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

On the Poverty Line

On the Poverty Line

More From Ruth

In this video

For Simmons, it's women and families on the poverty line who call for greater focus from the women's movement.

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

Sara Lamm
Sara Lamm
Documentary Filmmaker

Sara Lamm is a Los Angeles based filmmaker who has produced, directed and performed in a variety of multimedia performances, featuring audio collage, video and still photography. H...

Danica Patrick
Danica Patrick
Champion Race Car Driver

Danica Patrick is the most successful woman in the history of American open-wheel racing, and is one of the most famous and recognized female athletes in the world. She is the only...

Nadine Burke Harris
Nadine Burke Harris
Founder & CEO, Center for Youth Wellness

Nadine Burke Harris founded Center for Youth Wellness, an organization that seeks to recognize and effectively treat toxic stress in children. Burke Harris and her organization add...

Majora Carter
Majora Carter
Community Developer

Majora Carter became passionate about community development while completing her MFA at New York University, advocating for the development of Hunts Point Riverside Park, the South...