Firsts and Founders in the FAS: A Series in Celebration of 50WomenAtYale150

This series profiles notable FAS faculty members, past and present, who happen to be women. Each person profiled here has achieved an important first or has played a key role as a founder in her department or discipline. Some where the women first in their fields to earn tenure; some the first women hired in their disciplines at Yale; others the first women of color to chair departments in their fields. Some have played foundational roles in estblishing programs at Yale; all have made crucial contributions to their disciplines. These profiles span the disciplines and the decades, and the stories of these individual researchers are tied to the larger history of gender equity in the academic world.

This series was initiated in recognition of the 50WomenAtYale150 celebrations, which took place between September 2019 and September 2020 and marked the 50th anniversary of coeducation in Yale College and the 150th anniversary of women students at the university.

These pages offer only a snapshot of the brilliance of the women who teach and research in the FAS and will be expanded in the coming months. To suggest other faculty members for inclusion, please contact Alexandra Apolloni.

Expanding Art History's vision

Sylvia Ardyn Boone, Art History

Sylvia Ardyn Boone (PhD ’79) was a scholar of art history, African art, and the use of female imagery in art. In 1988 Boone became the first black woman to receive tenure at Yale.

The first woman to teach English at Yale

Marie Borroff, English

Marie Borroff (PhD ’56) was a renowned scholar of English poetry, medieval Anglo-Saxon literature and philology. She was the first woman tenured in the English department, the first woman to be named Sterling Professor, and the first woman to have an endowed chair named for her.

Looking forward with optimism

Pinelopi Goldberg, Economics

Pinelopi Goldberg is Elihu Professor of Economics at Yale University, whose work has focused on economics in developing countries, on workers in the informal sector and women’s economic opportunities.  She was the first woman to hold tenure in the Economics department.

Claiming space in department meetings, in classrooms -- and at Mory's

Anne Coffin Hanson, Art History

Anne Coffin Hanson was the John Hay Whitney Professor of the History of Art at Yale. She was an art historian renowned for her research on the works of Edouard Manet and the twentieth-century Italian art movement Futurism. She was the first woman to be hired at Yale with the rank of full professor, and served as the first female Chair of any department at Yale.

Why representation matters

Grace Kao, Sociology

Grace Kao may be the first Asian American woman to hold tenure in sociology departments at two Ivy League universities: the University of Pennsylvania, and Yale, where she became the first woman of color to hold tenure in the Sociology Department. She is also the first woman of color to chair a department in the Social Sciences Division, serving as chair of the department.

On asking smart questions

Hee Oh, Mathematics

Hee Oh (PhD ’97) is the Abraham Robinson Professor of Mathematics. A former Guggenheim Fellow and winner of the Satter Prize in Mathematics and the Ho-Am Prize in Science, she became the first woman to hold tenure in Yale’s Mathematics Department.

Founding Film Studies at Yale

Brigitte Peucker, Film Studies and German

Brigitte Peucker (PhD ’77) is the founder of the Film and Media Studies program. Peucker successfully advocated for the creation of a formal major for Yale College students; the faculty were resistant to formalizing an “unconventional” area of study, and the struggle lasted several years before the major was finally approved..

Thinking through speech

Maria Piñango, Linguistics

Maria Piñango is the only experimental semanticist in the Linguistics department. Piñango created the Language and Brain Lab and has worked to form interdisciplinary connections across departments at Yale and nearby Haskins Laboratories. She was the first woman and the first person of color to achieve tenure in the Linguistics department.

On being a woman in front of a class

Susan Rose-Ackerman, Political Science and Law

Susan Rose-Ackerman (PhD ’70) became the first woman to hold tenure in the Political Science Department when she joined the faculty with a joint appointment in the Law School. She has been described as “the person who helped launch the modern economic analysis of corruption” in politics.

Seeing further, leading upwards

Meg Urry, Physics & Astronomy

Meg Urry, Israel Munson Professor of Physics, has worked throughout her career to promote gender equality in the sciences, organizing the first conference on Women in Astronomy, chairing the American Astronomical Society’s Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy, and leading the US delegation to the first international meeting on Women in Physics. She was the first woman to be granted tenure in the Physics department. 

The first to earn tenure, the first full professor

Mary Clabaugh Wright, History

Mary Clabaugh Wright was a scholar of Chinese history. She was hired as an associate professorfrom her position as curator of the Chinese Collection at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. Clabaugh was the first woman to hold tenure in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

Imagining a harmonious world

María Rosa Menocal, Humanities and Spanish

María Rosa Menocal was a scholar of medieval literary and cultural history particularly known for her work on intercultural exchange and tolerance on the Iberian Peninsula.