Colby Women in History
Colby was the first all-male institution in New England to admit women when Mary Low enrolled in 1871. Scouring the college’s historical archives in 2004, however, Maggie Libby ’81 had a “nagging sense of something being missing”—there were no images of women displayed on campus.
She set out to remedy this and to visually document the history of Colby women with
Students view Libby's paintings at the Colby College Art Museum
Hidden Histories: A Project by Maggie Libby, an exhibition currently at the Colby College Museum of Art.
On Oct. 25, Libby unveiled her paintings and sat down in the museum with six other women—alumnae, administrators, and faculty members—for a panel discussion on women at Colby. “I am hoping the images of powerful women will inspire us,” said Libby, “and give us the courage to tell our own story.”
Moderator Lynne Conner, associate professor and chair of the Theater and Dance Department, said, “The notion of moderating this extraordinary group of women is ridiculous.”
Panelists discussed Colby’s progress from admitting its first woman in 1871 to permanently becoming a fully coeducational institution in 1967 to instituting women’s studies as an official major in 1995. “We are obligated, for both professional and political reasons, to know how we came to be,” said Associate Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Lisa Arellano.
Mayor of Waterville Karen Heck ’74 recalled how a visiting faculty member in the Sociology Department changed her life by introducing her to feminism, a concept she had never heard of before. Said Heck, “I owe Colby a huge debt because I met many of my lifelong friends at Colby.”
Each panelist offered different insights into the past and present status of women at Colby, reflecting on how years of insistence and persistence resulted in progress towards gender equality in both the faculty and student body. “Loyalty to our college does not mean we are blind to its imperfections,” said Dana Professor of Philosophy Jill P. Gordon.
“I’m very proud to be a woman from Colby—challenging Colby,” said longtime Dean of Students Janice Kassman, “… and changing Colby for the better.”