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

Reaching A Diversity of Students

Reaching A Diversity of Students

More From Ruth

In this video

Simmons explains how her desire to reach minority students propelled her beyond just teaching into administration.

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

Ai-jen Poo
Ai-jen Poo
Domestic Worker Advocate

Ai-jen Poo is currently the Director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance – an organization that works to empower and organize domestic workers across 19 cities and 11 ...

Eleanor Holmes Norton
Eleanor Holmes Norton
U.S. Congresswoman, District of Columbia

Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, now in her twelfth term as the Congresswoman for the District of Columbia, knew from a young age she wanted to make change to end the severe se...

Aileen Hernandez
Aileen Hernandez
Former President National Organization for Women

Aileen Clarke Hernandez has been fighting against discrimination in all of its forms for over six decades. She has been President of the National Organization for Women (NOW), Comm...

Sarah Weddington
Sarah Weddington
Roe v. Wade Attorney

Sarah Weddington stepped into the national spotlight when she successfully argued the landmark Supreme Court case, Roe v. Wade, at the tender age of 26. The daughter of a Methodist...