In Memoriam: Jill Kathryn Ker Conway, 1934-2018

Jill Ker Conway, an Australian native who became the first woman president of Smith College, the highly rated liberal arts educational institution for women in Northampton, Massachusetts, died on June 1 at her home in Boston. She was 83 years old.

A graduate of the University of Sydney, Dr. Conway came to the United States in 1960 to pursue a Ph.D. in history at Harvard University. Her research was focused on women reformers in the United States. She began her academic career at the University of Toronto, where she taught history and served as vice president for internal affairs.

Dr. Conway was appointed president of Smith College in 1974 at a time when most of the faculty were men. She served in that post until 1985. During her presidency, the Smith College endowment grew from $82 million to $222 million. Her memoir A Woman’s Education (Alfred A. Knopf, 2001) detailed her years as Smith’s president.

Kathleen McCartney, the current president of Smith College, said in a statement that “Jill Ker Conway came to Smith at a time when gender roles were being transformed — and there were people here who tried to stand in her way. But at a time when the academy didn’t see women as college presidents — or as leaders at all — she demonstrated a leadership that was innovative and effective.”

After retiring from Smith, Dr. Conway wrote three books and served on the board of directors of several large corporations, foundations and nonprofit organizations. In 2013 she was presented with the National Humanities Medal by President Obama.

Filed Under: In Memoriam


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