Office of the President

March 9, 2018

Celebrating International Women’s Day by looking back and ahead

Ana Mari Cauce

As we celebrate International Women’s Day this week, which also falls in National Women’s History Month, it’s a pleasure to reflect on the extraordinary women who blazed the trails we walk today, as well as those carving new paths and changing the world right now. And it’s a moment to ask how we can support and encourage the women who are just beginning to build their legacies, who will inherit and transform the future.

The University of Washington has a rich history in educating and empowering women: from our University’s very first graduate, Clara McCarty Wilt, to former U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell; from Nobel Laureate Linda Buck to National Medal of Science winner Dr. Mary-Claire King. Less well known is the UW’s connection to another pioneer in women’s rights. Jeannette Rankin, who became the first woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, enrolled at the UW in in the early 1900’s to study policy-making. Here, she discovered the College Equal Suffrage League and was encouraged to join by Adella Parker, a UW Law graduate. Soon she was taking an active role in Seattle’s campaign for women’s suffrage, and in 1910, Washington became the fifth state in the nation to give women the right to vote. Rankin went on to seek election to Congress in her home state of Montana and while in office, was instrumental in passing the legislation that ultimately became the 19th Amendment, extending the vote to women across the nation in 1920.

Rankin fearlessly bucked convention, and in doing so, she not only changed the world’s understanding of what women could achieve, she helped throw open the doors to ensure that other women could take part in the political process. Right now, many people and industries are taking a hard look at how women are treated in the workplace and other parts of public life. We at the UW not only have the opportunity to celebrate the achievements of our students, faculty, staff and alumnae, but also the duty to ask ourselves how we can open – and widen – more doors for women and everyone who has been underrepresented in our communities.

Here on campus, we’ve seen a clear shift in recent years toward increased representation of women and people of color among student, staff and faculty leadership. Seven out of 19 deans are women, including two women of color. Our athletic director Jen Cohen is the only female AD in the Pac-12. And our alumnae are making an impact everywhere, from Seattle Central College President Sheila Edwards Lange, to the celebrated sculptor Alyson Shotz, to our four female regents, Kristianne Blake, Joanne Harrell, Constance Rice and student regent Jaron Reed Goddard. For the second year in a row, our Faculty Senate chair is a woman.

In the STEM fields, where women have historically been underrepresented, they now make up 42 percent of our undergraduate majors, nearly double the number enrolled in those fields a decade ago. These are positive signs of the direction we’re headed, and it’s vital that we continue on this path because diversity and inclusion aren’t just a question of who is in the room, but of who is speaking—and who is being heard.

At the UW, we work and aspire to put that belief into practice in our labs and classrooms, through the work of the UW Women’s Center and the Alené Moris NEW Leadership program, and in every setting. We also dedicate ourselves to educating the next generation of leaders in a wide range of fields because education is the most powerful tool we know of to increase equity and inclusivity.

As we celebrate the women who have worked for the gains achieved so far, we also dedicate ourselves to honoring their legacy by continuing their work.