William & Mary hires its first female president, after 325 years

Dr. Katherine A. Rowe

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. – Dr. Katherine A. Rowe was announced as the College of William & Mary’s 28th president. She is the first female to be chosen as president in the school’s 325-years history.

Rowe was the unanimous choice of the Board of Visitors to lead the college, said school officials.

The Wren bell tolled 28 times to signify the special moment in history. She received a standing ovation as she was introduced Tuesday.

“I am thrilled to accept the calling to serve,” Rowe said.

Since 2014, Rowe has served as provost, dean of the faculty and the Sophia Smith Professor of English Language & Literature at Smith College in Massachusetts.

Before that, she spent 16 years at Bryn Mawr College as an English professor and department chair and the director of Katharine Houghton Hepburn Center.

“The more I have come to know William & Mary the more I feel I have found my people,” Rowe said.

Rowe, who began her career as a renaissance scholar, said she turned to the centuries-old charter to understand the vision founders King William III and Queen Mary II had for the college.

“Reading the charter, the first thing I was struck by was how forward-looking it is,” Rowe said. “It envisions the founding of a place of universal study…all of the fields of knowledge and creativity, for all persons and for the whole self.”

The charter was written during a period tremendous political upheaval, religious dissent and rapid colonial expansion, so the idea of achieving anything universal at that moment “was every bit as complicated as is today,” Rowe said.

“Because the moment of founding was one of transformation the charter is full of language empowering its leadership to use their best judgement in the present time and space, in measured planning as the ‘major part of them should see fit,’” she said.

“We accept responsibility to sustain that institution through a future that is unpredictable and embraced with hope,” Rowe added. “Since those words were written William and Mary has reinvented itself over and over.”

She will officially begin her appointment on July 1. Rowe will succeed W. Taylor Reveley III, who is retiring June 30 after two decades at the college, which includes 10 years as president.