Bryn Mawr College has announced a $15 million bequest from alumna Isabel Hamilton Benham ('31) to provide endowment funding in support of women in science and the faculty of international studies.
Benham, who died in 2013 at the age of 103, had been an economics major who dreamed of working on Wall Street but was advised by a Bryn Mawr dean to enroll in a "secretarial course." Instead, after taking a six-month course on bond selling, she landed a job at the federal Reconstruction Finance Corp., which had been created to lend money to banks and railroads in distress during the Depression, and went on to become a statistician and the first female railroad analyst on Wall Street at R.W. Pressprich & Co., where, after thirty years, she became the firm's first female partner. Benham, who early in her career signed her correspondence "I. Hamilton Benham" to thwart gender discrimination, later became the first female vice president and voting stockholder at Shearson Hammill (later Salomon Smith Barney), the first woman on the board of directors of a railroad company, and one of the first women to hold a seat on the New York Stock Exchange.
Her support for Bryn Mawr included the establishment of the Isabel Benham Fund for Faculty Research, which has provided critical early-career support to professors for more than twenty years, as well as contributions toward the restoration of the iconic clock in the steeple of Taylor Hall; construction of the admissions building, which is named in her honor; and other building improvements and renovations.
"Isabel Benham defied convention and broke barriers throughout her life, and, through her accomplishments and her philanthropy, she continues to be an inspiration to successive generations of students here at Bryn Mawr," said Kim Cassidy, the school's president. "Her pursuit of excellence regardless of the obstacles she faced and her desire to share her wisdom and success with Bryn Mawr is truly Isabel’s greatest legacy. It is fitting that through her bequest, she will be helping today's students pursue their passions and change their own worlds."