Humanities › History & Culture The Seven Sisters Colleges Historical Background and History of Women's Higher Education Share Flipboard Email Print Woman walk down the steps of the Low Memorial Library at Barnard's 1920 graduation. Paul Thompson/FPG / Stringer / Getty Images History & Culture Women's History History Of Feminism Important Figures Key Events Women's Suffrage Women & War Laws & Womens Rights Feminism & Pop Culture Feminist Texts American History African American History African History Ancient History and Culture Asian History European History Genealogy Inventions Latin American History Medieval & Renaissance History Military History The 20th Century View More By Jone Johnson Lewis Women's History Writer B.A., Mundelein College M.Div., Meadville/Lombard Theological School Jone Johnson Lewis is a women's history writer who has been involved with the women's movement since the late 1960s. She is a former faculty member of the Humanist Institute. our editorial process Jone Johnson Lewis Updated February 16, 2019 01 of 08 Seven Sisters Colleges LawrenceSawyer / Getty Images Founded in the mid to late 19th century, these seven women's colleges in the Northeast of the United States have been called the Seven Sisters. Like the Ivy League (originally men's colleges), to which they were considered a parallel, the Seven Sisters have had a reputation of being top-notch and elite. The colleges were founded to promote education for women that would be at an equal level to the education offered to men. The name "Seven Sisters" came into use officially with the 1926 Seven College Conference, which was aimed at organizing common fund-raising for the colleges. The title "Seven Sisters" also alludes to the Pleiades, seven daughters of the Titan Atlas and the nymph Pleione in Greek myth. A cluster of stars in the constellation Taurus is also called the Pleiades or Seven Sisters. Of the seven colleges, four still function as independent, private women's colleges. Radcliffe College no longer exists as a separate institution admitting students, dissolving in 1999 after a slow integration with Harvard beginning formally in 1963 with joint diplomas. Barnard College still exists as a separate legal entity, but is closely affiliated with Columbia. Yale and Vassar did not merge, though Yale extended an offer to do so, and Vassar became a coeducational college in 1969, remaining independent. Each of the other colleges remains a private women's college, after considering coeducation. Mount Holyoke CollegeVassar CollegeWellesley CollegeSmith CollegeRadcliffe CollegeBryn Mawr CollegeBarnard College 02 of 08 Mount Holyoke College dschreiber29 / Getty Images Located in: South Hadley, MassachusettsFirst admitted students: 1837Original name: Mount Holyoke Female SeminaryAlso commonly known as: Mt. Holyoke CollegeFormally chartered as a college: 1888Traditionally affiliated with: Dartmouth College; originally sister school to Andover SeminaryFounder: Mary LyonSome famous graduates: Virginia Apgar, Olympia Brown, Elaine Chao, Emily Dickinson, Ella T. Grasso, Nancy Kissinger, Frances Perkins, Helen Pitts, Lucy Stone. Shirley Chisholm served briefly on the faculty.Still a women's college: Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, Massachusetts 03 of 08 Vassar College Woman stand in a line for the Vassar College daisy chain procession at commencement in 1909. Vintage Images / Getty Images Located in: Poughkeepsie, New YorkFirst admitted students: 1865Formally chartered as a college: 1861Traditionally affiliated with: Yale UniversitySome famous graduates: Anne Armstrong, Ruth Benedict, Elizabeth Bishop, Mary Calderone, Mary McCarthy, Crystal Eastman, Eleanor Fitchen, Grace Hopper, Lisa Kudrow, Inez Milholland, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Harriot Stanton Blatch, Ellen Swallow Richards, Ellen Churchill Semple, Meryl Streep, Urvashi Vaid. Janet Cooke, Jane Fonda, Katharine Graham, Anne Hathaway and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis attended but did not graduate.Now a coeducational college: Vassar College 04 of 08 Wellesley College uschools / Getty Images Located in: Wellesley, MassachusettsFirst admitted students: 1875Formally chartered as a college: 1870Traditionally affiliated with: Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard UniversityFounded by: Henry Fowle Durant and Pauline Fowle Durant. Founding president was Ada Howard, followed by Alice Freeman Palmer.Some famous graduates: Harriet Stratemeyer Adams, Madeleine Albright, Katharine Lee