North Central News

North Central College celebrates Women’s History Month with landmark leadership appointments

Jacob Imm

Mar 31, 2023

Every March is special as a time to commemorate the incredible contributions and importance of women in our society. March 2023 has turned out to be an especially auspicious month in the history of North Central College, however.

On March 21, Holly Humphrey, MD ‘79, who recently became the first woman ever to serve as chair of the North Central Board of Trustees, introduced President-elect Dr. Anita Thomas, who on July 1 will officially become the first woman and first person of color to lead the College as president.

One of Humphrey’s first acts as chair of the board was presiding over the final decision as to who would be the 11th president in the College’s 162-year history. The work of finding a suitable candidate was led by another woman, Dr. Kathryn Birkett, chair of the presidential search committee. While the timing of both Humphrey and Thomas’ appointments was coincidental, the significance of each happening so close to Women’s History Month cannot be overstated.

As she introduced Thomas to the campus community, Humphrey reflected on the College’s rich history as an institution devoted to equity. “In April of 1861 an important resolution was adopted by our forefathers to create this College,” said Humphrey. “That resolution said in part, ‘This College will be for male and female students.’ … At that time in this country it was distinctly unusual for women to be allowed to enroll in college and, importantly, for college to be coeducational.”

Dr. Ann Keating, Dr. C. Frederick Toenniges Professor of History, is a dedicated recorder of North Central’s history, and she, too, saw a connection from this moment all the way back to the College’s beginnings.

Our new president stands on a long tradition of coeducation at North Central College,” said Keating. “Since our foundation in 1861, women have been part of the first faculty and student body. Now for the first time, a woman will head our institution.

“One of the first faculty of our college (when it was known as Plainfield College) was Emily Huntington Miller.  She taught at the College between 1862 and 1863 and then went on to help found the Evanston College for Ladies, which merged with Northwestern University in 1871. Dr. Anita Thomas, who completed her undergraduate work at Northwestern, completes a circle of coeducation by returning to North Central as the first woman to serve as our president.”

Since June 2022, Dr. Donna Carroll has been a major part of North Central’s coeducational tradition. She is the first woman to be interim president of the College. She is excited that Thomas has been named president, as much for her ability to lead as the opportunity she represents.

“Leadership impact is multi-dimensional,” said Carroll. “By skills, experience, and disposition, President-elect Anita Thomas is ready to lead North Central College—period. The fact that she happens to be a woman, the first, models new possibilities for students and sends a hopeful message to faculty and staff, almost 60 percent of whom are women.”

From left to right: Dr. Kathryn Birkett, Dr. Anita Thomas and Dr. Holly Humphrey.

From left to right: Dr. Kathryn Birkett, Dr. Anita Thomas and Dr. Holly Humphrey.