At Strong Women, Strong Girls, we always strive to celebrate the accomplishments of women. Last week, five University of Pittsburgh alumni were honored with the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the African American Alumni Council. Four of the five recipients are women: Elayne Arrington, Martha Richards Conley, Dame Vivian Hewitt, and Cecile Springer. Through their service and achievements, they are incredible role models for our girls.
Elayne Arrington graduated from Homestead High School as valedictorian with the second-highest SAT score in Mathematics. At the University of Pittsburgh, she received a scholarship for mechanical engineering but the company withdrew, insisting the scholarship be given to a man. Arrington did not let that slow her down. She graduated in 1961 as the first black woman to graduate from Pitt’s engineering school. She went on to receive a Ph.D in Mathematics and became an aerospace engineer at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base’s Foreign Technology Division.
Martha Richards Conley made important strides for African-American women in law by becoming the first black female to graduate from Pitt Law in 1971 and the first to practice law in Allegheny County. She has been a longtime opponent of the death penalty and was chair of Pennsylvanians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. After receiving her Distinguished Alumnus Award she said, “Mass incarceration has taken a tremendous toll on our community, both the black community and the white community. Sometimes I feel like Sisyphus pushing a rock up a hill and it keeps rolling back down. This award will remind me of the work I still have to do, and I’m going to keep on pushing.”
After receiving her degree in library science from University of Pittsburgh in 1944, Dame Vivian Hewitt became the first black librarian for the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. She continued to break glass ceilings and became the first black chief librarian at the Rockefeller Foundation, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and the Council on Foreign Affairs. Hewitt and her husband have also built an impressive art collection with works from Haitian and African American artists. It was recently on display at the August Wilson Center in Pittsburgh.
Cecile Springer has a diverse academic background with master’s degrees in chemistry and urban and regional planning from the University of Pittsburgh in 1971. She has held many positions in these fields and even founded her own strategic planning firm, Springer Associates. In addition, she is a Distinguished Daughter of Pennsylvania, a Carlow University Woman of Spirit, and a Legacy Laureate of the University of Pittsburgh. She has also been a president of the Pitt Alumni Association.
Congratulations to these astounding women! We are incredibly grateful for their trailblazing work and innovation.