Supportive Dads Helped These Women Make History

June 11, 2014

I’ve heard and read much lately about the role of supportive fathers in helping girls and young women reach their full potential. Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai’s father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, said recently, “People ask me what was special in my mentorship that made Malala so bold, so courageous, so vocal, so poised. I tell them, ‘Don’t ask me what I did. Ask me what I did not do.’ I did not clip her wings, and that’s all.”

So in recognition of the great dads in our lives who encourage their daughters, I am presenting some of the most interesting AAUW father-daughter combinations from our AAUW archives.

Jane Addams and John Huy Adams

A black-and-white portrait of Jane Addams in profile

Jane Addams. Image via Library of Congress

Jane Addams (1860–1935), AAUW member and settlement house worker, established Hull House in Chicago in 1889 and became the first American woman to receive the Nobel Prize in 1931. Jane credited her father, JohnHuy Addams (1822–81) as theprimary influence in her life. John was a friend of Abraham Lincoln and was a successful entrepreneur who owned a milling business in Illinois. He also served in the Illinois Senate for 16 years, from 1854 to 1870. A strong proponent of women’s education, John was a trustee of Rockford Female Seminary, which became Rockford University. At John’s urging, Jane attended Rockford and earned her bachelor’s degree there.

Virginia Gildersleeve and Judge Henry Alger Gildersleeve

A black-and-white portrait of Virginia Gildersleeve

Virginia Gildersleeve. Image via Library of Congress

Virginia Gildersleeve (1877–1965) was dean of Barnard College for 36 years and was the founder of the International Federation of University Women in 1919. In 1945, she was the sole female delegate to the San Francisco U.N. Conference on International Organization. Gildersleeve was also an AAUW Board member.

In her autobiography, Many a Good Crusade, Virginia wrote about the formative influence of her father, Judge Henry Alger Gildersleeve (1840–1923), who was a judge at the New York State Supreme Court. Long before Take Our Daughters to Work Day, Henry did just that with young Virginia. This experience shaped her beliefs in justice, service, and civic involvement.

Chien-Shiung Wu and Zhong-Yi Wu

Chien-Shiung Wu gives her AAUW Achievement Award acceptance speech, 1959.

Chien-Shiung Wu

Chien-Shiung Wu (1912–97) was a Chinese physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project to develop the process to split uranium. Although clearly deserving, she was overlooked for a Nobel Prize. In 1959, Chien-Shiung received the AAUW Achievement Award for her contributions to the field of physics.

Chien-Shiung was born in a small Chinese village in Jiangsu Province. Her father, Zhong-Yi Wu, was an engineer who founded and served as headmaster of a school for girls, the Ming De School. Recognizing his daughter’s intellectual curiosity, he encouraged her to attend school and also created a rich learning environment at home.

Chien-Shiung left home at 11 to study at the Suzhou Women’s Normal School, studied physics at the National Central University in Nanjing, and earned her doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1940. During her career, she taught physics at Smith College, Princeton University, and Columbia University, where she remained for almost 40 years. She was very close to her father and always credited him with encouraging her to pursue physics.

Lou Henry Hoover and Charles Henry

A photograph of Lou Henry Hoover

Lou Henry Hoover. Image via Library of Congress

History books would say that Lou Henry Hoover (1874–1944) was the first lady to Herbert Hoover from 1929 to 1933. But Lou was exceptional in many other ways. Not only was she an AAUW member, but she also was the first woman to earn a geology degree from Stanford University. She was instrumental in founding the Girl Scouts and served as the group’s president for two terms.

Lou’s father, Charles Henry, raised her in a very unconventional manner for a young girl at the time. He encouraged physical exercise and took Lou on many outdoor adventures, encouraging her love of geology. Of her experiences with her father, Lou said, “I was a Scout years ago, before the movement started, when my father took me fishing, camping, and hunting. Then, I was sorry that more girls could not have what I had. When I learned of the movement, I thought, here is what I wanted other girls to have.”

Mary Woolley and Joseph Judah Woolley

Mary Emma Woolley in a cap and gown

Mary Emma Woolley

Mary Woolley was one of the youngest college presidents ever when she assumed the position, at age 37, at Mount Holyoke College in 1900. She remained there for 37 years. Mary was an active contributor to AAUW meetings and publications and became the AAUW national president in 1927. She also encouraged AAUW to support women’s suffrage.

Mary’s father, Joseph Judah Woolley, was a congregational minister who was a chaplain in the Union Army during the Civil War. In 1890, at his urging, Mary became one of the first female students at Brown University.

Joseph’s ministry was strong in its support of social service work. Mary learned from this and carried this spirit into all areas of her life. Joseph also officiated his daughter’s benediction at her inaugural ceremony at Mount Holyoke.



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Our History

The story of AAUW’s place in women’s history.

Deanna Zandt

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“That voice that tells you you’re selfish — I want you to ignore it,” she said.

Lou Henry Hoover and Girl Scouts, photo courtesy of Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum

Lou Henry Hoover: First Lady, Girl Scout Leader, AAUW Member

Lou Henry Hoover was a first lady and an AAUW member. Hoover worked to organize the Girl Scouts and introduced the first sale of Girl Scout Cookies.

Suzanne Gould By:   |   June 11, 2014

1 Comment

  1. Avatar Amy Blackwell says:

    It’s important to highlight fathers who are supportive of equity in rights and opportunities for their daughters. Kudos also go to all you men out there who are similarly supportive of their female relatives, friends, and colleagues! If we’re going to close all those gender gaps out there, we need men as allies. So here’s my call to action for our members and supporters: Encourage men who want to advance equity for women and girls to join AAUW. FYI: There’s a JOIN link at the top of this page!

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