Each quarter here in the magazine office, there’s a bittersweet moment when we edit the alumnae memorials, when something very Wellesley tugs at the heartstrings. Sometimes, it’s a note from a husband with a memorial, thanking Wellesley for making his wife the extraordinary woman she was. Sometimes, it’s the little details about lives of service—for example, in this issue, the woman in her 90s who went on “custard missions,” delivering homemade custards to ailing neighbors. And then there are the records of the Wellesley connections: the group of dear college friends who kept up a round-robin letter for seven decades, for instance.
In this magazine, one tribute in particular made the three of us smile. Rebecca Hoffert Rosow, daughter of Constance Dorfman Hoffert ’42, tells of her mother’s passing and then notes, “I found, safely tucked away in her bedside table among her most important personal papers, the full program from her 1942 graduation—including the emergency instructions in case of an air raid.” This made us stop and consider: What is it about a college that makes an alumna so treasure her time there that 72 years later her commencement program is one of her most valued possessions?
It likely has something to do with finding a sense of belonging in the College community, and developing an identity and mindset that helps to chart the course of a life. Generations of Wellesley women have experienced this—and have felt linked to and supported by their fellow alumnae through the decades. And it probably has something to do with Wellesley being a small, liberal-arts college for women, known for nurturing the potential of its students.
Over the last year or so, many constituencies here at Wellesley—trustees, faculty, students, administrators—have been probing the question of what it means to be a women’s college today. These discussions have taken place in a societal context where definitions of gender are shifting. We see this shift in pop culture (for example, the series Transparent won two Golden Globes this year), in media coverage, and in education, where, for instance, elementary-school administrators are reaching for new ways to support children whose gender identity differs from their gender assignment at birth.
The discussions, at Wellesley and no doubt elsewhere, too, have involved a good deal of learning for the participants. In our story “Reaffirming Mission, Re-Examining Gender,” Lisa Scanlon Mogolov ’99 goes behind the scenes to understand the process the community went through, and the academic research that was considered, as the trustees moved toward establishing Wellesley’s new policy on gender.
The new policy folds into Wellesley’s ongoing efforts to be a welcoming, supportive institution for students from many different backgrounds. The College has been and will continue to be a place where young women can find their passions and explore who they are and might be. There are so many supports for that process, most long in place. Some are new, though, like the College’s recently appointed full-time rabbi, who will cultivate a rich Jewish life on campus, and an Asian American studies minor, long sought by students. Through shared academic experiences, sports, student organizations, and residential living, students discover themselves and find the close friends who will likely travel with them through life.
Seventy years hence, will a daughter find a Wellesley memento among her mother’s most important papers, a sign of much-valued years on this campus? The chances are pretty good that she will.