According to the Pew Research Center, the first female college president in the United States was Frances Elizabeth Willard who became president of the Evanston College for Ladies in Illinois in 1871. When Evanston College merged with Northwestern University and became the Women’s College of Northwestern University in 1873, Frances Willard served as the first dean of women. An active social reformer, a statue of Frances Willard was the first statue selected for the National Statuary Hall Collection to honor a woman.
Illinois, and Waubonsee, have had many notable female leaders throughout our history. As we celebrate Women’s History Month, I am proud to recognize a few of Waubonsee’s outstanding female leaders.
In addition to her long career in education, Dr. Lucile Gustafson was elected as one of Waubonsee’s original Board of Trustees serving as board secretary from 1966 – 1970. From Batavia, Dr. Gustafson earned three college degrees including a Doctorate of Education from New York University. Upon her retirement from the board in 1980 after 14 years of service, the Waubonsee Board of Trustees honored Dr. Gustafson by establishing the Lucile Gustafson Scholarship Program which continues to this day. Each Waubonsee-district high school is eligible to receive one scholarship for every 100 students in the current graduating class.
Ruby Collins, another member of Waubonsee’s original elected Board of Trustees, served the college for 19 years from 1966 – 1980. During this time, Ruby served as board chair from 1975 – 1978. Ruby also served as vice chair for two years and secretary for two years. Prior to being elected to Waubonsee’s Board of Trustees, Ruby Collins served as chair of the college’s original steering committee. Waubonsee’s Collins Hall, constructed in 1972 as one of the college’s first permanent classroom buildings, was named in honor of Ruby Collins in 1981.
Two other college buildings on the main campus in Sugar Grove are also named for former female trustees of the college. Bodie Hall opened for classes in 1992 and was named for Janet Bodie. Janet served as a trustee for 19 years also serving as chair for two years and secretary for 10 years. And, named for Jacqueline Henning, who served on the board of trustees from 1985 to 1997, the Henning Academic Computing Center opened in 1994. It featured eight state-of-the-art computer-equipped classrooms and an open lab area with 120 personal workstations. Jacqueline also served in leadership roles as vice chair for two years and as chair for eight years.
Current Board Chair, Rebecca Oliver, has served on the Waubonsee Board of Trustees for 25 years and previously served on the Waubonsee Foundation Board of Directors. Since our founding in 1966, seven women have served on the Waubonsee Community College Board of Trustees for a total of 111 years worth of combined service and 64 years of combined service as an officer of the board. In our nearly 56-year history, at least one woman has been elected to serve on Waubonsee’s board every year.
As I reflect on my 20 years as president of Waubonsee Community College, I stand on the shoulders of these women and the many other female leaders at Waubonsee and within higher education that have gone before me. I know that our early pioneers would support Waubonsee’s diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts of today such as our participation in the Partnership for College Completion’s Illinois Equity in Attainment Initiative and our ongoing efforts to diversify our workforce to better reflect and represent the diversity of our community and our student body. American Actor Elizabeth Marvel is quoted as saying, “If you can see it, you can be it. And I believe in that.” As we celebrate this Women’s History Month, let us celebrate the pioneers past and present who opened and continue to open doors so that others can “see it and be it” too.