Meredith College history was made on March 22, 2012, when Jo Allen, ’80, was formally installed as the first alumna to assume the leadership of the 120-year old institution.
The installation ceremony was the culmination of a week of inauguration events honoring Allen, who began as the College’s eighth president in July 2011. The event is traditionally held within the president’s first year in office.
In her inaugural address, President Allen echoed the inauguration theme, “Remembering Our Roots, Extending Our Reach.”
Allen said the theme reflected her Meredith history, as well as the story of Meredith College.
“Whatever other timeless messages this College conveys, we demonstrate none more clearly than the power of connections, most often connections between our roots and our reach.”
Allen noted that Meredith had just begun a new strategic planning process, but indicated that preparing women for positions of leadership would continue to be a focus.
“At the undergraduate level, that means educating women to develop their strengths and their talents to prepare for leadership,” Allen said. “We are discussing what this model will be, but it is already clear that our focus will draw on women’s strengths: collaboration, connection, confidence – and even a little bit of defiance.”
Board of Trustees Chair Nancy Cheek administered Allen’s oath of office. The Bible used during the oath had belonged to Richard Tilman Vann, Meredith’s second president. This Bible was one of the items sealed into the cornerstone of Faircloth Hall on the original campus of Baptist Female University (now Meredith) in 1904, and returned to Meredith in 1960.
Beginning an Important Chapter at Meredith
The ceremony included official greetings from state and local officials.
“Today as we celebrate the inauguration of Jo Allen, Meredith’s eighth president, we mark the beginning of an important chapter for this marvelous college,” said Governor Bev Perdue. “On behalf of the 9.5 million people who call this state home, congratulations – we expect and demand great things from you.”
Mayor Pro Tempore Russ Stephenson read a proclamation from the City of Raleigh declaring March 22, 2012, as Dr. Jo Allen Day in Raleigh. The proclamation “welcomed her back to Raleigh to lead one of the city’s treasured institutions.”
Prior to her appointment as president of her alma mater, Allen served as senior vice president and provost and professor of English at Widener University in Chester, Pa. Widener President Jim Harris spoke during the installation ceremony, saying “we believe Meredith College has chosen wisely … she’s the best choice because of who she is as a person.”
Remembering Our Roots, Extending Our Reach
The installation ceremony was held in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium to symbolize Meredith’s original location in downtown Raleigh.
Meredith’s fifth, sixth and seventh presidents, Bruce Heilman, John Weems and Maureen Hartford, attended the ceremony, representing 45 years of leadership at the College.
Along with delegates from higher education institutions, and Meredith faculty, staff and trustees, alumnae representing classes from 1934 to 2011 participated in the academic procession. Many other alumnae attended to show their support for Meredith’s first alumna president.
“I think the energy that Dr. Allen has brought to Meredith has set the stage for the future. People are excited about what they believe she can do,” said Teri Meadows Hires, ’77. “Because she's an alumna, she understands the mission of Meredith, and she understands the importance of women as leaders.”