Gift Supporting Science Students Honors Woman Barred from Studying It Herself

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

>Frances Shillinglaw, a woman who was barred from majoring in science in the 1930s, will now help Agnes Scott College students follow a path she was not allowed to take, thanks to an almost $1 million gift from her estate to the college.
Frances Shillinglaw
An endowed fund, called the Frances Marx Shillinglaw Women in Science Fund, has been established at Agnes Scott to honor Shillinglaw, who passed away in September. The fund will support specific initiatives designed to encourage the study of science and mathematics at the college.

“This fund is a fitting tribute to a woman who wanted to give students with an interest in science or math all the opportunities she was denied,” said Agnes Scott President Elizabeth Kiss. “Her generous gift will help Agnes Scott students pursue their dreams to study math and science and pursue scientific careers.”

Shillinglaw had wanted to attend Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston, but the headmistress of her high school refused to forward her school records, maintaining that ladies did not major in engineering. As a result, she attended Smith College in Massachusetts, a women’s college where she had hoped to major in chemistry. But again, she was advised against it and ultimately majored in French. When later asked about being blocked from engineering and the sciences, she commented without bitterness: “That’s just the way it was back then.”

Her husband, Clifford, spent his entire career with The Coca-Cola Company, beginning during World War II, and rising to the position of senior vice president. He and Frances moved from New York City to Atlanta in the early 1960’s, to a home in Dunwoody. He died in 1979.

Shillinglaw was active in various civic organizations in Atlanta and enjoyed travel and playing golf. Though not an alumna herself, Shillinglaw developed a fondness for Agnes Scott through her friendship with the late Anne Register Jones (Mrs. Boisfeuillet “Bo” Jones), Agnes Scott class of 1946. This friendship led Shillinglaw to donate to the college several times, including a pledge that created an earlier endowment, the Frances Marx Shillinglaw Scholarship Fund. She is survived by two daughters, four grandchildren and multiple generations of nieces and nephews.

“It’s wonderful that her fund will provide opportunities for women interested in science,” said her daughter Anne Shillinglaw. “It’s a reflection on how times have changed for women.”

Among the initiatives that the Shillinglaw Women in Science Fund will support is Agnes Scott’s Generating Excellence in Math and Science (GEMS) program. Though the societal pressures that once blocked Shillinglaw from pursuing her academic interests have softened significantly over the years, roadblocks remain to women interested in math or science study and careers. The goal of the GEMS program, with 45 student members, is to ensure that women who start at Agnes Scott with an interest in majoring in math and science receive the academic resources and social encouragement they need to graduate and go on to math and science careers.

GEMS unveiled in 2009 its first Summer Bridge program, a seven-week summer residential program at Agnes Scott designed to help first-year students transition into a more rigorous college curriculum. In addition to supporting Agnes Scott’s growing GEMS program, the Shillinglaw Women in Science Fund will support other initiatives aimed at helping women pursue careers in science and math.

Shillinglaw’s gift will be included in the college’s upcoming comprehensive campaign, now in its silent phase and projected to conclude in 2016.

Agnes Scott College educates women to think deeply, live honorably and engage the intellectual and social challenges of their times. Students are drawn to Agnes Scott by its excellent academic reputation, exceptional faculty and metropolitan Atlanta location—offering myriad social, cultural and experiential learning opportunities. This highly selective liberal arts college is known for its diverse and dynamic intellectual community. Through SUMMIT, it provides every student, regardless of major, with an individualized course of study and co-curricular experiences that develop leadership abilities and understanding of complex global dynamics.