01 Mar 2008

A History of Women at HBS


The presence of female students on the HBS campus is no longer a novelty, but a new Centennial year exhibit at the Baker Library | Bloomberg Center reveals a time in history when the notion of business training for women was viewed as nothing short of radical. “A ‘Daring Experiment’: Harvard and Business Education for Women, 1937–1970,” tells the story of how coeducation at HBS evolved from an eleven-month certificate program in “personnel administration” at Radcliffe College (1937–1945), to the Management Training Program (1946–1955), to the Harvard-Radcliffe Program in Business Administration (1956–1963) — the last step before complete integration took place with the admission of eight women into the MBA Class of 1965.

The faculty and administrators behind these shifts are also brought to life. Edith G. Stedman, director of Radcliffe’s career services department, was unswerving in her dedication to the need for women’s professional training and education. She developed and served as director of the Training Course in Personnel Administration, a program focused on “the understanding and treatment of human problems in any employment situation.” HBS professor Fritz J. Roethlisberger, renowned for his work in the field of human relations (see December 2007 Bulletin), taught in the program from 1938 to 1947 and described it as “the first daring experiment in ‘practical education’ for women.”

In the years after World War II, the Management Training Program emerged, with a broader curriculum that encompassed organizational and administrative training. Fieldwork was also an integral aspect of the program. By 1956, when the one-year Harvard-Radcliffe Program in Business Administration made its debut, the curriculum mirrored that of the MBA Program at HBS, with classes in marketing, production, administration, finance, economics, accounting and statistics, and the famous Written Analysis of Cases course.

In the fall of 1963, when eight women enrolled in the MBA degree program as fully matriculated students, women’s business education was more of an established fact than a daring experiment. Enrollment increased rapidly; today, the MBA Class of 2009 boasts 324 women, or 36 percent of the class.

On display through May 16, the exhibit may be viewed online at www.library.hbs.edu/hc/daring.


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