If the future is female, as some have said, the past may be about to become more so as well. The University of Oxford—the world’s second-oldest university and the U.K.’s largest institution for the study of history—has announced endowment of the Hillary Rodham Clinton Chair in Women’s History, plus appointment of its first professor, Brenda E. Stevenson. In so doing, according to Vice-Chancellor Louise Richardson, Oxford becomes the first major university anywhere to inaugurate an endowed chair dedicated to the study of women’s history—a testament to the ultimate importance of women in shaping human culture, values, and decisions, she noted.
“For far too long, women have remained in the background, and the world has suffered as a consequence,” said Richardson, who is herself the first female vice-chancellor at Oxford in its more than 800-year history. “This is changing, but far slower than many of us would like. The Hillary Rodham Clinton Chair in Women’s History at Oxford will accelerate this change and help bring women to where they belong—the forefront of history in society.” (A dialogue among Vice-Chancellor Richardson, Secretary Clinton, and Professor Stevenson on the significance of the appointment, the history of women at Oxford, and the potential impact of expanding our understanding of women’s role in shaping events can be seen here.)
The announcement comes as Oxford celebrates, in 2020, 100 years of awarding degrees to women. In 1920, Annie Rogers was the first woman Oxford formally recognized as having met its graduation requirements—although Rogers had actually completed her studies in 1879 and had to wait for the acknowledgment.
Endowment of the Hillary Rodham Clinton Chair in Women’s History comes in recognition of Secretary Clinton’s lifetime of accomplishment on personal, professional, and political stages. In addition to serving as First Lady, U.S. senator, and Secretary of State, Ms. Clinton was also the first woman to run as the nominee when the Democratic Party chose her to head the ticket in the 2016 presidential election. Before serving in national politics, Ms. Clinton was an attorney and advocate for women and children.
The recognition also comes at a time when many institutions are re-evaluating their historic stances on diversity and inclusion, including recognition of the contribution women have made “on the grandest of international stages, or the smallest of domestic hearths,” according to the university.
As Secretary Clinton noted in accepting the honor, “Understanding history is essential to a functioning democracy. It sculpts our culture; it defines our values; it influences the decisions we make. But our history as we know it is incomplete. Too often too many people have been left out or relegated to the sidelines. And that has to change.”
Brenda E. Stevenson will be the inaugural Hillary Rodham Clinton Chair in Women’s History when she begins her tenure at St. John’s College at Oxford in the autumn of 2021. Professor Stevenson is currently the Nickoll Family Endowed Professor of History at UCLA. She has studied and published extensively in the areas of gender, family, race, and slavery.
To endow the chair in perpetuity, the University of Oxford sought gifts in excess $5 million (U.S.). A key donor to the endowment was Ann M. Drake, a lifetime friend of Secretary Clinton. As the university has noted, establishment of this endowed chair will secure the study of women’s history for generations.
“These historians will in turn educate the next generation, and the generation after them, so that women are never again written out of history,” said Richardson.