BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – In advance of Women’s History Month, the Indiana University Kelley School of Business recently installed a new series of banners recognizing an accomplished group of female alumni who have been part of the school’s history and efforts to be inclusive.
The banners highlight trailblazers not only at Kelley but also at the university level. They included one of the school’s first female faculty members and someone critical to the creation of a network for women in the business school. The banners highlight successful women who were the first to graduate from the school with bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees.
They also recognize the first woman to earn a Kelley degree through the Consortium for Graduate Studies in Management – an organization that has greatly contributed to increased diversity in corporate management ranks – and the first Kelley alumna to be named an IU trustee.
Blanche McNeely Wean
In 1922, just two years after its establishment, the School of Commerce (today the Kelley School) admitted its first female student, Blanche McNeely Wean. A Bloomington native and the daughter of the owner of a grocery store and the local Yellow Cab Co., she had enrolled at IU two years earlier to study education but took as many business classes as she could.
“She shared with a male professor that she had ambitions to join the business world, stemming from her work experience. The professor told her that business was a ‘man’s world’ and suggested she stick to education,” wrote Ellie Kaverman, in an article for the Indiana History Blog.
She was soon followed by two other women, Anna Hasler and Athleen Catterson, who transferred from the University of Chicago and were admitted concurrently. All three women graduated together in 1923, and McNeely Wean was the first to meet all of IU’s degree requirements.
After graduation, McNeely moved to Lafayette to begin working as a teacher, and married Francis Wean in 1926. In 1930, her husband unexpectedly passed away, leaving her to raise three daughters under the age of three at the onset of the Great Depression. She returned to Bloomington and began substitute teaching stenography at the school.
While teaching at IU, McNeely Wean worked on obtaining her master’s degree (in economics) and was offered a trial position as the head of the business department at Central Normal College in Danville (later renamed Canterbury College). Rather than uprooting her family, she woke up every Monday morning at 2:30 a.m. to drive to Danville and teach a 6:00 a.m. class.
In 1932, McNeely Wean received an official offer from Central Normal College to head the business school, serve as the dean of women for the college, and serve as the student newspaper’s advisor—with the expectation that she would first graduate with her master’s degree from Indiana University that same year. She graduated with a Master of Arts degree in May 1932, and then moved her family to Danville. She continued at Central Normal College for fifteen years while also working as an accountant for outside businesses. All three of her daughters earned their undergraduate and graduate degrees at Indiana University.
Raised on a northern Indiana farm, Esther Bray came to IU in 1922 and earned a business degree five years later. A decade later, she was invited by President Herman B Wells to return and teach at the school. She went on to teach business education for 34 years.
By comparison, the prestigious Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, founded in 1881, would not appoint its first female faculty member, Dorothy Swain Thomas, until 1948. The first woman to become a tenured professor at Harvard Business School, Regina Herzlinger, was appointed there in 1971. Mary Munter, the first woman to teach full-time at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, arrived in 1983.
For many years, Bray would be the only woman on the IU business school faculty. “Esther was instrumental in the development of young women both in and out of the business school,” noted Ellie Kaverman, in an article produced for IU’s bicentennial.