Ruth Simmons has achieved a series of historic firsts. At a point in life where most are retired or soon will be, the longtime educator and academic is still going. Simmons is currently the eighth president of Prairie View A&M University, coming out of retirement to become the first woman to lead the institution.
Simmons was born July 3, 1945 in Grapeland, Texas as the youngest of 12 siblings. Her parents were sharecroppers who relocated to Houston. She entered and graduated from Dillard University in 1967, then earned a master’s and Ph. D in Romantic Literature from Harvard University in 1970 and 1973 respectively.
A series of academic positions with schools such as the University of New Orleans, California State University-Northside, University of Southern California, and Princeton University followed. She also served as provost of Spelman College.
In 1995, Simmons marked her first big achievement by becoming president of Smith College making her the first Black woman to lead a major college or university. She then joined Brown University in 2001, becoming the first Black president of an Ivy League institution and brought sweeping changes to the school.
At the urging of her brother Clarence, a former student and athlete at Prairie View, Simmons took on an interim presidential position with the school and decided to stay. Part of her reasoning is that many Prairie View students are poor and lack proper guidance and an example such as herself. Further, the school has issues graduating students due to the financial woes of the student body which Simmons hopes to address and correct.
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