Monday, July 15, 2024

William & Mary names Katherine Rowe as its first female president

Katherine Rowe has been elected as William & Mary's first female president. (Courtesy photo/Stephen Salpukas/William & Mary)
Katherine Rowe has been elected as William & Mary’s first female president. (Courtesy photo/Stephen Salpukas/William & Mary)

After 325 years as an educational institution, William & Mary has named its first female president.

Katherine Anandi Rowe, the current provost and dean of the faculty of Smith College in Massachusetts, will begin her tenure as William & Mary president on July 1, according to a College of William & Mary news release.

The university’s Board of Visitors voted unanimously Tuesday morning to elect Rowe as its 28th president. She will succeed President W. Taylor Reveley III, who announced his retirement last April after 20 years at William & Mary and a decade as president.

“We’ve had 27 men and she’ll be the first woman to be president,” Rector Todd Stottlemyer said. “And this year, we’re celebrating 100 years of women attending William & Mary, too.”

With a background in both liberal arts and digital innovation, Rowe brings a forward-thinking dynamic to William & Mary, according to Stottlemyer.

Rowe’s ability to link the university’s strong history with a changing world and national economy made her an “attractive candidate” to lead William & Mary, Stottlemyer said.

“She appreciated and respected all the history of William & Mary, but at the same time, she really understands change and vision for the future are essential for the university’s continued excellence,” he added.

“It is an honor to be called to serve as the 28th president at William & Mary,” Rowe said. “Under President Taylor Reveley’s outstanding leadership over the past decade, William & Mary has become a model of intentional, mission-driven innovation in higher education. The vision of William & Mary conveyed to me over the past months, by everyone I met in this community, is so compelling: a deep appreciation of history and tradition; a commitment to fostering inclusive communities of teaching, learning and research; and an understanding of the value of change and innovation to advance a liberal arts mission. These commitments are essential to a university’s continued excellence in the 21st century. I am resolved to further that vision as we work together in the coming months and years.”

In her time at Smith College – she has served as provost since 2014 – Rowe has overseen all academic operations. During her time at Smith, she also pushed to transform the school’s liberal arts curriculum and started one of its first statistical and data science majors.

At William & Mary, a liberal arts school, Rowe is expected to help bridge the gap between the research and liberal arts sides of the school.

“Her passion is being precise about what students need to be lifelong learners and articulate thinkers,” Stottlemyer said. “She plays in both worlds.”

Rowe is a co-founder and CEO of Luminary Digital Media, which has “reimagined” books with interactive reading apps that focus on classic Shakespearean literature.

“When you think ‘data science,’ you probably don’t think ‘Shakespearean scholar,’” said Sue Hanna Gerdelman ‘76, secretary of the Board of Visitors and chair of the For the Bold fundraising campaign. “But that’s what is so exciting about Dr. Rowe and developments in the digital humanities, which is already a point of pride at William & Mary. Katherine is comfortable in a world of possibilities, where barriers between science and the humanities have fallen away.”

Rowe will follow in Reveley’s footsteps as an “incredibly engaging” and personable leader, but will add her own expertise to the mix.

“Along with the Tribe writ large, Helen and I warmly welcome Katherine and her husband Bruce to William & Mary,” Reveley said. “The President’s House, with its three resident ghosts, awaits their arrival.”

Rowe was one of more than 300 candidates for president, some of which were self-nominated and some who were nominated by others, Stottlemyer said.

The school’s 19-member presidential candidate search committee used feedback from dozens of alumni and other people connected to the university to develop criteria for the new president

“The search committee and the board’s unanimous selection of her really reflects who she is as far as her background, her leadership, her scholarship and entrepreneurship,” Stottlemyer said.

Who is Katherine Rowe?


  • Bachelor’s degree in English and American literature from Carleton College
  • Master’s and doctoral degree in English and American literature from Harvard
  • Graduate work in cinema and media studies at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts


  • 16 years at Bryn Mawr College as an English professor
  • Department chair and director of the Katharine Houghton Hepburn Center for leadership and public engagement
  • Assistant professor of English at Yale
  • Provost and dean of the faculty of Smith College

Family and extracurriculars:

  • Husband, Bruce Jacobson and two adult children, Daniel and Beah
  • More than a decade coaching Ultimate Frisbee, leading multiple teams to state championships in Pennsylvania
  • World Ultimate Club Finalist and a Women’s Nationals Finalist


  • Rosalyn R. Schwartz Teaching Prize for Excellence and Innovation in 2011
  • Direction of two collaborative programs with Haverford and Swarthmore
  • Tri-Co Digital Humanities and the Mellon Tri-College Faculty Forum
  • Publication of three books: ‘New Wave Shakespeare on Screen with Thomas Cartelli’ (Polity Press, 2007), ‘Reading the Early Modern Passions: Essays in the Cultural History of Emotion as co-editor’ (Penn Press, 2004) and ‘Dead Hands: Fictions of Agency, Renaissance to Modern’ (Stanford, 2000)
  • ‘The Cambridge Guide to the Worlds of Shakespeare’ was honored in 2016 by the American Association of Publishers with two PROSE awards
  • Co-founded the nonprofit Boston Ultimate Disc Alliance and the Carleton College women’s Ultimate team
Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing is the Assistant Editor at WYDaily. Sarah was born in the state of Maine, grew up along the coast, and attended college at the University of Maine at Orono. Sarah left Maine in October 2015 when she was offered a job at a newspaper in West Point, Va. Courts, crime, public safety and civil rights are among Sarah’s favorite topics to cover. She currently covers those topics in Williamsburg, James City County and York County. Sarah has been recognized by other news organizations, state agencies and civic groups for her coverage of a failing fire-rescue system, an aging agriculture industry and lack of oversight in horse rescue groups. In her free time, Sarah enjoys lazing around with her two cats, Salazar and Ruth, drinking copious amounts of coffee and driving places in her white truck.

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