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President Summer McGee

Salem Celebrates Women’s History Month

Dear Salem community:

Since 1987, our nation has recognized March as Women’s History Month. Since 1995, U.S. presidents have issued annual proclamations designating March as a time to celebrate the contributions women have made to the United States over the course of American history.

As we think about Women’s History Month here at Salem, we honor and acknowledge the significant contributions all-girls schools and women’s colleges have had in our nation’s history. Educational institutions like ours have been both proponents of educational access and served as communities of care and support. First, institutions like Salem Academy were founded to afford girls the opportunity to become learned members of our society and created educational opportunities for women. In the 18th century, when very few girls had the opportunity to receive education, Salem welcomed both Black and white Moravian girls, including Anna Maria Samuel. In the 19th century, female academies and seminaries (as they were called at the time) were one of the few places where female educators were in the majority. In these institutions, they prepared educators who shaped the educational landscape in communities across the country. One such example is the way Salem Academy educated Cherokee girls who became important educational leaders in the Cherokee Nation.

Another aspect of the history of our institution is that it has been a place of refuge. The Cherokee families who sent their girls to Salem Female Academy in the 1800s were seeking a safe place where their daughters could learn while unrest and removals were taking place for the Cherokee. Today, many students also choose Salem because of our welcoming, inclusive, and safe environment where students are valued as individuals, can find their voice, and be their true selves. Our close-knit community provides comfort and care for those across our Academy and College communities. I strongly believe that this commitment to inclusion and deep connection stems from our history of being a place where all could seek both education and care.

As some scholars have noted, the purpose of all-girls schools and women’s colleges has shifted from one of access for women to one of equity for all. Institutions like ours now play a vital role in history as being communities of inclusion, support, and respect. As a result, women’s colleges are more racially and economically diverse, educate more Pell-eligible students, and have more BIPOC STEM students. Graduates of all-girls schools also report much higher levels of cultural competency than their co-educated peers. That inclusive and supportive spirit persists today across the country at institutions like Salem.

Students and alumnae of all-girls schools and women’s colleges report higher levels of rigor and academic challenge in their studies and a high level of satisfaction with their educational experience. Greater confidence in abilities in STEM is reported by all-girls school students as well. That commitment to ensuring that every career path and opportunity, even historically male-dominated disciplines and fields, is open to all students is alive and well at Salem today.

As the oldest continuously operating educational institution for girls and women in the country, we hold a vital and important place in women’s history. We have continued to operate and held steadfast to our mission during at least three global pandemics, two world wars, multiple social and economic crises, and much more. Our history of perseverance embodies a deep commitment to our mission to prepare girls and women from all around the world to be remarkable leaders. Today, we have a strong, vibrant learning community where Salem prioritizes educating the whole person and helping our students realize their full potential to become confident and outstanding women who will significantly impact our future.

As we celebrate Women’s History Month together, let us be proud of the historical significance of our institution as we celebrate our alumnae and current students who have been innovators and pioneers in their fields and continue to be trailblazers today.


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