University of Pittsburgh

400 Craig Hall

History Worth Knowing

Written by Cindy Gill

Since 1987, the month of March has been celebrated nationally as Women’s History Month, thanks to a Congressional resolution. As some commentators have pointed out, “women’s history” is a relatively new concept, which developed with the rise of the women’s equal rights movement nearly 40 years ago. Historian and scholar Gerda Lerner has written that, until then: “People didn’t think that women had a history worth knowing.”

I’m glad that times have changed! While working on this issue of the magazine, which contains a special tribute to Pitt women, I was once again drawn to the achievements of the Stein sisters—Stella and Margaret Stein, who were the first women to earn undergraduate degrees from the University.

What must it have been like, in 1895, when the two sisters entered the University as sophomores, the only two women students on a campus full of men? Even more daunting was the circumstance that the men in their class had voted against the admittance of any women, only to be overruled by Chancellor William Jacob Holland, who was determined to increase enrollment.

What’s clear is that the situation didn’t dispirit the Stein women; in fact, it seems to have inspired them. They graduated at the top of their class, the two best students in the Class of 1898. Then, they entered an adult world in which women could not vote, had extremely limited occupational opportunities, and, typically, low-wage jobs. Most women of their era stayed at home, tending to their families and households. The Stein sisters, though, were among a new vanguard of women who sought to expand their horizons and seek their full potential outside traditional roles. They both went on to earn master’s degrees at the University and began careers in education, inspiring others to excel.

In this issue, Pitt Magazine marks Women’s History Month 2009 with a special section that celebrates the spirit and accomplishments of Pitt women. This issue also sheds light on a lost chapter of Western Pennsylvania history with the story of a Pitt exhibition that examines issues of Black, White, and the gray boundaries of freedom. The magazine looks forward, too, with a glimpse into the lives of today’s University students, who are part of a new millennial-era generation of achievers.

All of these stories reflect the University of Pittsburgh’s long history of progress in becoming, as stated in a board of trustees resolution, “one of the finest and most productive universities in the world.” The women celebrated in this issue are certainly key contributors to Pitt’s abundance of success; the students featured here inspire hope for the future; and our collective willingness to look back and learn from the past, as described in our story “Free at Last?,” is an invitation to never forget, yet always endeavor to move forward.

In a season when the nation has witnessed the inauguration of its first African American president, this issue celebrates those who have found a way to rise and to inspire, no matter the obstacles in their way. They are pathfinders and history-makers. Let’s go with them. Let’s build, together, a shared history worth knowing.

Cindy Gill

Editor in Chief