Counterclockwise from left: Cynthia McFadden; student presenters Nora Sidoti ’07, Adama Ordu ’07,
and Betsy Gauthier ’07; Katharine Houghton; Lauren Bacall; and Blythe Danner.
Photos by Jim Roese and Edward Savaria
The September 8–9 launch of the Katharine Houghton Hepburn Center was an “amazing and galvanizing event” for one alumna who attended and is proud to be nicknamed Kate.
“The two panel discussions, ‘Crafting Policy to Improve Women’s Health’ and ‘Reproduction and the Law’ offered us new perspectives and challenges to assumptions, intelligent reasoning and information, and extremely personal stories that brought to life the issues and mission of the Center at Bryn Mawr,” emailed Katharine Patterson ’75, president of the Club of Northern California.
The concluding black tie gala was “an evening when everyone was beautiful and above average,” said another alumna nicknamed Cate. “Everyone seemed to glow, to be enjoying themselves, to be deeply engaged in the celebration,” said Catharine Hancock ’91, class editor and president-elect of the Club of Philadelphia. “I was very happy that folks from so many classes could come—young, old, you name it.” More than 500 alumnae mingled with movie stars and media broadcast figures, undergraduates and their parents, faculty and staff at Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts.
Cynthia McFadden; Assistant Professor of Computer Science Diana Xu, Kimberly Blessing ’97, and Associate Professor of Computer Science Douglas Blank; Blythe Danner
The Center honors the spirit and legacy of Katharine Houghton Hepburn, Class of 1899, a leading social activist for women’s suffrage and birth control, and the actress Katharine Houghton Hepburn ’28, who has long been a symbol of women’s independence.
Drawing its focus from the spheres important to its namesakes and to current undergraduates—film and theater, civic engagement, and women’s health—the Center challenges Bryn Mawr students and alumnae/i to lead publicly engaged lives and to take on the critical issues that affect women today. The Center will award the Hepburn Medal annually to women whose lives, work and contributions embody the intelligence, drive and independence of the four-time Oscar-winning actress. Three Hepburn Fellows, who bridge academics and practice in nontraditional or unconventional ways in any of the Center’s three broad areas, will come to campus each academic year to engage students and the College community in their work.
“Not only were the two Katharine Houghton Hepburns wonderful Mawrters, but the Center accomplishes many of the ideas that the student body is looking for at this time,” said Student Government Association (SGA) President Emily McNabb ’07. “We are excited not only for this weekend but for what the Center will bring.”
Black, white and red
The three acts of The Kimmel Center gala—receptions, awards program, and dinner—were showstoppers in black, white and red. Mistress of ceremonies Cynthia McFadden, co-anchor of ABC’s Nightline and Primetime, wove a garland of anecdotes about Katharine Hepburn ’28 and repartee throughout the series of presentations, which included the awarding of the Hepburn Medals by President of the College Nancy J. Vickers to stage and screen actresses Blythe Danner and Lauren Bacall, and speeches by six seniors on the importance to them of Hepburn’s legacy and the role the Center will play in the life of the College. A video tribute included interviews about Hepburn and clips from her films. (Proceeds of the gala will benefit the Katharine Hepburn Scholarship fund, established by Hepburn in 1958 to honor her mother.)
Playwright, screenwriter, novelist and actress Katharine Houghton stressed the opportunities her grandmother and aunt had at Bryn Mawr “to overcome their personal weaknesses.” In 1896, “Kit”—an angry young woman who had lost both parents at 16 and “smarted at being bossed around by her tedious relatives”—reveled in her new-found freedom, shocking the neighborhood by riding horseback at night with a friend and smoking a pipe behind the Harriton family cemetery. President M. Carey Thomas asked her to desist as a personal favor, to help counter the prejudice against women going to college. “From that point on, she began to apply herself more vigorously to her studies in the hope that she might prepare herself to be somebody like President Thomas, a force for good in the wicked world, and eventually she succeeded,” Houghton said.
The younger Hepburn was put on academic probation in her sophomore year, but her father appealed to the administration and encouraged his daughter to remedy her situation, offering his help at any time. “His complete faith in her…helped her overcome her academic impediment enough to graduate two years later and go on, with a confident spirit, to build a successful life in an arena that suited her unique gifts,” said Houghton.
