Showcasing Trailblazing MIT Women

New exhibits highlight stories of women at the Institute

The Women@MIT archival initiative collects records of women faculty, staff, students, and alumnae to illuminate and elevate their stories. The project was launched in 2017 with the generous support of Barbara Ostrom ’78 and Shirley Sontheimer. Alongside efforts to collect and preserve materials from MIT women, the initiative seeks to share their lives and work with both MIT and global audiences. See how several recent events shine a light on the critical contributions of these pathbreaking women.

Black and white photo of a woman in a lab coat in a lab

Anne Serby ’82, photo by Calvin Campbell, courtesy MIT Museum, circa 1980.

New Exhibit Spotlights Women Biologists and Chemists
Under the Lens: Women Biologists and Chemists at MIT 1865-2024 examines the work of women scientists at MIT beginning with Ellen Swallow Richards, MIT’s first woman student, through the present day, when many women scientists hold leadership positions at the Institute.

“The title of this exhibit has a double meaning,” writes exhibit curator Thera Webb, Women@MIT Project archivist. “The women featured in Under the Lens are scientists whose work engages with the materials of our world on a molecular level, using the lens of a microscope. At the same time, women’s ability to work as scientists and academics has been scrutinized through the lens of public opinion since Victorian-era debates about co-education.”

Items for the exhibit, selected from Distinctive Collections, focus on women students and faculty in biology, biological engineering, chemistry, and chemical engineering to trace the lineage of women scientists at MIT. See the exhibition in the Maihaugen Gallery (14N-130) through June 21.

Quilt depicting a woman in a hat wearing a three-dimensional ruffled scarf.

“Katharine Dexter McCormick: Making Her Mark” by the Pixeladies (Deb Cashatt and Kris Sazaki).

Quilt Honors Katharine Dexter McCormick
One of the Women@MIT collections’ latest acquisitions is a quilted portrait of McCormick (1904), biologist, suffragist, philanthropist, and champion of women’s reproductive rights. The quilt is a gift from the Association of MIT Alumnae, arranged by Carol Shattles Hooker ‘67. It was created by the Pixeladies, Kris Sazaki and Deb Cashatt, who create painstaking collages from magazine and newspaper clippings which are printed onto fabric to make their elaborate quilts.

Panel Explores MIT Women’s Experiences Across Four Distinct Eras
In September, the Libraries partnered with the Nichols House Museum for “Skirts and Slide Rules: Women at MIT from the Nichols Sisters to Now,” a panel discussion exploring Tech women’s experiences over 150 years. Panelists included Coleen Smith ‘87, archivist for AMITA, speaking on early women students; Linda Sharpe ‘69, PhD ‘75, co-founder of the MIT Black Students’ Union and the first Black woman to serve as president of the MIT Alumni Association; Lulu Tsao ‘86, president of the MIT Club of Beijing; and Mahati Chintapalli ‘11, student chair of MIT’s branch of the Society of Women Engineers.

2023 Women@MIT Fellows Debut Projects
Women@MIT Fellowships invite scholars, artists, and others to showcase the collections in engaging ways that contribute to greater understanding of the history of women at MIT and in STEM. The 2023 fellows created two new projects using archival materials and technology. “Sisters in the Making,” by Deborah Tsogbe and Soala Ajienka, spotlights the women who built the core rope memory and magnetic core memory for the Apollo Guidance Computer. The exhibit was on view in Rotch Library this spring. “Mapping Migration at MIT: Eighteen Stories of International Women at MIT,” by Rachel Lane, explores how women’s work in science crossed international borders through an online story map; see the project at Watch a video of all the 2023 fellows presenting their work on our YouTube channel at