Brown University President Ruth Simmons

By Cynthia Kirk


In July, Ruth Simmons will become the first African American president of Brown University, in Providence, Rhode Island. Officials at Brown say they chose her because of her performance as president of Smith College, a top women's college in nearby Massachusetts. Shep O'Neal tells us about her.


Ruth Simmons grew up poor in the state of Texas. She was the youngest of twelve children. Her father worked on farms owned by white people. Her mother worked in white people's homes. She died when Ruth was fifteen years old.

Ruth Simmons grew up in a family where the girls were made to believe that they were not equal to the boys.

Yet Ruth Simmons pushed herself to succeed. Her teachers told her that she could go to college and be successful. One teacher, Vernell Lillie, helped her get accepted to Dillard University in New Orleans, Louisiana.She graduated from Dillard with highest honors in Nineteen-Sixty-Seven.

Ruth Simmons continued her education. She earned a Doctorate Degree in Romance languages from Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.She worked for several years at Princeton University in New Jersey as a professor and administrator. She was praised for attracting top black teachers to the school.

Ruth Simmons became president of Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts in Nineteen-Ninety-Five. She increased the amount of money given to the college by almost two times, to nine-hundred-million dollars. She also established the first engineering program at a women's college. And she was successful in bringing students to Smith from all social and economic backgrounds. Students, teachers and administrators have praised Mizz Simmons for her improvements to the college.

Ruth Simmons says she is proud to be the first African American to be chosen to head one of the eight Ivy League colleges. They are among the best private colleges in the country. But she says she hopes to be recognized for what she brings to Brown University, not only because of her race.

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