Rachel Carson documented the harmful effects of pesticides in Silent Spring. Mary Guinan eradicated small pox in India. Madeleine Albright served as America’s first female Secretary of State.
They worked in different fields, but these women share one trait. They are all graduates of The Johns Hopkins University, and they are among the 23 women featured in a new exhibit at the Mattin Center on Hopkins’ Homewood campus.
“Women of Hopkins” was organized to pay tribute to female graduates and what they have accomplished in their careers.
It consists of a series of photos of the women looking out from windows of the Mattin Center, the three-building arts center just north of the Baltimore Museum of Art. A brief accompanying text directs viewers to an online gallery that includes detailed biographies.
The point of the exhibit is to show what women can accomplish, even in male-dominated fields. It opens as Americans are considering whether to elect Hillary Clinton as the country’s first female president.
“In traditionally male-dominated fields such as science, medicine, government and business, the heroes we hear about most often are men,” states on online overview of the exhibit. “Einstein, Pasteur, Roosevelt, Rockefeller…Where are the role models who demonstrate capability isn’t correlated to gender? Countless women who have changed the world were molded right here at Johns Hopkins University, but many of us don’t know them.”
“This public and visceral celebration of remarkable talent could not come at a better time,” Hopkins President Ronald Daniels said at the opening event for the exhibit, noting the tenor of the presidential election.
“We know that in recognizing women of Hopkins past and present, we’re not so much honoring them,” Daniels said. “Rather, we are celebrating the honor that they have done to us by being part of our community.”
According to the JHU Hub, the exhibit grew out of a grassroots effort at Hopkins called “Achieving Gender Equity in Science,” a reading and discussion series exploring biases women face in various fields.
Last year, the study group brought in Jo Handelsman, who directs science and tech policy for the White House. Handelsman encouraged the group “to use blank spaces on campus to put up art in tribute for some of our amazing female role models,” according to the Hub.
The gender equity group hopes to gather some of the honorees of Women of Hopkins for an on-campus event in March to coincide with Women’s History Month, the Hub said.
The Women of Hopkins represent a wide range of activities and disciplines. Some work for Hopkins, such as Redonda Miller, the first female president of The Johns Hopkins Hospital. Most made their mark outside Baltimore.
The list includes pioneers in the fields of astronomy, biology, business, geology, government, literature, mathematics, medicine, music, the performing arts, physics and social initiatives. They have won Nobel prizes, Grammy awards and MacArthur genius grants. There are three African Americans, a Nigerian novelist, a Hispanic scientist, a Chinese musician and an Indian cardiologist. One, geologist Florence Bascom, was made to sit behind a screen while attending classes so she wouldn’t disturb the male students.
Besides Albright, Carson, Guinan and Bascom, the 23 women on the list are: Chimamanda Adichie; Bonnie Bassler; Helene Gayle; Meg Urry; Bernadine Healy; Angelin Chang; Christine Ladd-Franklin; Gail McGovern; Linda Cureton; Nitza Contron; Redonda Miller; Maria Goeppert-Mayer; Florence Sabin; Carol Greider; Jill Rafson; Karen Peetz; Sivaramakrishna Padmavati: Gail Kelly; and Virginia Apgar.
Hopkins notes in its online material about the exhibit that one woman, who was not named, didn’t want to participate. “One of our invited honorees declined to be included in this project, due to her negative experiences at JHU, and disagreement with university affiliations related to the war in Iraq,” Hopkins said.
The exhibit will be up for at least a year. Hopkins wants to add more names over time and is soliciting nominations for the next round of women who deserve to be recognized.
Two women who might be worth adding to the list are business leader and art collector Constance Caplan, former chairman of both Hopkins’ Board of Trustees and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., and Christina Mattin, who donated $7 million to help build the center where the exhibit is on display.
Ed Gunts is a columnist for Baltimore Fishbowl.