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Amherst College gives highest honor to long-time faculty member Rose Olver

  • (Photos by Rob Mattson/Amherst College, Office of Public Affairs) Amherst College faculty, staff and students, from both past and present, join in the celebration to honor Professor Emerita Rose Olver at Johnson Chapel, on the Amherst College campus, in Amherst, Mass., Tuesday evening, January 22, 2013. Olver, the L. Stanton Williams '41 Professor of Psychology and Women's and Gender Studies, Emerita, became the first woman to hold an Amherst College tenure-track faculty position, in 1962. She is now the first woman to have her portrait hang in Johnson Chapel. Painted by artist Sarah Belchetz-Swenson, the piece resides in a stage-side, prominent position, and shows Olver in a red academic gown, holding the faculty mace, a symbol of her longtime role as faculty marshal. The evening included a reception, as well as speeches from Olver, Amherst College President Biddy Martin, Cullen Murphy '74, chairman of the college's board of trustees, Dean of Faculty Gregory Call, and a tribute in verse from Rick Griffiths, Professor and Associate Dean of Faculty.

    (Photos by Rob Mattson/Amherst College, Office of Public Affairs) Amherst College faculty, staff and students, from both past and present, join in the celebration to honor Professor Emerita Rose Olver at Johnson Chapel, on the Amherst College campus, in Amherst, Mass., Tuesday evening, January 22, 2013. Olver, the L. Stanton Williams '41 Professor of Psychology and Women's and Gender Studies, Emerita, became the first woman to hold an Amherst College tenure-track faculty position, in 1962. She is now the first woman to have her portrait hang in Johnson Chapel. Painted by artist Sarah Belchetz-Swenson, the piece resides in a stage-side, prominent position, and shows Olver in a red academic gown, holding the faculty mace, a symbol of her longtime role as faculty marshal. The evening included a reception, as well as speeches from Olver, Amherst College President Biddy Martin, Cullen Murphy '74, chairman of the college's board of trustees, Dean of Faculty Gregory Call, and a tribute in verse from Rick Griffiths, Professor and Associate Dean of Faculty.

  • Olver's portrait was done by Williamsburg artist Sarah Belchetz-Swenson, who spent more than eight months on the project. <br/>ROB MATTSON AMHERST COLLEGE PUBLIC AFFAIRS

    Olver's portrait was done by Williamsburg artist Sarah Belchetz-Swenson, who spent more than eight months on the project.
    ROB MATTSON AMHERST COLLEGE PUBLIC AFFAIRS

  • Olver's portrait was done by Williamsburg artist Sarah Belchetz-Swenson, who spent more than eight months on the project. <br/>ROB MATTSON AMHERST COLLEGE PUBLIC AFFAIRS

    Olver's portrait was done by Williamsburg artist Sarah Belchetz-Swenson, who spent more than eight months on the project.
    ROB MATTSON AMHERST COLLEGE PUBLIC AFFAIRS

  • Olver was feted before an audience of faculty, staff, administrators and trustees. Having one's portrait hanging in Johnson Chapel is considered the highest honor at Amherst College.<br/>ROB MATTSON AMHERST COLLEGE PUBLIC AFFAIRS

    Olver was feted before an audience of faculty, staff, administrators and trustees. Having one's portrait hanging in Johnson Chapel is considered the highest honor at Amherst College.
    ROB MATTSON AMHERST COLLEGE PUBLIC AFFAIRS

  • (Photos by Rob Mattson/Amherst College, Office of Public Affairs) Amherst College faculty, staff and students, from both past and present, join in the celebration to honor Professor Emerita Rose Olver at Johnson Chapel, on the Amherst College campus, in Amherst, Mass., Tuesday evening, January 22, 2013. Olver, the L. Stanton Williams '41 Professor of Psychology and Women's and Gender Studies, Emerita, became the first woman to hold an Amherst College tenure-track faculty position, in 1962. She is now the first woman to have her portrait hang in Johnson Chapel. Painted by artist Sarah Belchetz-Swenson, the piece resides in a stage-side, prominent position, and shows Olver in a red academic gown, holding the faculty mace, a symbol of her longtime role as faculty marshal. The evening included a reception, as well as speeches from Olver, Amherst College President Biddy Martin, Cullen Murphy '74, chairman of the college's board of trustees, Dean of Faculty Gregory Call, and a tribute in verse from Rick Griffiths, Professor and Associate Dean of Faculty.
  • Olver's portrait was done by Williamsburg artist Sarah Belchetz-Swenson, who spent more than eight months on the project. <br/>ROB MATTSON AMHERST COLLEGE PUBLIC AFFAIRS
  • Olver's portrait was done by Williamsburg artist Sarah Belchetz-Swenson, who spent more than eight months on the project. <br/>ROB MATTSON AMHERST COLLEGE PUBLIC AFFAIRS
  • Olver was feted before an audience of faculty, staff, administrators and trustees. Having one's portrait hanging in Johnson Chapel is considered the highest honor at Amherst College.<br/>ROB MATTSON AMHERST COLLEGE PUBLIC AFFAIRS

As Amherst College’s first tenure-track female faculty member, Rose Olver arrived on campus more than a decade before the school became a co-educational institution.

