2015 Alumnae Achievement Awards

Wellesley’s highest honor is presented annually to graduates of distinction who, through their achievements, have brought honor to themselves and to the College.

2015 Alumnae Achievement Awards


Taking on Advertising

Taking on Advertising

Jean Kilbourne ’64

Jean Kilbourne ’64

When Jean Kilbourne first began studying images of women in the media in the late 1960s, there was no name for what she was doing. The women’s movement was just get-ting off the ground, and the term “media criticism” had not been coined, let alone developed into a legitimate field of study.

The day in 1968 when she began clipping offending ads from magazines and sticking them on her fridge door came at a particularly low point in her life, she recalls. “I had something like 11 jobs [that year] because I just couldn’t stand the work.”

Although Kilbourne had won a full academic scholarship to Wellesley, she found her options after graduation very limited. “I could be a secretary, I could be a waitress … I could be a teacher,” she says. And she did all three at one time or another, along with a bit of modeling in Paris, London, and New York, which she found “really soul-destroying.”

One of the jobs she had in 1968 was placing ads in the British medical journal the Lancet. One ad, for a birth control pill called Ovulen 21, stood out. It read: “Ovulen works the way a woman thinks, by weekdays, not by cycle days.”

“It showed a smiling woman with seven bosses in her head. One for each day of the week—Monday was the laundry basket, and Tuesday was the iron. And the idea was that we were too stupid to remember our cycles, but we could remember the days of the week,” she says, her outrage undiminished with the passing of nearly 40 years. “It was obvious to me that something was really wrong with this.”

Before long, Kilbourne’s fridge was covered with such provocations, and she began to notice patterns: dismemberment of the female body, sexualization of children, and violence against women used to sell products.

So she embarked on the quest that has consumed her ever since. She looks critically at a wide range of public-health problems through the lens of advertising and marketing—from eating disorders to violence against women, high-risk drinking, and smoking—and teaches media literacy as a tool to prevent these problems. “Almost every public-health issue has an industry on the other side that’s profiting from it,” says Kilbourne of the $250 billion advertising business—and that’s just in the United States. “My mission from the beginning has been to look at those industries and how they market products that contribute to these problems.”

Initially, she developed a slideshow of 100 or so ads and took it on the road to school and community groups, logging as many as 110 speaking engagements in a single year. At one point, she was named by the New York Times as one of the top three most popular speakers on college campuses. By her own estimation, she has lectured at over half the colleges and universities in the U.S., and nearly all of those in Canada, and has appeared before the British Parliament. Not bad for a woman who says she used to be terrified of public speaking.

‘The major place where Jean’s films are used and her voice is heard is in the classroom: high schools, colleges, and community groups. [She] has influenced literally generations of women.’

—Sut Jhally, professor of communication, UMass Amherst

In 1979, Kilbourne parlayed her public lectures into an educational video, Killing Us Softly: Advertising’s Image of Women, which has been updated and expanded three times, most recently in 2010. In the film, Kilbourne walks the viewer through ad after ad—several more jaw-dropping than the Ovulen 21 ad—until the patterns become unmistakable, as well as the manipulations operating behind them. She has also produced a number of other films, two books, and countless articles in the popular media.

But it is with Killing Us Softly, the offspring of that initial fridge-door epiphany, that she has had the biggest impact, says Sut Jhally, a professor of communication at UMass Amherst and the executive director of the Media Education Foundation, which distributes Kilbourne’s films. “The major place where Jean’s films are used and her voice is heard is in the classroom: high schools, colleges, and community groups,” he says. “[She] has influenced literally generations of women.”

Kilbourne has received scores of professional accolades. But as important to her, she says, are the emails she gets from students who tell her that hearing her speak or watching one of her films changed their lives. She particularly enjoys the fact that a Canadian all-female punk rock group named themselves “Kilbourne” in her honor.

At the beginning, most of the problems Kilbourne highlighted were not seen as problems at all, and advertising itself was not taken seriously. “Even other feminists said, ‘Look, advertising is trivial. We have important issues to deal with, like violence.’ And I would say, ‘Yes, but the image of women in advertising … creates a climate in which violence is more likely.’”

It is a testament to Kilbourne’s success that her arguments, once considered so controversial, have become the conventional wisdom of today. “She was a pioneer in looking at the media and how the media portray women in very sexist ways, when it was considered a radical idea,” says Susan McGee Bailey ’63, former executive director of the Wellesley Centers for Women, where Kilbourne has been a visiting scholar since 1984. “I used to say at the Centers, ‘If you’re not asking the right question, then the answers don’t matter very much,’ and Jean is someone who is always asking the right questions.”

