Skip to main content

About the Project

History teaches us that excellence is rewarded, that hard work is timeless, that things can change but sometimes don’t, and that the telling of past stories helps bring understanding to our own time. Hidden No More aspires to be that aid to histories lessons.”

Teresa Woodruff, PhD G’89

Women have always been educators.  In fact, as humans, our first experiences learning come from our mothers. Later as we grow, our elementary and secondary education is populated by women. My own grandmother was a school teacher. She taught in a one-room schoolhouse in the panhandle of Oklahoma during the early 20th century.  She had a long and storied career, but generations of students may have lost the opportunity to learn from this exceptional educator had she married. So, she eloped - a courageous and radical move for a 21-year old and her willing husband! - and in so doing, kept her job. 

Unlike the relatively available, if short-lived for matrimonial reasons, career opportunities for women in early education, females were largely excluded from pursuing degrees in higher education until more recently.  Indeed, from the days of Aristotle, advanced thinking was imagined to be conveyed by men, for men.  Thus, when Northwestern opened its doors in 1863, the first faculty (and students) were male.

With Northwestern’s sesquicentennial celebration of co-education, Hidden Figures was selected as Northwestern’s One-Book. Inspired by the choice of this powerful book and the narrative’s social commentary, I wondered when the general faculty of Northwestern began to include women. And so, I went to Kevin Leonard head of Northwestern University Archives to find the answer – his first response to me on this subject was ‘it’s complicated.’  Indeed, as my team and I began to dig depper, the answer to this seemingly straight-forward question stutters and starts and stops and starts again like many stories of women’s inclusion into the professional workforce. And, while we were working on the faculty question, we kept finding ‘other’ women across campus, a scattering of female PhDs.  As dean of The Graduate School, I began to wonder about graduate co-education – when did men and women sharing the same advanced degree opportunities at Northwestern?  So, from these questions came the notion of a website that would provide our community, and wider audiences, the opportunity to meet a few of these early pioneers of Northwestern’s academic landscape.

Hidden No More is now an interactive and living website that reveals the first female faculty and female graduate students and situates them along a timeline of events both at the University and within the broader world.  My hope is that by revealing these names and narratives we can re-acquaint ourselves with some of the super luminaries who made Northwestern the intellectual powerhouse it is today. Here we learn of their accomplishments and influences locally and throughout the world, and we can also reveal all that it took for these faculty and students to be recognized on an ‘equal’ level with their male counterparts. 

Overall, each woman you encounter on this site is extraordinary.  Naming the first is ‘complicated’ as Kevin Leonard said, but among the first was Margery Carlson.  Dr. Carlson was definitely the first tenured full professor at Northwestern and had a long career on the faculty spanning 1928-1958.  She graduated from Northwestern with an undergraduate degree in 1916 and earned a PhD at the University of Wisconsin.   Dr. Carlson was an internationally recognized botanist who discovered 15 new species of plants.  And, in a handwritten note in the Northwestern archives she said, “In my day, there weren’t women full professors even if qualified.” Similarly, Ruth Freinkel (1966-1995), a professor, clinician and leading researcher in dermatology said: “Mostly in everything I did I was the only woman,” and declared, perhaps most memorably: “When you’re blazing trails you don’t really know it; you just move ahead and try not to step into the manure.”  These and other stories are found on this website.

The first female doctoral student at Northwestern was Alice Gabrielle Twight, who earned her PhD in Romance Languages in 1898.  And perhaps equally remarkable, her dissertation highlighted women.  She told the stories of “Women of the Seventeenth Century Classical Theatre, as Seen by the Nineteenth Century”. While she did not pursue a career in academia farther than this degree, Dr. Twight’s story and the stories of women in graduate education at Northwestern provide the prism through which we see ourselves today. 

My own story intersects with both parts of this website.  I joined the faculty at Northwestern in 1995 and was a graduate student beginning in 1985.  As my team and I sat in the archives of Deering Library, opening original catalogs and yearbooks and reached into the manila folders with the CVs, pictures and syllabi of students and teachers, we each had the feeling of marvel, of joy and of the value each of these lives lived brought to this University. These faculty and graduate women are in us and now we know them. History teaches us that excellence is rewarded, that hard work is timeless, that things can change but sometimes don’t, and that the telling of past stories helps bring understanding to our own time. Hidden No More aspires to be that aid to histoy's lessons.

A note about the process that created this website.  The inspiration for this project came from a conversation I had with the remarkable Dr. Leigh Bienen and I thank her for the many conversations we’ve had over the years that have led to interesting projects such as this.  Secondly, the memories of a great university are held in its archives.  The majority of this project was completed utilizing the Northwestern Library’s University archives. Kevin Leonard maintains the Deering Archives as a truly incredible place. He and his team, especially Charla Wilson, were an incredible help to me and my team at every step along the way. Using a list of female faculty names generated by the librarians, our team recovered faculty biographical files. The files house documents such as biographical record forms, curriculum vitae, some photographs, and published papers, and university announcements. In addition to archival research we used general internet searches by name and title and key word ‘northwestern’ to find information on each faculty. In many cases these searches yielded obituaries, mentions of these women in other texts or news articles, or their published research. All of these materials and sources were used to construct the narrative around each woman.  For some, there was no information available beyond their names and positions and fragmented dates of their tenure at Northwestern. Often, it was difficult to neatly track educational and professional timelines. I want to thank in advance the members of our community who will come after us and who will help to fill in the missing blanks along this timeline.  This project is not a comprehensive detailing of all of Northwestern’s exceptional women. This project is meant to be elastic and holds the opportunity for many more names to be dusted off and for individuals and their work to be revealed for generations to come.

Important work on this project has been done by a summer intern, Tom O’Halloran, a philosophy major with interest in writing and rhetoric.  I also thank my executive assistant Aysha Salter-Volz for her exceptional contributions to the stories told here.  I also thank Stephanie Brehm, PhD a member of The Graduate School but importantly, is an alumna of Northwestern graduate education and therefore in the lineage of the graduate stories told here.

As a member of the Northwestern family since 1985, these academic grandmothers and great-grandmothers and great-great-grandmothers inspire me in the same way my own grandmother and mother inspire me. I hope the stories resonate with you as well. 

They are hidden no more. 

Teresa Woodruff, PhD G’89
The Thomas J. Watkins Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology
Professor of Molecular Biosciences
Professor of Biomedical Engineering
Dean, The Graduate School
Associate Provost for Graduate Education
Co-chair, Hidden Figures Committee