Mount Holyoke Changemakers

  • Barbara Dombkowski Desoer '74
    Barbara Dombkowski Desoer ’74 was cited by Forbes as one of the most powerful women alive as a former bank president and self-described “math nerd.”
  • Lucy Stone, Class of 1839
    Lucy Stone, class of 1839, was a leader in the women’s rights and abolitionist movements, the first woman from Massachusetts to complete a college degree, the first American woman to retain her own last name after marriage, and the organizer of the first National Women’s Rights Convention.
  • Jade McCarthy ’02
    Jade McCarthy ’02 was the first female sports reporter in the history of Philadelphia’s major TV networks, where she won numerous Emmy awards for her work. Today she is an ESPNews anchor.
  • Karen Brosnan MacDonald '78
    Karen Brosnan MacDonald ’78 was named Maine’s 2014 Teacher of the Year. MacDonald is a thirty-three-year veteran known as an innovative teacher who engages students with hands-on projects. “She sets every student up for success with a series of appropriate challenges, and then provides them with the guidance and feedback to meet those challenges,” the nominating committee wrote.
  • Cornelia Clapp, Class of 1871
    In a time when few women pursued science, Cornelia Clapp, class of 1871, studied chick embryology at MIT and earthworms at Williams College. She was one of the first women ever to receive a Ph.D. from an American university, earning two doctorates from Syracuse University and the University of Chicago. Strongly devoted to Mount Holyoke, where she taught from 1872 to 1916, Clapp was instrumental in facilitating Mount Holyoke’s transition from seminary to college.
  • Nancy Gustafson ’78
    Nancy Gustafson ’78 is a famed soprano and has sung with Placido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti, and performed in Europe’s great opera houses. In addition to French and German, she speaks fluent Italian and sings in Russian and Czech.
  • Olympia Brown was an American suffragist and the first woman to graduate from a theological school, as well as becoming the first full-time ordained minister. Brown was also one of the few first generation suffragists who were able to vote with the passage of the 19th amendment. She attended Mount Holyoke from 1854-1855
  • Gloria Johnson Powell ’58
    Gloria Johnson Powell ’58 was a freedom rider, pediatrician, child psychologist, and one of the first women professors tenured at Harvard.
  • Toshi Miyagawa, Class of 1893
    Toshi Miyagawa, class of 1893, was the first international student from outside North America. “Don’t you wish that “the glorious ’93” could gather once more in that old lecture hall and fight our battles o’er again? You do not know how your letters make me wish we were all together again at Mount Holyoke and digging again, though the gold lay deep in the mountain.”
  • Lan Cao '83
    Lan Cao ’83, Boyd Fellow and law professor at the College of William and Mary Marshall-Wythe School of Law, wrote the first novel, Monkey Bridge (1997), by a Vietnamese American about the Vietnam War and its aftermath.
  • Ruth Muskrat Bronson ’25
    By the time Ruth Muskrat Bronson ’25 enrolled at Mount Holyoke, she had already studied at the University of Oklahoma and been the first Native American to represent her people at a world conference. In 1950, she was appointed executive secretary of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. When she retired in 1962, she received the highest award given to women by the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.
  • An MIT graduate who now helps farmers supplement their income through beekeeping, Vijaya Patsala ’89, is the founder of Under the Mango tree and has helped 3000 people in six states to gain market access to their products.
  • Elizabeth Peters '51
    M. Elizabeth Peters Tidball ’51 was author of the 1970 landmark study showing that graduates of women’s colleges are two to three times as likely as women graduates of coeducational institutions to be recognized for their career accomplishments.
  • Tami Gouveia ’96, executive director of Tobacco Free Mass has led the way to create the New England Tobacco-Free Campus Coalition to expand smoke-free and tobacco-free environments to college campuses.
  • Jordan Seto '13
    Jordan Seto ’13 is volunteering in a small non-profit clinic in rural Haiti for the year helping to provide lab services to three doctors and the maternity nurses.
  • Dina Vakil '69
    Dina Vakil ’69 was the first female resident editor of the Mumbai Edition of the Times of India, the most widely circulated newspaper in English.
  • Katey Walter Anthony ’98
    Katey Walter Anthony ’98 is a National Geographic 2009 Emerging Explorer, and spends five months a year in Alaska, Siberia, and the Arctic Circle studying the release of methane, which is released due to thawing permafrost from global warming.
  • Mary Elizabeth Cantu ’01
    Mary Elizabeth Cantu ’01, is the founder of Spare Parts, an organization that supplies art materials to schools in Texas, a much needed program when the state legislature chopped $5 billion out of school budgets in 2011.
  • Jody Cohen ’76
    Jody Cohen ’76 was the first woman rabbi in Connecticut, and later became the first woman to have an extended tenure as rabbi of her own congregation. The next year she again broke new ground, when she established the first synagogue-run early childcare center in the country.
  • As a refugee in Pakistan, Sadiqa Basiri Saleem FP’09 was close to earning a medical degree when the Taliban closed her Afghan-run university. Since then she has earned a degree from Mount Holyoke, helped found the Oruj Learning Center, which educates more than 2,700 girls, established the first Afghan community college for women, and started the Family Welfare Center for the Elimination of Violence against Women.
  • Documentary filmmaker Bess O’Brien ’81 was acknowledged by Vermont governor, Peter Shumlin for her film “The Hungry Heart,” an intimate look at prescription drug and opiate addiction. O’Brien has also directed and produced films about the foster care system and domestic violence and sexual abuse.
  • Sara Errington ’92
    Sara Errington ’92 has become the first female captain in the history of the Syracuse Fire Department. Photo was taken during a controlled burn.
  • Chrissy Horansky '04
    “Everyone deserves the chance at a better life. Educating girls has a powerful ripple effect across generations.” Chrissy Horansky ’04 (aka Miss Milliennial) is an award-winning advocate for global education and champion for women and girls, and was named a Global Shaper by the World Economic Forum.
  • Maimuna Ahmed’s '09
    Maimuna Ahmed’s ’09 post-MHC experience with Teach for America led her to found Teach for Bangladesh

Most women’s lives aren’t comprised of prizewinning, front-page accomplishments. But the details of their day-to-day work—coupled with devotion, passion, or just plain stubbornness—can set change in motion and lead to unintended positive, even extraordinary, impacts in their own lives and, sometimes, in the lives of others. Above are just a handful of Mount Holyoke alumnae who have made a difference in the world.

» Read about more about alumnae changemakers.

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