Seven Sisters and the Women’s March

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For hundreds of protestors at Saturday’s Women’s Marches in D.C. and Los Angeles, the quintessential clothing accessory was not a pink “pussyhat” but a colorful sash. These marchers were alumnae of the Seven Sisters, seven historically women’s colleges formed in the 1800s as a counterpart to the then male-only Ivy Leagues. The sashes, colored by school, echoed the “votes for women” sashes worn during the suffragette movements of the 1900s.

From left to right: Karin Tanabe VC ’02, Nadya Rockefeller VC ’03, Rashida Truesdale VC ’02, Keisha Nishimura VC ’03, at the Women’s March in Washington, D.C.. (Natasha McGlynn, SC ’08)

Saturday wasn’t the first time the Seven Sisters have mobilized their voices in support of feminism. In November, the heads of the institutions, which include Barnard, Bryn Mawr, Mount Holyoke, Smith, Vassar, Wellesley, and Radcliffe (now part of Harvard), co-signed a joint open-letter to Trump Senior Advisor Steve Bannon, publicly denouncing derogatory remarks he had made about women at these schools.

“He took a swipe at my sisters,” said Mount Holyoke ’88 alum Camille Bratkowski, who marched with the Sisters in L.A. “I needed to take action.”

In D.C., Jennifer Pollock McNally, Smith ’94, felt the same drive to do something. Creator of the Facebook group Seven Sisters Together, which has 8800 members, she and alums of Smith and Mount Holyoke worked out the logistics for the D.C. Women’s March. An online RSVP form received more than a hundred RSVPs from within the first week from every school. Word had even spread to the “Southern Sisters,” five additional women’s colleges in the south, including Sweet Briar, which nearly closed in 2015.

Nalini Mani, Sweet Briar ’93, in Washington, D.C. (Nalini Mani, Sweet Briar ’93)

This spontaneous enthusiasm, a mirror of the grassroots nature of the Women’s March itself, was reflected by the L.A. Seven Sisters contingent. Independently of the D.C. group, Sarah Meachum and Dana Maze Erlich, leaders of the Smith College Club of L.A., spearheaded the effort to get RSVPs by reaching out to Southern California-based alum chapters of the other schools. Annie Wright, an alum of Bryn Mawr and a professional organizational consultant, started a Facebook group as a shared space for L.A.-based Sisters. According to Wright, they found out about the D.C. Sisters’ plans to wear colored sashes from a post in the Seven Sisters Together group and decided to “stand in solidarity” and do the same.

The march itself was a chaotic but festive event. Befittingly, the D.C. group chose the Mary Switzer building as their meeting point—the first federal building named after a woman, who just happened to also be a Radcliffe alum. “I was moved by the weight of history,” said Zoe Fox, Bryn Mawr ’14, from L.A.

via Library of Congress

Seven Sisters at the Women’s March in L.A. (Christine Zhang, Smith ’09)

Like many demonstrators, the Seven Sisters marchers are brainstorming ways to build on Saturday’s momentum. “I have little illusion that marching will accomplish anything without strategic political action,” said Wendy Wolfson, Bryn Mawr ’83, who lives in Orange County. Natasha McGlynn, Smith ’08, who lives in D.C., would like to use the march as a “launch point for connectivity” among the Seven Sisters alums, to showcase the value of women’s colleges.

“We will not mourn, we will organize,” Gloria Steinem, Smith ’56, wrote following the election. Her Sisters appear to be taking her message to heart.

Christine Zhang is a freelance writer and data analyst based in Los Angeles. She was a Knight-Mozilla OpenNews Fellow on the Los Angeles Times Data Desk and previously worked in the Global Economy and Development Program at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.

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    Comments

    1. Nancy Root Miller says:

      I’m a MHC alumna (1979), and marched in the Women’s March in Madison, WI, If I’d known, I would have gladly worn a sash. Can you tell me what color Mount Holyoke alums wore? I’ll be prepared for the next rally.

    2. Ellen Jacobson says:

      Proud to be a member of the Frances Perkins class ’88 of Mount Holyoke College.

    3. Thanks for bringing attention to this! As a Mount Holyoke alumna (2012) and a member of the Seven Sisters Together FB group, it was inspiring to see the incredible buzz of activity and activism that sprung up there.

      The Mount Holyoke Club of Chicago joined the local Bryn Mawr, Smith, and Wellesley clubs at the march here. Furthermore, the Mount Holyoke Symphony Orchestra (~50 current students) was in town as part of a Midwest concert tour, and half the orchestra members came out too. Between Seven Sisters alumnae, their spouses and children, and MHC students, we had quite the coalition.

    4. Nancy LaPierre says:

      As a proud FP ’99, I marched in Boston and hugged the couple of ladies in MHC sweatshirts I saw along the way. I loved seeing the Smith women with their banner! Let’s PRESS On — There is a REAL STREAM of information.

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