Story by Emily Starr | Photos by Emilee Powell

Laura Bassi became the first professor in the modern world in 1731. Since then, women have been rocketing through glass ceilings in higher education, and Waco has a rich history of women doing exactly that. Many female academicians on Baylor’s campus today demonstrate fearless determination in both their personal academic pursuits and their dedication to increasing access to education for students.

Dr. Hallie Earle (1880-1963) was the only female at Baylor Medical School when she earned her M.D. in 1907. Kate Harrison Friend (1856-1949) opened a private school in her home after she and her mother moved to Waco—and after creating a Shakespeare course at Baylor, she eventually became an internationally recognized scholar. Dr. Lula Pace (1868-1925) was one of five female professors at Baylor when she began teaching, and she eventually became the first female professor at Baylor to earn a doctoral degree.

Today, the legacy established by trailblazing Baylor women is carried on by Dr. Linda Livingstone, the first female Baylor president since the university’s conception in 1845. According to a 2017 study conducted by the American Council on Education, which was based upon numbers reported for 2016, women constitute only 30 percent of college president roles in the U.S.

Livingstone stands out as a woman breaking glass ceilings in the world of academia. She attended Oklahoma State for her Bachelor of Science in economics and management, a Master of Business Administration and a Doctor of Philosophy in management and organizational behavior. Prior to her Baylor presidency, Livingstone also served as dean and professor of management at The George Washington University School of Business and dean of Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business and Management.

In a 2017 interview with the Baylor Lariat, Livingstone shared her perspective as Baylor’s first female president, emphasizing that her gender had little to no influence on whether or not she obtained the position as Baylor’s 15th president. “I’m certainly proud to be in that position as a role model—and as the representation that anybody can accomplish these positions over time, regardless of their gender or their background or ethnicity,” Livingstone said. “At the end of the day, it’s about your skills and the background and experience you bring to the job… I hope to use the skill set I’ve developed to really move the university forward.”

According to a 2009 study conducted by the American Council on Education, “the glass ceiling is a long-standing metaphor for the intangible systemic barriers that prevent women from obtaining senior-level positions.” This study revealed that, although women in America earn more than half of academic degrees at every level — associate through doctoral — they hold only 31 percent of full professor positions at degree-granting postsecondary institutions.

Baylor professor of sociology Dr. Kevin Dougherty said the effects of traditional gender roles can still be observed in occupational differences between men and women. “What an equitable society would look like is that gender doesn’t predetermine your occupational choices,” he said. “Rather, your skills and abilities — and your gifts from God — will allow you to do whatever you’re equipped to do, regardless of gender.”

Dr. Rosalie Beck
Dr. Rosalie Beck, the first female professor in Baylor’s religion department, was hired months after she completed her doctorate at Baylor in 1984. Beck said she faced discrimination in both indirect and blatant ways throughout the course of obtaining her degree. “In college, the gender discrimination was much subtler,” she said.

But as Beck was working toward her Master of Divinity in Fort Worth, she said the dean of the seminary required women to explain what they planned to do with their degrees, while no such requirement was put in place for the male students. “I found that intrusive, but nonetheless, I did it,” Beck said.

After Beck obtained a Bachelor of Arts in biochemistry, a Master of Divinity and a doctorate in religion, she said she felt called to teach. “I had a real love of working with college students,” Beck said. Her calling to teach was nonetheless met with resistance. Many male students in the seminary program at the time did not think women should have authority over men.

“I was always surprised by that,” Beck said. “I had been raised to try to become the best I could be at whatever I loved doing. Gender was just never an issue at my house.”

The resistance she found in seminary did not inhibit her from earning her degree. After she finished her doctorate, she was hired by Baylor, where she has taught ever since.

Dr. Lisa Shaver
According to a 2017 study conducted by The Center for American Progress, American women earn less than men for the same roles in universities. Dr. Lisa Shaver, professor of English and director of the women’s and gender studies department at Baylor, left her corporate job to teach after realizing she loved academia.

Shaver said she reached a point in her career where she couldn’t advance any higher without a master’s degree, which motivated her to continue her education and led to her finding the career she loved. “I started out trying to move up the corporate ladder, and then I got off altogether,” Shaver said. After a few years in the professional world, she earned her Master of Arts in professional writing and discovered her passion for rhetoric and composition, which she eventually pursued for her doctorate degree. Shaver began teaching through a master’s program and said she loved the balance of instruction and research.

