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Seven Sisters: then and now

The famed Seven Sisters, a group of historically women’s colleges, were in the news Monday when school leaders criticized a Trump administration appointee for his disparaging comments about their alumnae. The collective response was a reminder of the group’s enduring role a century after it formed.

Here’s a look at the Sisters’ rich history:

The consortium of elite East Coast liberal arts colleges arose as a female equivalent to the then-male dominated Ivy League.

The association began to take shape in 1915, when Mount Holyoke, Vassar, Smith, and Wellesley colleges met to discuss their fund-raising strategies, according to Mount Holyoke’s history of the group.


That led to more meetings over the ensuing years that included Bryn Mawr, Barnard, and Radcliffe.

By 1927, they were calling themselves the Seven Sisters and meeting to address issues of common concern, such as institutional goals, admissions, financial aid, and curriculums. The name refers to the Greek myth of The Pleiades, the seven daughters of the titan Atlas and the sea-nymph Pleione.

Vassar became coeducational in 1969. Radcliffe completed a merger with Harvard University in 1999, and now accepts fellows as an institute of advanced study. The other five remain all-women’s colleges.

Since Radcliffe no longer has independent students and faculty, the rest of the group, including Vassar, is sometimes referred to as the Six Siblings.

Mount Holyoke president Sonya Stephens said the six colleges now meet annually, and will gather at Vassar next week. She said she finds the get-togethers valuable, especially during discussion of common challenges and opportunities particular to women’s colleges, such as transgender admission policies.

Stephens also referenced the value of a strength-in-numbers approach, saying, “We feel that there’s merit in talking with one voice when there are challenges to what we represent.”

Martha Schick can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @MarthaSchick.