featured Image by Norman Lear Center on Flickr

Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

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