Article by Emily Gold Boutilier; photos by Rob Mattson

[Making history] Rose Olver came to Amherst in 1962 as the first woman to hold a tenure-track position on the faculty. More than 50 years later, she is the first woman to have her portrait hang in Johnson Chapel.


Some 130 colleagues, friends and admirers attended the portrait’s unveiling on a cold afternoon in late January. Olver—the L. Stanton Williams ’41 Professor of Psychology and Women’s and Gender Studies, Emerita—sat in the front row, next to the artist, Sarah Belchetz-Swenson.

The portrait hangs just to the left of the stage (when facing the stage). In opening the ceremony, President Biddy Martin explained why she chose such a prominent location: Olver’s portrait joins those of college presidents and alumni (including one U.S. president, Calvin Coolidge, Class of 1895). “But there is no portrait,” Martin said, “that tells the story of what is foundational to the college”—the faculty.

Until now. The portrait depicts Olver in a red academic gown and holding a mace, a symbol of her longtime role as faculty marshal. “She represents the significance of faculty to the success of an academic institution,” Martin said.

Olver was the first woman to chair the psychology department at Amherst, and she served on the committees that guided the transition to coeducation. She also chaired the committee that
created the women’s and gender studies department.

At the unveiling, other speakers included Board of Trustees Chairman Cullen Murphy ’74, Dean of the Faculty Gregory Call and Associate Dean of the Faculty Rick Grif­fiths, who gave his tribute in verse, while wearing a laurel wreath. (One highlight: Griffiths rhymed “not surprising” with “gender theorizing.”)

Wearing a laurel wreath, Griffiths gave his tribute in verse.

Olver also spoke. In the early 1960s, “the idea of a portrait of a woman in this hall was unimaginable.” Her arrival at Amherst put the Faculty Club in a bind, she said, as it had no rule barring female professors. (It hadn’t needed one.) The club sent a senior colleague to “issue an invitation but request I decline.” Looking out at the crowd in the chapel, Olver said, “Well, I didn’t join that year, but I did join the following year.”

The crowd cheered for the portrait and gave a standing ovation to Olver. At the end of the ceremony, Marie Fowler, secretary and office manager to the dean of the faculty, presented the guest of honor with a bouquet of pink roses.

In the front row (from left) are Martin, Olver, Belchetz-Swenson and Call.