Sarah Ligon ’03 is a freelance writer based in Oxford, Miss.

In Short

  • A pioneer of media criticism whose groundbreaking activism, beginning in the late ’60s, raised awareness of how women and girls are portrayed in advertisingand marketing
  • Among the first to study the connection between advertising and public health, including its relationship to alcohol and tobacco addictions, eating disorders, and violence toward women
  • Creator of multiple documentary films, including the critically acclaimed Killing Us Softly: Advertising’s Image of Women
  • Author of So Sexy So Soon (with Diane E. Levin) and Can’t Buy My Love
  • Inductee into the National Women’s Hall of Fame

Game Changer

Game Changer

Nancy Kornblith Kopp ’65

Nancy Kornblith Kopp ’65

Nancy Kornblith Kopp ’65 says she was surprised to learn that she was being honored with a Wellesley Alumnae Achievement Award, and she probably wasn’t kidding. After all, who honors a state treasurer—even a brilliant one with a platinum record of getting people to work together?

When first asked to get involved in state government, Kopp had her doubts. “It sounded boring,” she says. (Spoiler alert: She became a giant in public service at the state, regional, and national levels.)

After the Kennedy presidency, which covered most of her years at Wellesley, it was hard to find anything to measure up to the “possibilities of a better world” that JFK, at that time, evoked. Kopp majored in political science. “We all did,” she says. In Washington with the Wellesley-Vassar Summer Intern Program, she worked for Rep. Edith Green (D) of Oregon.

The summer of 1964 was a heady time on Capitol Hill. The shock of the Kennedy assassination loomed large, still. But President Lyndon Johnson, up for election in November, was firing up his Great Society programs. Green, then one of only 12 women in the U.S. House of Representatives, managed her own agenda through an environment often dismissive of women, including the 1963 Equal Pay Act, two historic higher-education laws, and Title IX, a game changer, literally, for women.

“She was dynamite!” Kopp says. “That experience of being on the Hill with someone like Mrs. Green excited me.

“If I had not been hooked on politics until then, I certainly would have been after the end of that summer,” she says. “Because there was a feeling you could do something in ways beyond just marching or writing. You could get in and make an impact, for good or for bad, on things rolling out in the future.”

After studying political philosophy at the University of Chicago, she set aside her Ph.D. thesis on Bernard Mandeville’s The Fable of the Bees to return to the “grumbling hive” of Congress in 1970, again working with Green.

Then, an unexpected door opened. The Montgomery County delegation to the Maryland General Assembly was looking for a professional staffer. Green’s chief of staff, a top Democrat in county politics, urged Kopp to apply. “I told him I had only taken one course in state and local government at Wellesley College, and it was the most boring course I ever took,” she says. Still, he urged her to “see the rest of government,” and she did. In 1974, she stunned friends by running for the House of Delegates herself. She won.

Just as in the U.S. Congress, there were very few women in state government in those days, but Kopp says she never felt cut out. She credits the help of two pioneer state delegates, Lucille Maurer, the first woman to be elected Maryland state treasurer, and Helen Koss, the first woman appointed to chair a standing committee in the House, who both acted as mentors.

Kopp also had the gift of time. Her husband, Robert, a constitutional lawyer with the U.S. Department of Justice, was working, and they had yet to start a family. “I was lucky, I didn’t have to have another full-time job,” she says. “I could afford more time to work in Annapolis, so I rose very quickly in committee leadership because of that.”

‘She was not usually the first person to speak, but when Nancy weighed in, you could look around the table and watch people pay attention. She epitomized what it took
to get things done.’

Here’s an idea of what she means by work, informed not just by her own account, which is rigorously understated, but by what others said about her: You study an issue thoroughly, until you can explain it to anyone in the room—the more complex or arcane, the better. Then, you prepare, as meticulously, to understand the others in the room. In her own words: “You have to understand what they need … . Do all the reading you can—the newspapers from their district, what bills they had sponsored before. Then, talk to people—talk to their friends, their committee mates, to people who weren’t keen on them, talk to lobbyists you could trust.

“The most important thing is for people to spend time with you and trust you, and the only way to do that is to be trustworthy,” she says.

Over her 27 years as a member of the House of Delegates, Kopp specialized in education and budgets, along with audits, pensions, human services, consumer protection, housing, privacy, and, through it all, better government. Her work ethic and uncanny ability to solve tough problems and win the confidence of colleagues opened doors in the state legislature and won her recognition as one of the 10 most effective members of the House. As chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Education and Human Resources, she helped the state navigate Reagan-era spending cuts, including finding a way to restore funding for student loans with no cost to the taxpayer. She also served as deputy majority leader and speaker pro tem.

