Pillar of Radcliffe, Bunting-Smith, Dies

Harvard administrators are mourning the loss of Mary I. Bunting-Smith, who used the University as a platform to revolutionize the role of women in society.

Bunting-Smith, the fifth president of Radcliffe College, died on Wednesday at the age of 87 in her home in Hanover, New Hampshire.

During her tenure as president from 1960 to 1972, Bunting-Smith worked to integrate women into Harvard University, introduced the house system to Radcliffe and raised funds for the construction of Hilles Library and Currier House.

Bunting-Smith worked closely with top administrators in the '60s and '70s for the introduction of coeducational housing, according to former Harvard President Derek C. Bok.

"She had a clear-eyed sense of where women were heading at a time when Princeton and Yale were all-male institutions," Bok said in a telephone interview from Sarasota, Fla.

Current Radcliffe President Linda S. Wilson said that Bunting-Smith was a formidable educator.

"Her statesmanship, courage and imperturbability guided Harvard and Radcliffe's alliance during the turbulent period of national unrest," Wilson said in a news release.

When she arrived as president, one of Bunting-Smith's first proposals was to create an institute where woman could overcome a climate of low expectations for women, said Rita N. Brock, the director of the Bunting Institute. The institute was renamed in Bunting-Smith's honor in 1978.

"She knew what she struggled against as a biologist and woman and wanted a place where women would flourish," Brock said.

At the time, the institute was such a revolutionary idea that Bunting-Smith was featured on the cover of Time Magazine, Brock said.

"[The creation of the institute] was very, very timely because people really didn't see the pendulum beginning to shift as early as she did," Bok said.

Since Bunting-Smith founded the institute in 1960, more than 1,300 women have held the one-year fellowships, Brock said.

"The list of Bunting fellows reads like a who's who of achieving women," Brock said. "Anne Sexton was in the first Bunting class and Tillie Olsen in the second. Alice Walker also wrote her first novel at the Institute," Brock said.

Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1910, Bunting-Smith did not attend school until the eighth grade, said Charles I. Bunting, her son.

"[Bunting-Smith] did a great deal of learning on her own, especially with nature," Bunting said. "That early way of being a learner about the world was something that continued through her life."

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