Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Higher Education Administration

Major Professor

Patrick J. Biddix

Committee Members

Norma T. Mertz, Dorian L. McCoy, Barbara J. Thayer-Bacon


This study’s goal is to give voice to the experiences of one individual: Dr. Ruth Simmons, the first woman president of Brown University and the first African American president of an Ivy League institution. Simmons’ HerStory is a narrative of her becoming rather than being. It is a story of her moving forward. In this study Simmons is permitted to take back her narrative by telling HerStory, in her own words and along with sharing her ethos. HerStory provides insight into and a deep understanding of how Simmons became the president and what shaped her development spanning from her childhood to her presidency at Brown. Simmons’ multiple firsts place her in a unique category and demonstrates the need for more opportunities to be created for African American women to be presidents of four-year PWIs such as Ivy League and doctorate granting institutions.

Simmons is an activist, change agent, and transformational leader. Black feminism was used as a lens to examine Simmons’ HerStory while applying Few, Stephens and Rouse-Arnett’s (2003) three dimensions of power that empower women, personal, interpersonal and institutional. These themes describe ways in which others empowered Simmons, and how Simmons empowered herself and others, as well as society on her journey to the presidency.

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