The College Donor Digest

How Women Used Philanthropy to Shape Higher-Ed

May 22, 2018 | Joe DeGraff

In 2018, it’s no secret that women are making large waves in politics, business, and philanthropy. There are more female CEOs, board members, and mega-donors than ever before. According to a 2013 report commissioned by American Express, the number of women who owned “million-dollar plus” businesses doubled in the decade prior. However, women leading the charge in philanthropy isn’t new. Female-run charities have served our society for hundreds of years, and still remain generous supporters of healthcare, human rights, and the arts.

In higher education, women philanthropists played a central role in supporting young women interested in earning undergraduate and advanced degrees. For example, in the late 19th century, philanthropist Mary Elizabeth Garrett led a committee that donated over $100,000 to start the Johns Hopkins Medical School on the condition that women would be admitted on the same terms as men.

Recently, alumnae have fought to keep women’s colleges afloat: Renee F. Seblatnigg, who serves on FAR’s Donor Advisory Board, previously served as president of the Future of Newcomb College, Inc., a nonprofit group of alumnae and supporters who sought to defend the wishes of Newcomb College’s founding donor by opposing Tulane University’s plan to dissolve the women’s college. And in Virginia, the women-only Sweet Briar College was poised to close until alumnae raised $44 million to revamp the school’s curriculum, update programming, and keep the doors open.

Now, more women earn college degrees than men, and university fundraising departments are belatedly starting to take note. For example, Dartmouth University, which only began admitting women as full-time students in 1972, initiated a $100 million fundraising goal with a plan to ask 100 alumnae for $1 million each.


Further Reading:

Angela Georgina Burdett-Coutts, Women’s Mission (Cambridge University Press, 2013).

Fidelity Charitable, Women and Giving 2017 Report,


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