Martha Fransson T’70 waited patiently on the phone for an answer. She was interested in attending Tuck and had called the school to ask—could she come in for an interview?
It was the late 1960s, a time when Tuck and many other MBA programs were comprised of only men. Fransson had already secured MBA interviews at Harvard, Columbia, Wharton, Chicago, and UConn but received less than desirable responses.
“Harvard said, ‘We’re not taking any women for the next two years until we figure it out,” Fransson recalls. Columbia gave her a 9 p.m. curfew. Wharton and UConn didn’t have suitable housing available for women.
Tuck, however, had recently named a new dean—John Hennessey Jr.—who was more than willing to have Fransson come to campus for an interview. Fransson, a graduate of Radcliffe College, was delighted.
“I called up my dad and asked if he would drive me up and back, or if I should buy bus tickets,” Fransson recalls now, 50 years later. “He said he would drive me up and wait for me as long as it took.”
The rest is Tuck history. Fransson was accepted and, in 1970, became the first woman to graduate from Tuck. Attending Tuck as the only woman was an unusual situation to say the least, but Fransson was never put off and enjoyed the challenge. She went on to serve as vice president of both the Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company and of Times Mirror Cable, before heading to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute where she taught as an associate professor for almost 20 years.
By marking the anniversary of the momentous decision in Tuck’s history to admit women, we’re also celebrating all of our graduates who’ve championed change—in business, government, the nonprofit sector, and in the communities where they live and work.
“How strong Martha must have been to venture in first,” says Elyse Allan, D’79, T’84 chair of the Tuck Board of Advisors and former CEO of GE Canada. “When we reflect on her wandering the halls of Tuck as the only woman among all those men, what an experience she must have had. She must look back and realize how she opened the door for women to follow in her footsteps. She is a real trailblazer, and I believe certainly a very courageous woman.”
In honor of this important milestone of coeducation and in celebration of the diverse community of accomplished leaders that has since followed since Martha’s graduation, Tuck announces 50 Years of Women at Tuck, a year-long series of alumni events that center around personal and professional development, engagement, networking, and community-building. The celebration will kick off at Tuck Reunion this October and run through reunion in October 2020, Martha’s 50th reunion. Campus events like Tuck’s annual Women in Business Conference in October and the Diversity Conference in November will also offer opportunities for the community to celebrate and reflect on the school’s history.
“There are so many incredible alumni out there making a difference in the world because they had the opportunity to go to Tuck,” says Renee Hirschberg, Tuck’s director of alumni engagement. “By marking the anniversary of the momentous decision in Tuck’s history to admit women, we’re also celebrating all of our graduates who’ve championed change—in business, government, the nonprofit sector, and in the communities where they live and work.”
Across all alumni events, participants will have the chance to reflect on the central theme of the 50-year anniversary: What does it take?
Across all alumni events, participants will have the chance to reflect on the central theme of the 50-year anniversary: What does it take? It’s a question that almost everyone faces when trying to overcome obstacles that stand in the way of their career and life goals.
“To get where you want to go, to do what you want to do, or to give up something that you didn’t want to give up—all of those things require courage, decisiveness, empathy, and leadership,” says Allan. “Those are all things that Tuck teaches us, and they teach it now both in the classroom and through various experiential learning. It takes a lot to be successful.”
Fransson knows that all too well. Back at her Tuck graduation in 1970, at the insistence of her classmates who knew the significance of the role she would play in Tuck’s history, she stood in the center of the front row of her class picture, in a gingham dress, proudly standing as the only woman surrounded by a sea of men in business suits and ties.
Much has changed since then. More than 2,400 alumnae have since followed in Fransson’s footsteps. And today, women make up close to 50 percent of the class of 2020, including Caroline Wells T’20, who currently serves as student body president and interned this past summer at Google.
“I feel like I owe it to the women who have come before me and paved the way for this incredible opportunity I have,” Wells says. “Attending Tuck has given me the tools and confidence I need to be an effective business leader. I could be dropped into any situation across the gamut and feel like I can handle it.”
To get where you want to go, to do what you want to do, or to give up something that you didn’t want to give up—all of those things require courage, decisiveness, empathy, and leadership. Those are all things that Tuck teaches us.
Fransson’s legacy can’t be understated, but she’s quick to acknowledge the other trailblazers at Tuck—like pioneers Herb Kemp, Jr. T’66, the first African American to graduate from Tuck, and dean emeritus John Hennessey, Jr.,—who helped pave the way for future leaders. Hennessey, for example, presided over one of the most consequential periods in Tuck’s history and helped usher in important changes that opened doors for people who didn’t have the opportunity.
“John Hennessey changed my life,” says Fransson. “He also became a life-long friend.”