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Men Still Rule on Harvard Walls

Few portraits feature women

Nathaniel E. Jedrey

Looking through the Anne Bradstreet Gate at the Science Center

This article is the first in a series of features that will examine the status of women at Harvard. The series will investigate the challenges facing female undergaduates, female Faculty members, the Committee on Women’s Studies and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.

Studying in the Harry Widener library or eating in Annenberg Dining Hall, Harvard scholars are forever in the company of men—men whose images adorn the University’s walls and halls.

Harvard University boasts a collection of nearly 700 portraits, but only 43 are of women.

Many say this discrepancy undermines the significance of the contributions made by women to Harvard—both in the past and now.

“Although it is a minor detail about our campus, it is really a thing that students internalize,” says Natalia A.J. Truszkowska ’02, president of the Radcliffe Union of Students.

When Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles began his tenure roughly 11 years ago, he appointed three professors to serve as “Curators of the Faculty Room.”

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The gender disparity was so apparent that, according to Knowles, his “first charge” to the committee was to “deal with the unremitting maleness” of the portraits in the Faculty room in University Hall—none portrayed females at the time.

The curators’ endeavors resulted in the hanging of the first portrait of a woman on the walls of the Faculty room in the mid-1990s and a second two weeks ago.

Helen Maud Cam, who in 1948 became the first woman tenured by the Faculty, was the first female memorialized in a portrait—a painting that now hangs on the south wall of the Faculty room.

More recently, a portrait of Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, the first person to receive a Ph.D. in astronomy from Harvard and a dedicated humanist, was unveiled.

“My last count was 49 images in that room. Now there are 47 people with XY chromosomes and two with XX,” says Dudley R. Herschbach, Baird professor of science.

He and his wife, Associate Dean of the College Georgene B. Herschbach, commissioned the second portrait.

Still, the Cam and Gaposchkin portraits are only two in a sea of 49 portraits of older white men that line the Faculty Room’s walls.

Inch By Inch

Roughly 40 of the 50 portraits that hang in Radcliffe’s various buildings are of women. But portrayals of women lag in the College.

When the Barker Center for the Humanities was opened in 1997, it contained no portraits of women—despite the fact that the building is a center for several humanities departments where women have made their mark.