Bates, Sophonisba Breckinridge, Annie Jump Cannon, Madame Chaing Kai-shek (Soong May-ling), Hillary Clinton, Molly Dewson, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, Norah Ephron, Susan Estrich, Muriel Gardiner, Winifred Goldring, Judith Krantz, Ellen Levine, Ali MacGraw, Martha McClintock, Cokie Roberts, Marian K. Sanders, Diane Sawyer, Lynn Sherr, Susan Sheehan, Linda Wertheimer, Charlotte Anita WhitneyStill a women's college: Wellesley College 05 of 08 Smith College Freshman Alice Worms walks across the quad in front of Smith College. Alfred Eisenstaedt / Contributor / Getty Images Located in: Northampton, MassachusettFirst admitted students: 1879Formally chartered as a college: 1894Traditionally affiliated with: Amherst CollegeFounded by: bequest left by Sophia SmithPresidents have included: Elizabeth Cutter Morrow, Jill Ker Conway, Ruth Simmons, Carol T. ChristSome famous graduates: Tammy Baldwin, Barbara Bush, Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, Julia Child, Ada Comstock, Emily Couric, Julie Nixon Eisenhower, Margaret Farrar, Bonnie Franklin, Betty Friedan, Meg Greenfield, Sarah P. Harkness, Jean Harris, Molly Ivins, Yolanda King, Madeleine L'Engle, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Catharine MacKinnon, Margaret Mitchell, Sylvia Plath, Nancy Reagan, Florence R. Sabin, Gloria SteinemStill a women's college: Smith College 06 of 08 Radcliffe College Helen Keller graduating from Radcliffe College, 1904. Hulton Archive / Getty Images Located in: Cambridge, MassachusettsFirst admitted students: 1879Original name: The Harvard AnnexFormally chartered as a college: 1894Traditionally affiliated with: Harvard UniversityCurrent name: Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study (for Women's Studies), part of Harvard UniversityFounded by: Arthur Gilman. First woman donor was Ann Radcliffe Mowlson.Presidents have included: Elizabeth Cabot Agassiz, Ada Louise ComstockSome famous graduates: Fannie Fern Andrews, Margaret Atwood, Susan Berresford, Benazir Bhutto, Stockard Channing, Nancy Chodorow, Mary Parker Follett, Carol Gilligan, Ellen Goodman, Lani Guinier, Helen Keller, Henrietta Swan Leavitt, Anne McCaffrey, Mary White Ovington, Katha Pollitt, Bonnie Raitt, Phyllis Schlafly, Gertrude Stein, Barbara TuchmanNo longer admits students as a separate institution from Harvard University: Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study - Harvard University 07 of 08 Bryn Mawr College Bryn Mawr College Faculty and Students sitting on steps. Hulton Archive / Getty Images Located in: Bryn Mawr, PennsylvaniaFirst admitted students: 1885Formally chartered as a college: 1885Traditionally affiliated with: Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, Haverford College, Swarthmore CollegeFounded by: bequest of Joseph W. Taylor; associated with the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) until 1893Presidents have included M. Carey ThomasSome famous graduates: Emily Greene Balch, Eleanor Lansing Dulles, Drew Gilpin Faust, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Josephine Goldmark, Hanna Holborn Gray, Edith Hamilton, Katharine Hepburn, Katharine Houghton Hepburn (the actress' mother), Marianne Moore, Candace Pert, Alice Rivlin, Lily Ross Taylor, Anne Truitt. Cornelia Otis Skinner attended but did not graduate.Still a women's college: Bryn Mawr College 08 of 08 Barnard College Barnard College baseball team trains on the grass in 1925. Hulton Archive / Getty Images Located in: Morningside Heights, Manhattan, New YorkFirst admitted students: 1889Formally chartered as a college: 1889Traditionally affiliated with: Columbia UniversitySome famous graduates: Natalie Angier, Grace Lee Boggs, Jill Eikenberry, Ellen V. Futter, Helen Gahagan, Virginia Gildersleeve, Zora Neale Hurston, Elizabeth Janeway, Erica Jong, June Jordan, Margaret Mead, Alice Duer Miller, Judith Miller, Elsie Clews Parsons, Belva Plain, Anna Quindlen, Helen M. Ranney, Jane Wyatt, Joan Rivers, Lee Remick, Martha Stewart, Twyla Tharp.Still a women's college, technically separate but tightly integrated with Columbia University: Barnard College. Reciprocity in many classes and activities began in 1901. Diplomas are issued by Columbia University; Barnard hires its own faculty but tenure is approved in coordination with Columbia so that faculty members hold tenure with both institutions. In 1983, Columbia College, the University's undergraduate institution, began to admit women as well as men, after negotiation efforts failed to merge the two institutions completely.