Some of the hardest working women in the world—politicians, producers, philanthropists, and Pulitzer Prize winners, to name a few—share one thing in common: They were educated at all-girls schools. During their formative years, as girls’ school graduates, these women were encouraged to flex their minds, discover their talents, and raise their voice to make an impact in their community. And all of that happened because they were educated in an all-girls environment.
So who are some of the most well-known graduates of girls’ school making their mark on the world today?
1. Annie Dillard
Author and Pulitzer Prize winner Annie Dillard is a 1963 graduate of The Ellis School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Best known for her narrative prose, Annie has published two novels and one memoir in addition to poetry, essays, and literary criticism. Her non-fiction book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, won the 1975 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction. She has mentioned that during her time at The Ellis School she would spend her lunch hour in the creative writing club and credits her English teachers there with teaching her how to write.
2. Ava DuVernay
Film director, producer, and screenwriter Ava DuVernay is a 1990 graduate of St. Joseph’s High School in Lakewood, California. In 2014, Ava was the first-ever African American female director to be nominated for a Golden Globe award, and the first to have her film, Selma, nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.
3. Adena Friedman
Adena Friedman, CEO and President of NASDAQ, is a 1987 graduate of Roland Park Country School in Baltimore, Maryland, and the first woman to ever lead a global exchange company. Named one of the 31 most powerful women in the world by Forbes, Adena credits her all-girls experience with making a difference in her life, sharing that, “I do think it (attending an all-girls school) did help me create a sense of confidence and realizing that I could be as strong and as smart as anyone else in the room."
4. Melinda Gates
Co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Melinda Gates is a 1982 alumna of Ursuline Academy in Dallas, Texas. After graduating from Ursuline, Melinda went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in computer science and economics and an M.B.A. from Duke University. As a philanthropist, Melinda, alongside her husband Bill Gates, has donated over $28 billion to the Gates Foundation which aims to globally enhance healthcare and reduce poverty. She has also donated over $10 million to her alma mater and has said, "my Ursuline education was a great equalizer. It gave me an equal chance in the world."
5. Kirsten Gillibrand
United States Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is a 1984 graduate of Emma Willard School in Troy, New York. A longtime advocate and ally for women, as a lawyer, Kirsten took on multiple pro bono cases for abused women and led the Women's Leadership Forum; and as a Senator, fights for women’s economic policy aimed at giving working women and their families a fair shot in the workplace. In 2011, she started Off the Sidelines, a political organization that has raised nearly $5 million to support women candidates and shine a light on women’s issues.
6. Condoleezza Rice
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is a 1971 graduate of St. Mary’s Academy in Englewood, Colorado. During her political career, Condoleezza worked at the State Department under the Carter administration, served on the National Security Council as the Soviet and Eastern Europe Affairs Advisor to President George H. W. Bush, and was National Security Advisor in the Bush administration—the first female to do so— before becoming the first female African-American woman Secretary of State. On her girls’ school experience, Condoleezza has said that the rigorous academics at St. Mary's Academy prepared her well for college. She is now a political science professor at Stanford University.
7. Susan Rice
Former United States National Security Advisor Susan Rice is a 1982 graduate of National Cathedral School in Washington, D.C. A public official who has served the Bush and Obama administrations, Susan was a Brookings Institution fellow and the first African American woman to act as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. In high school, Susan was an athlete, student council president, and valedictorian who “dreamed of becoming the first U.S. senator from the District of Columbia.” She now serves on Netflix’s Board of Directors.
8. Abby Wambach
Soccer player Abby Wambach is a 1998 graduate of Our Lady of Mercy High School in Rochester, New York. A two-time Olympic gold medalist, six-time Soccer Athlete of the Year award winner, and FIFA Women’s World Cup Champion, Abby holds the record for the highest all-time goal scorer for the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team. In 2014, her alma mater renamed their field to “Abby Wambach '98 Field” in honor of her athleticism, sportsmanship, and dedication to the sport. When asked about the honor, Abby said, “I owe so much of my success to my upbringing and education. Mercy is a massive part of my character.”
9. Kerry Washington
Actress Kerry Washington is a 1994 alumna of The Spence School in New York, New York. Well-known for her leading role in the ABC drama Scandal, Kerry’s work earned her Emmy, Screen Actors Guild, and Golden Globe award nominations for best actress in a drama series. On her time at an all-girls school, Kerry shared, “I was really lucky because I went to an all-girl school...because I really learned to bond with women and to not compete with or compare myself as much because we were all allowed to be ourselves and be unique and kind of have our unique strengths. I always felt like my value was much more in my intellect than it was in my appearance, and so that’s what I spent time cultivating.”
10. Reese Witherspoon
An actress and producer, Reese Witherspoon is a 1994 alumna of Harpeth Hall in Nashville, Tennessee. She also owns a production company named Hello Sunshine, a clothing company Draper James, and is actively involved in children’s and women’s advocacy organizations. In 2015, Reese returned to Harpeth Hall to accept a distinguished alumnus award and speak to students. In her speech, she told the girls, “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Too many girls I know don’t want to try things because they’re afraid they’ll be bad at it, and they want to be perfect. Perfectionism is for the birds. It’s not realistic. It is stressful. And it really gets you nowhere.”
Interested in learning more about how girls' schools prepare the changemakers of tomorrow?