During her more than 50 years there, she helped to hire female colleagues, welcome female students, create the women’s and gender studies department and, just two years ago, saw Carolyn “Biddy” Martin become the first female president of the college.

Olver’s central place in the college’s mission was celebrated last week as she became both the first woman and the first faculty member recognized with the unveiling of her portrait to hang at Johnson Chapel, considered the college’s highest honor.

Olver said when she learned she would be honored in such a way, she was overwhelmed and realized immediately that it represented a break from a tradition that once excluded women from the faculty.

The difference between Amherst not hiring women and now choosing one to represent the faculty is such an immense change, Olver said. “I’m very privileged to be honored in this way and be the faculty representative.”

“This is an amazing move by Amherst to put a woman in the chapel, and a faculty member,” said psychology professor Buffy Aries. Aries was hired by Olver in 1975 during the first phase of the college’s attempt to bring more women to campus. “It’s totally wonderful that Amherst is recognizing a woman in this way.”

Martin, quoted in the Campus Buzz section of the college’s website, told those who came to celebrate Olver at the unveiling that it is important for portraits to reflect the foundation of the college, namely the faculty. For this reason, the portrait was placed in a prominent place next to the chapel’s stage.

“She represents the significance of faculty to the success of an academic institution,” Martin said.

Olver, emeritus professor of psychology and women’s and gender studies, accepted the honor in front of an audience of faculty, staff, administrators and trustees, as well as her spouse, John Olver, who recently completed a 22-year tenure as a U.S. congressman, and daughter Martha.

Olver described the early days of her time at the college, including how she was invited to become a member of faculty club because no rules prohibited women from being members. However, she was asked to decline the offer to preserve the all-male body. She agreed only to delay her invitation for a year.

During her tenure, she fought for co-education, served on the executive committee of the faculty, chaired two presidential search committees and was a faculty marshal for nearly 15 years. In fact, her portrait depicts her in a ceremonial red gown holding the faculty mace.

Gregory Call, the dean of faculty and professor of mathematics, said the suggestion to honor Olver came more than a year ago from a number of faculty colleagues and was followed by support from the board of trustees, President Martin and the so-called Committee of Six, the executive committee of the faculty.

“Rose is held in tremendous esteem,” Call said. He said she is a model faculty member involved in critical developments. He said she was one of the founders of the neuroscience program, instrumental in establishing the women and gender’s studies department and shaped the psychology department. She was also the first regular faculty member to serve as dean of freshmen.

Aries said Olver put a significant amount of time and energy into how the college is governed.

“Rose is so smart, she learned the ways, she survived, and was enormously instrumental in changing the place for the better,” Aries said.

The portrait was done by Williamsburg artist Sarah Belchetz-Swenson, who spent more than eight months on the project. Known for portraits of professional women, Belchetz-Swenson said she spent time with Olver interviewing her, reading professional articles she had written and talking to her colleagues.

“It is an honor and it was an enormous joy to work with her,” Belchetz-Swenson said. “A portrait is a collaborative effort.”

Olver was effusive in her praise for the artist.

“It was such a wonderful experience with her. She has the talent and patience to know her subject well,” Olver said.

Call said the recognition sent a message about the centrality of those who teach and do research to the college’s mission. “It’s a very special day, a particularly proud recognition for all of us, and we’re delighted to see Rose as our representative,” Call said. “It was a day we will long remember.”

Olver joins a number of others who have been recognized with portraits at Johnson Chapel throughout the years, including almost all of Martin’s predecessors as college president, as well as chairmen of trustees and famous alumni, including Calvin Coolidge, class of 1895 and 30th president of the United States, Joseph Hardy Neesima, class of 1870 and founder of Doshisha University, Amherst College’s sister university in Japan, and Charles Hamilton Houston, class of 1915, who is credited with laying the legal groundwork for the pioneering civil rights case Brown vs. Board of Education.

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