MBA Program at Harvard Business School: 1963 - 1970

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The Co-Ed Experience

In December 1962, Harvard Business School faculty voted for women to be directly admitted to the first year of the full MBA program. Dean Teele had argued, "that the young woman with an MBA will be given more responsibility and more pay than our Harvard-Radcliffe Program Graduates. This is particularly true if the young woman is seeking a position in government and education or in business research."20 The Harvard-Radcliffe Program in Business Administration officially ended in 1963. In September 1963, eight women enrolled at HBS and joined the MBA class that would graduate in 1965.

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Female students still lived in Cambridge at the Radcliffe Graduate Center or in private residences. Recalling the first group of women who entered in 1963, HBS Professor Wickham Skinner said, "The Admissions Department was told it had to be sure about them, there shouldn't be more than a 5% chance of their failing. Those women were pretty darned good."21 In 1964, another four HRPBA graduates joined for the second year. Barbara Franklin (MBA 1964) remembered, "Among the women there was a lot of support. But I really don't believe we spent a lot of time talking about the circumstance we were in. Because we were all very busy trying to succeed in it, and trying to do the best in our courses, and to finish."22

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HBS made a concerted effort to publicize that the school had opened its doors to women, a fact women in undergraduate studies or the workplace did not necessarily know, and that many business opportunities were available to qualified women. Women were assuming leadership positions in more traditional male arenas such as banking, investment management, government, insurance, and manufacturing as well as in retailing, publishing, and nonprofit management.

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Campus Life

In the mid-1960s, women enrolled in the Harvard Business School MBA program still lived at Radcliffe or in private residences off campus. These conditions made it difficult to engage in the kind of social and intellectual life male students experienced in the HBS dormitories. In January 1969, four of the fifty women attending the MBA program moved into McCulloch Hall on the Harvard Business School campus. Students reported that residing on campus provided far easier access to study groups, the library, classmates, and faculty.

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Robin Wigger (MBA 1970), in her memo to "The Women of the Class of 1971," wrote that they should be prepared to answer the question male students commonly posed: "What's a nice girl like you doing in business school?" Wigger recalled, "Some of the first-year men appeared to assume that most of the single girls at HBS were there with the sole intent of finding rich husbands. Others really could not understand why any women would want to learn about business and/or management."23

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Women began to form supportive networks, and in 1972, students created the Women's Student Association. Focused on women's issues both at Harvard Business School and in business, the organization continues to foster "a community that empowers and mobilizes women to thrive academically, socially, and professionally for long-term success."24

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Mary Dingee Fillmore notes in Women MBAs that significant transformations in business education occurred in the early 1970s, when "the student body changed immensely, largely because the push for affirmative action both in educational institutions and the workplace coincided with . . . women's changing aspirations."25 The number of women earning their MBAs continued to rise significantly. At HBS women in the MBA program climbed from 11 percent in the class of 1975 to 40 percent in the class of 2014.26