Within academia, Shaver said she noticed the invisible “glass ceiling” limiting the women around her. “The number of college presidents, the number of provosts, the number of deans. Those are not representative of the number of women moving up in the academy,” Shaver said. “I definitely think [women should pursue higher education], but not only that. I think they should be able to move up to whatever area.”

Shaver said she worries that, without women contributing to scholarship and pursuing leadership at the university level, important perspectives will be lost. “My hope would be that women continue to move up, but in doing so, that they are contributing to academic knowledge,” she said. “That’s the mission of the academy.”

Dr. Heidi Hornik
Research conducted by the University of California at Berkeley in 2013 demonstrated that women experience a “baby penalty” as they try to advance their academic careers, while men involved in family formation are less affected. Dr. Heidi Hornik, professor of art history, gained full professorship early in her academic career and said she believes her career has made her a better mother to her two sons. Hornik had published two books and over 20 peer-reviewed articles when she applied for full professorship at Baylor in 2004. Both of her sons were elementary-school age at that time.

“I have always felt that women, like men, can be excellent parents at the same time as being exceptional contributors to society—by implementing their education in positions of leadership across all sectors of the workforce,” Hornik said.

Hornik said her love of research and fruitful career never distracted from her ability to engage with her children. She was a room parent, swim team official and treasurer of the marching band and the varsity baseball team throughout their school experiences. “My sons benefited from my energy and saw how both a mother and a father with careers parented together,” Hornik said.

Today Hornik has published seven books and dozens of articles, has chaired various committees on Baylor’s campus, is sitting President of the Midwest Art History Society and was a visiting scholar at Harvard for a semester.

Dr. Christina Chan-Park
According to data released by the National Science Foundation, women earned only 26.1 percent of doctoral degrees in geophysics in 2016. Dr. Christina Chan-Park, one of Baylor’s science librarians, is among the relatively small population of women holding this degree. In fact, she holds five degrees: a Bachelor of Science in geology, Master of Science in geophysics, doctorate in geophysics, Master of Arts in public administration emphasizing higher education and a Master of Science in information science.

The cohort in her doctoral program was the first at the institution she attended to have more women than men, but Chan-Park said only one woman graduated with her doctorate; the rest quit due to a culture that she described as “competitive in an unhealthy way.”

Chan-Park said she faced her own obstacles progressing through that doctoral program, and that she particularly noticed a difference in the ways women and men were treated by professors when she sought out her own research projects. “If I had been a man, I think I would’ve been seen as having a lot of initiative,” she said. “As a woman, it was received as, ‘Oh, she’s not satisfied being here. She doesn’t belong.’”

Chan-Park noticed a change when she found a female adviser to oversee her research at the doctoral level. “She had a good reputation, and she was also a woman, so some of the problems I knew weren’t going to be there,” she said.

Similarly, Beck said she hopes women progressing through higher education today will find a mentor. Beck studied under one female professor during her undergraduate years and no female professors during seminary or a doctorate program. “If I had had a role model of how to do it differently, I would’ve felt much more confident in myself,” Beck said.

Ideally, she said female students would study under a diverse range of male and female professors to thoroughly understand different classroom approaches.

Hornik also said female mentors impacted her career, beginning at the undergraduate level and continuing today in the relationships she maintains with Baylor faculty. “There have been many colleagues and deans who have been supportive and exceptionally important in my staying and succeeding at Baylor,” Hornik said.

According to studies conducted by the UN, women’s education internationally increases the likelihood of their children’s survival, decreases illiteracy across the board and increases eventual wages earned. Beyond these measures, women in academia are ensuring female perspectives are reflected in leadership and politics, filling full professorship positions, advocating for the policies that allow them to be good mothers in school and inspiring younger female students to continue their education as well.

Hornik said she has faith that female students will continue to pursue higher education to promote women, not only academia, but in every field. “I have every belief that women will continue to prosper, excel and advance in all fields of the arts and sciences by pursuing post-baccalaureate degrees,” she said. “We need more women in finance, Congress, sciences, and academia. Advanced degrees make that involvement more probable.”

Headshots courtesy of Baylor Marketing and Communications