Newsletter

Stay up to date with the latest from MAKERS delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up for new stories from trailblazing women, a big dose of inspiration, and exclusive MAKERS content.

Newsletter Confirmation

Thank you for joining! Please check your inbox for our special welcome letter
with exclusive updates from MAKERS.

MAKERS Moment

An Odd Duck

An Odd Duck

More From Ruth

In this video

Simmons bookishness as a child made her an misfit amongst her siblings, but ulitmately opened doors for her.  

Ruth's Biography

Cause of Choice: Community Music Works
First Paying Job: Working as a maid while she was a student.
Most Meaningful Advice Received: From her mother: “Never consider yourself better than any other human being… Always act as if you have respect for another person even when you disagree with them, even when they oppress you.”
Greatest Influences Never Met:  “There’s no question that Martin Luther King, Thurgood Marshall, those who shaped the Civil Rights Movement are responsible for my sitting here today. Without them I could not have had the life that I've had.”

In 2001, Ruth Simmons made history when she became the first African-American president of an Ivy League university, as well as Brown University’s first female president. Prior to this appointment, she served as the first African-American female president of a major college or university when she took the reins at Smith College in 1995. Yet growing up, Simmons had much more modest ambitions. “I had one goal,” she recalls, “if only I could one day work in an office, because every woman that I knew was a maid… The farthest I could think was working in an office. That was it.”
Simmons began her prodigious journey on a sharecropping farm in Texas, the youngest of 12 children. She attended Dillard University on scholarship and spent her junior year at Wellesley College, where she encountered President Margaret Clapp who opened her eyes to the possibility of women in leadership. Graduating Dillard in 1967, she studied in France on a Fulbright fellowship, and went on to earn a Ph.D. in Romance languages from Harvard.
 
In 1983, after serving as associate dean of the graduate school at the University of Southern California, Simmons joined the Princeton University administration. She left in 1990 for two years to serve as provost at Spelman College, returning to Princeton in 1992 as vice provost. In 1995, she became president of Smith College, the largest women’s college in the U.S., where she launched a number of strategic initiatives to strengthen the college’s academic programs and inaugurated the first engineering program at a U.S. women’s college. Over the course of her career Simmons has been a visionary leader in academia, championing, and demonstrating, the power of education to transform lives. She stepped down as Brown president in 2012, but remains a professor of comparative literature and Africana studies at the university.

Related Videos

Andrea Reusing
Andrea Reusing
Award Winning Chef

Andrea Reusing is dedicated to the sustainable agriculture movement. Her Chapel Hill, North Carolina local and organic restaurant, Lantern, was voted one of the “best farm-to...

Sara Hurwitz
Sara Hurwitz
First Female Orthodox "Rabba"

Sara Hurwitz is the first officially ordained “Rabba,” in Orthodox Judaism. She is the Rabba at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale and the Dean of Yeshivat Maharat, also...

Ellen DeGeneres
Ellen DeGeneres
Comedian

Ellen DeGeneres is a daytime TV juggernaut and entertainment pioneer. Her hit syndicated talk show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, is a haven for discussion, deadpan comedy, and a coll...

Amanda Haas
Amanda Haas
Food Educator

Amanda Haas is a cookbook author, recipe tester, and Founder of One Family One Meal, a website which provides free recipes, menu plans, and shopping lists for families. After a few...