45 influential Baylor women you should know
When Baylor was chartered in 1845, it was the first (or one of the first, depending on the source) coeducational college or university west of the Mississippi River — about 10 years before any public institution of higher learning would introduce mixed-gender learning, and a full 75 years before American women were guaranteed the right to vote.
Since that groundbreaking beginning, countless women have come through the halls of Baylor before going on to do amazing things. That all begins with Mary Gentry Kavanaugh, who in 1855 became the first woman to earn a Baylor degree (just a year after the university’s first male graduate). Since then, a host of other Baylor women have played large parts in the university’s success; here’s a quick rundown of Baylor women you should know:
IN THE SCIENCES
Dr. Hallie Earle, BA 1901, MS 1902, was the first female graduate of Baylor Medical School and the first licensed female physician in Waco. Dr. Helen Ligon essentially introduced computers to the Baylor campus is the early 1960s and was the first to develop Baylor MIS courses. Dr. Rebekah Ann Naylor, BA’ 64, spent three decades at Bangalore Baptist Hospital in India as a surgeon, chief of medical staff, administrator, and medical superintendent, all while exemplifying the ideals of the Christian servant, until her retirement in 2009. Dr. Beverly Griffin, BS ’51, broke new ground in cancer research. And though she was never a nurse (and didn’t attend Baylor), Louise Herrington Ornelas‘ generosity will support countless future Baylor nurses.
IN THE ARTS
After earning two Baylor music degrees, serving as a missionary, and working as a nurse and teacher during World War I, Dr. Roxy Grove, AB 1908, chaired the Baylor School of Music from 1926-42. Dr. Dorothy Scarborough, BA 1896, MA 1899, was a noted teacher, writer and folklorist who founded Baylor’s journalism department, the first in the southwest. Bess Whitehead Scott, BA 1912, was one of the first female news reporters in Houston. More recently, journalists such as Richelle Carey, BA ’95, and actresses such as Angela Kinsey, BA ’93, and Allison Tolman, BFA ’04, have made names for themselves in television and film. Joanna Gaines, BA ’01, stars on HGTV’s hit show Fixer Upper and oversees the growing Magnolia line of products, and Shelley Giglio, BBA ’86, co-founded the Passion Movement and serves as chief strategist for the sixstepsrecords label. Candice Millard, MA ’92, has written three New York Times bestsellers (including Amazon’s No. 1 history book for 2016).
IN POLITICS AND LAW
The study of law at Baylor owes much gratitude to Margaret Amsler, BA ’29, JD ’37, who in 1941 became just the third female tenure-track law professor in the nation; later, she played a critical role as acting dean in reopening the school after World War II. Nearly every Texan knows the name Ann Richards, BA ’54, a Texas governor, trailblazer, and Baylor legend. Jennifer Elrod, BA ’88, and Priscilla Owen, BA ’76, JD ’77, are both federal judges one level below the U.S. Supreme Court. Jerry Clements, JD ’81, has been named among the nation’s 50 most influential female lawyers and joins Elrod and Giglio among the nine women currently on the university’s Board of Regents.
Countless Baylor students have been impacted over the years by Master Teachers such as Tommye Lou Davis (BA ’66, MS ’68), Ligon, Ann Miller, Rachel Moore (MA ’69), Dr. Laine Scales and Dr. Gaynor Yancey. Dr. Elizabeth Davis, BBA ’84, is one of about 30 Baylor graduates currently serving as college and university presidents worldwide (including four women). After graduating from Baylor, Dr. Bettye Caldwell, BA ’45, drew national attention to the need for early childhood education. In 1966, Dr. Vivienne Malone-Mayes became Baylor’s first African-American professor, and a year later, Barbara Walker, BA ’67, became the university’s first female African-American graduate. Pearl Beverly, MSEd ’01, the founding director of Baylor’s Department of Multicultural Affairs, has helped serve Baylor students since 1988. And the late Dr. Diana Garland dedicated nearly 20 years of her life to growing and serving Baylor’s School of Social Work, right up to her death in 2015.
When it comes to athletics, Baylor alumni such as Sophia Young, BSED ’06, and Brittney Griner have each earned multiple WNBA all-star selections. Legendary Texas women’s basketball coach Jody Conradt, BS ’63, MS ’69, got her start at Baylor, and Barbara Petráhn, BBA ’03, joined Griner as former Baylor athletes who have represented their countries in the Olympics. And of course, current Baylor student-athletes benefit from the tutelage of national championship-winning head coaches Kim Mulkey, Felecia Mulkey and Ellen White.
IN OTHER FIELDS
Baylor names resound across plenty of other fields, as well, from the military (where Ruth Helm, ’37, and Florene Miller Watson were among the groundbreaking Women Airforce Service Pilots during World War II) to business (where Marjorie Scardino, BA ’69, serves on the board of Twitter). And then there are the strong women who help lead the university all across campus: vice-presidents Davis, Robyn Driskell (BA ’91, MA ’93), Cheryl Gochis (BA ’91, MA ’94) and Pattie Orr, and Dr. Shelley Conroy, nursing dean.
Many of these women (and others) have been recognized across campus over the years. For instance, the program Garland served so well is now the Diana R. Garland School of Social Work, while the Louise Herrington School of Nursing was named for Ornelas in 2000. Roxy Grove Hall (a performance space attached to Waco Hall) and Earle Hall (a residential facility that houses the Science and Health Living Learning Community) honor two more of the women above. Other locations on campus named for Baylor women include Allen Residence Hall, Burleson Hall, Glennis McCrary Music Building, Stacy Riddle Forum, Sadie Jo Black Gardens and Vara Martin Daniel Plaza.
Here’s to the women of Baylor who have made this university what it is today, and to the current female students, alumni, faculty and staff whose accomplishments we’ve yet to write about.
Sic ’em, Baylor women!
[3/1/18 update: We’re in the process of updating this story for 2018 with a host of new names, including Baylor President Linda Livingstone. Do you know of someone else who’s not included above, but should be? Let us know!]