I am excited about this for two reasons. Firstly, she's the first woman president of Harvard and secondly, she was one of my senior thesis readers, so I actually "know" her (in the sense that she read 100+ type-written pages that I wrote and then asked me about them). Furthermore, she's a history professor, and well, go history!
I think the reason that I'm excited that Harvard is getting a female president is because Harvard always felt like such a male-dominated place to me. There was some respite from the pervading maleness of the institution in the community room at Radcliffe, but after Radcliffe College became the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study in 1999, that room disappeared (or became cubicled offices).
Note: I'm going to post this on Friday afternoon due to the timeliness of the first part, but hope to go back to expand on and revise the second part sometime early next week.
As to the second part of this post's title, in 1899, at the inauguration of a new president at Wellesley College, Harvard president Charles William Eliot said:
Women’s colleges should concentrate on an education that will not injure women’s bodily powers and functions. It remains to demonstrate what are the most appropriate, pleasing, and profitable studies for women, both from the point of view of the individual and the point of view of society; and this demonstration must be entirely freed from the influence of comparisons with the intellectual capacities and tastes of men. It would be a wonder, indeed, if the intellectual capacities of women were not at least as unlike those of men as their bodily capacities are.1In 1892, President Eliot asked a group of women who were clamoring for the creation of a women's college within Harvard University to raise $250,000 for the university as a condition for the creation of the college. After they did so, the Harvard Corporation refused the money and the request for a women's college at Harvard or the admission of women to Harvard College. Still, in 1894, Radcliffe College was chartered as an independent degree-granting institution whose faculty all taught at Harvard before walking down the road to teach at Radcliffe and whose graduates received diplomas countersigned by Harvard's president. Radcliffe graduates weren't given Harvard ABs until 1965.2
1. Horowitz, Helen Lefkowitz. "The 'Hateful' Wellesley Inaugural Address." Wellesley. Winter 1995, p. 31. See http://www.ed.gov/offices/OERI/PLLI/webreprt.html for more.
2. Solomon, Barbara Miller. In the Company of Educated Women. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985, p. 55.