In 2002, Kopp was elected state treasurer by her peers. Maryland’s state treasurer, elected by a joint ballot of the Senate and House of Delegates, is more powerful than treasurers in other states. In addition to managing state finances, the treasurer chairs the board that oversees state pensions, works with rating agencies, and along with the governor and comptroller, sits on the panel that approves state contracts and construction projects, plus a dozen other boards and commissions.

To assess the impact of her work over this period, you’d have to put a value on restoring confidence in a multibillion pension system or preserving the state’s AAA bond rating through the Great Recession, or helping a student get money for college after federal funds were cut back.

Kopp was reelected in 2003, 2007, 2011, and, again, in February of this year. Colleagues say that her presence is a game changer, as she quietly reasons through tough situations, with unassailable good will. At one time, the governor and comptroller were barely on speaking terms. Kopp sat between them.

And that’s just Maryland. She has a deep commitment to reforming education that is not adequately captured by the formidable list of commissions and boards attached to her name. For the record, these include a presidential appointment to the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees the federal testing program and the executive committee of the National Conference of State Legislatures, among many others.

What those commitments do not convey is the difference she made, as one former colleague put it, “by just walking into a room.”

“When she expressed herself, it was often conversation-changing,” says Mark Musick, president emeritus of the Southern Regional Education Board—a key institution in the movement to raise standards for poor children. (Kopp served as its treasurer.)

“She was not usually the first person to speak, but when Nancy weighed in, you could look around the table and watch people pay attention,” he adds “She epitomized what it took to get things done.”

Gail Russell Chaddock ’72 is currently the Washington politics editor for the Christian Science Monitor, where she has covered education and Congress, after a hardship stint in the Monitor’s Paris bureau.

In Short

  • Elected to Maryland House of Delegates in 1974, served for 27 years, including as deputy majority leader and speaker pro tem
  • Elected by the legislature to be Maryland state treasurer in 2002, reelected in 2003, 2007, 2011, and 2015
  • Currently serving as Eastern regional vice president of the National Association of State Treasurers
  • Executive Committee of the National Conference of State Legislatures, chairing its Assembly on Legislative Issues
  • President of the National Association of State Auditors, Comptrollers, and Treasurers
  • First woman serving in the state legislature to have a baby while in office

Making Noise

Making Noise

Suzanne Ciani ’68

Suzanne Ciani ’68

In New York City in 1974, hardly anyone had ever heard of a Buchla.

Then Suzanne Ciani ’68—a classically trained pianist and composer who had discovered the synthesizer while living in California—accepted an invitation to give a concert on the Buchla in Manhattan. Her life changed. And soon the sound of advertising would, too.

In Los Angeles, Ciani and her Buchla had been in demand. But she didn’t like that city, and New York captivated her. To earn a living in the male-dominated, unionized world of musicians-for-hire—professionals who could walk into a studio and play what was in front of them—she had to gain recognition for her instrument.

“It was a complicated process to get the synthesizer accepted,” Ciani says. Some people feared its intent was to replace existing instruments. Ciani says she countered that argument by demonstrating how it allowed her to create entirely new sounds. 

Eventually, Ciani became a pioneer of electronic music.

“She did things that no one was doing at the time, and that earned her the respect of those she worked with,” says David Mash, senior vice president for innovation, strategy, and technology at Berklee College of Music in Boston. “She is very determined, savvy, smart, and gifted, and she really delivered on what was asked of her in her early work.”

One of her early successes was designing a sonic logo for Coca-Cola. She happened to enter a studio when a Coke jingle was playing, and it had a few seconds of silence. The person working on the jingle asked Ciani if she could do something to fill that silence. The result became the iconic “pop and pour” sound for Coke. And it helped her decide to launch her own company designing sounds for advertising.

As for the lack of women in the field, she says her experience at Wellesley helped prepare her for that, even though the College was virtually unknown in her musical world. “No one had ever heard of Wellesley, so it didn’t give me any sort of edge,” she says. “But it’s sort of a secret that you hold.” Coming from a place where women were encouraged to grow, without restrictions, she says, “gave me a self-confidence that I definitely used in my career.”

What made her stand out, Mash says, is that Ciani took full advantage of the synthesizer’s potential.

“As opposed to other early synthesizer users, she did not approach the synthesizer as a keyboard instrument that made cool sounds,” Mash says. “She explored the new capabilities of the instrument and used it to create soundscapes, sound logos, and to make sounds appear more real than the natural sounds she used as inspiration.”