Hepburn herself said many times that her time at Bryn Mawr showed her she could accomplish whatever she wanted: “I stayed and I studied—I pulled myself up by my bootstraps—got on the road and kept going! Bryn Mawr was my springboard into adult life.”
Student editors Eva DeAngelis ’07 of The College News, and Sasha Toten ’08 and Genevieve Stein-O’Brien ’07 of The Bi-Co News interview Katharine Houghton at press briefing. Lauren Bacall; Michelle Francl, director of planning and development for the Center, and professor of chemistry.
“Known for their distinctive elegance and exceptional talent, both Lauren Bacall and Blythe Danner epitomize Hepburn’s intelligence and passion: Bacall as a staunch advocate for better roles for women in film and theater, Danner as an advocate for the arts and the environment,” said McFadden. “Both, for their honesty, integrity and dedication to their craft, exemplify Hepburn’s legacy.”
Danner, who grew up in Rosement, said that as a young girl, she often passed the College in the car with her parents. “I would secretly long to go to school there,” she said. “How inviting were those brick and stone buildings covered with ivy and the brilliant brains within. I would never be one.…So you can imagine how much this means to me. I only wish my parents could be here tonight. They would be so proud.
“Thank you to Bryn Mawr College for sending Katharine Hepburn off into the world with her own unique flag held high,” Danner said. “Her spirit continues to inspire me. ‘Courage,’ she would say, ‘just get on with it…I’ve forged the way.’ I feel that with this medal, I have a real obligation to do that.”
Bacall met Hepburn on the set of the African Queen and remained a lifelong friend. “I was 15 years old, sitting in a 55-cent seat in the second balcony of the Schubert Theater on Broadway, when I saw Katharine Hepburn live for the very first time,” she recalled. “It was The Philadelphia Story. Before that I had only seen her in movies, but I knew from the start she was different. She was that rare creature, her voice immediately bringing to mind her astonishing face.…She made us feel everything and she was everything—touching, graceful, strong, with breeding, character, and intelligence. Never did I imagine in my most fantasizing moments that I would ever meet her, much less be able to call her a friend, but it happened!”
“What a cool school”
As part of the launch weekend, singer/songwriter Dar Williams performed two packed shows for students and alumnae on Friday night in Goodhart Auditorium, interspersing her songs with commentary on the circumstances that inspired them and taking questions from the audience.
“We could hardly have found an entertainer who illustrates the virtues of the convention-defying Hepburn women more clearly than tonight’s performer,” stated McBride Scholar Amanda Root ’08, in introducing Williams. “In a world where popular music often indoctrinates gender roles, Ms. Williams has called on audiences to examine their assumptions about masculine and feminine identities. Throughout her career, she has used her distinctive voice and her growing celebrity as tools for political and social activism.…The call to political engagement is strong in Ms. Williams’ music, too—nowhere more so than in her latest album, My Better Self.”
Williams, who gave the May Day concert on Merion Green in 1997, exclaimed as she tuned up, “You guys have been holding out on me. I thought you would set me down on a hay bale again, and here you have this amazing building. It’s so austere! What a cool school!”
A generous gift from Carol Yoskowitz ’71 will enable the Center to support three fellows for each of the next two years.
Professor of Chemistry Michelle Francl, who is director of planning and development for the Center, announced the Fellows for the 2006–07 academic year at the gala reception: Jane Eisner, vice president for civic initiatives at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia and former journalist at the Philadelphia Inquirer; Shannon Hader, an epidemiologist and public health physician who for three years has directed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Zimbabwe Global AIDS Program; and Karen Stephenson, an anthropologist and president of NetForm, Inc., who has done pioneering work in social networking.
Fellows committed thus far for the 2007-08 academic year are Cynthia Eyakuze-Di Domenico, acting director of the Francophone Africa Program at Family Care International; and Judy Wicks, owner and founder of Philadelphia’s White Dog Cafe, and a national leader in the local living-economies movement. For more information, please see the Center’s website.
Return to November 2006 Highlights