In addition to Coca-Cola, some of the clients Ciani designed sounds for were ABC, Black & Decker, and Verizon. She also created sounds for Atari video games and Xenon pinball (and became the first female human voice in a game).

“I loved doing the advertising when I did it,” she says. It taught her how to reach a broad audience with something that might not immediately reveal its depth.

“Jingles have to have sophistication. They can’t just be vanilla,” she says. “Something can be accessible but it needs architecture and substance, even if it’s subliminal.”

The advertising kept Ciani busy and paid the bills, but it wasn’t her true passion. She wrote the score for Lily Tomlin’s 1981 film The Incredible Shrinking Woman and says she might have done more movies if the timing had been better. But she had her own music to compose, too.

‘[Ciani] is dedicated, inspirational, and accomplished—all things you’d want to have young musicians exposed to. And that she’s a strong, successful
woman on top of that makes her such a powerful role model, one we really need, to encourage more women to get into the world of music, and especially music technology.’

“I continued to do commercials so that I could make the money to produce my own recordings,” she says, recounting one machine she needed for her recording studio that had 10 MB of memory. She had to take a $50,000 loan to pay for it. Recording her first album took two years. She marvels at the ease with which new musicians can record and share their work today. In the 1990s, Ciani moved to northern California and returned to the piano. She has produced 15 recordings, 10 of them on the record label she founded, Seventh Wave. She’s been nominated for five Grammy awards and earned an Indie Award from the American Federation of Independent Music.

Today, there’s a new, eager audience for electronic music. Some young people want loud dance music with a pumping electronic sound and flashing lights, she says. “But there’s a huge audience that’s also just totally intrigued by the freedom of this new sound. And that’s what it always had to offer.”

She jokes that the past may be coming back to kidnap her. But it’s part of a larger interest in older technologies. “It’s the same way people want vinyl now,” she says. “There’s this renewed interest in early instruments.”

Mash says that extends specifically into Ciani’s music.

“Her early work has now been rediscovered by a new generation interested in electronic dance music,” says Mash, “and I think that has boosted her success even more.” Mash has invited Ciani to Berklee to meet with students.

“She is dedicated, inspirational, and accomplished—all things you’d want to have young musicians exposed to,” he says. “And that she’s a strong, successful woman on top of that makes her such a powerful role model, one we really need, to encourage more women to get into the world of music, and especially music technology.”

It’s a role Ciani is happy to embrace.

“My sadness is that there haven’t been more women in this field,” she says, “and I’m totally enthusiastic to do whatever I could do” to change that. Meanwhile, she, too, has developed a renewed interest in the past. She recently got herself a new, modern Buchla.

“I spent my time proselytizing for this new instrument,” she says, “and now I’m just going along and saying this is fun.”

These decades later, she no longer feels the need to prove anything.

“I’m making noise,” she says. “I’m being one of the guys.”

At last.

Amy Mayer ’94 is a reporter for Iowa Public Radio based in Ames, Iowa.

In Short

  • A composer, recording artist, and record-label executive in the electronic and acoustical music industries
  • Five Grammy nominations for Best New Age Album; one Indie Music Award for Best New Age Album
  • Her song “Velocity of Love” reached No. 1 on the New Age chart
  • Composed the score for The Incredible Shrinking Woman
  • Her Ciani-Musica, Inc., was one of the foremost commercial production companies in the 1970s and 1980s; composed Coca-Cola’s “pop and pour” sound and sound effects for numerous Fortune 500 companies
  • Founded her own record label, Seventh Wave
  • Inducted into Pinball Expo Hall of Fame for sound design
You Might Like
  • Not All Here
    An expat has an uneasy return to the United States after 32 years abroad, but finds peace in a life where “home” is always slightly out of reach.More
  • Reaffirming Mission, Re-Examining Gender
    After a year of rigorously examining the question of what it means to be a women’s college in a time of gender complexity, Wellesley announces a clarified admissions policy.More
  • Educated to Care
    When Victoria Shorr ’71 moved to Los Angeles in 1991, after a decade in Brazil, the first thing she saw when she turned on a television was Anita Hill testifying before the US Senate about Clarence Thomas. Horrified, Vicky called her mother and said, “I can’t live in this country! These people hate women.”More

Post a CommentView Full Policy

We ask that those who engage in Wellesley magazine's online community act with honesty, integrity, and respect. (Remember the honor code, alums?) We reserve the right to remove comments by impersonators or comments that are not civil and relevant to the subject at hand. By posting here, you are permitting Wellesley magazine to edit and republish your comment in all media. Please remember that all posts are public.

This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.