Martha Berry, an Alabama native and Georgia resident, made it possible for low-income children to go to school by opening her own school in the early 1900s.
The Berry Schools later became Berry College in Rome, Ga., with 26,000 acres.
Almost a century later, Lisa Rossbacher became the first female geologist to serve as a university president in North America when she took over the reins at Southern Polytechnic State University in Marietta, Ga., just down the road from Berry.
But even with those successes, there's still work to be done to help women achieve even higher goals, several speakers said Friday during the 2012 Dicksie Bradley Bandy Memorial Colloquium at Dalton State College.
Sixty-five percent of the college students in Georgia are female, noted John Fowler, director of the Bandy Heritage Center for Northwest Georgia at Dalton State.
"If you are talking of two-thirds of the students being female, you would think they would eventually start holding important positions in medicine, law, government, etc.," he said at Friday's event.
The lecture series, focused this year on higher education, was started three years ago to call attention to issues and events important to women. Over the last 30 years, women have gone from enrolling in college in greater numbers than men to earning more bachelor's degrees to earning the majority of master's and doctoral degrees.
Rossbacher said stereotypes about women have hindered their participation in the science and technology fields, upon which her school focuses.
"The messages that gets sent to women, that put it in their heads that they may not be as good at math and science, is kind of like the self-fulfilling prophecy," she said.
In the 60-plus years of Southern Polytechnic's existence, women's enrollment gradually has increased to 22 percent, but it has stayed there, she said.
Nationally, the number is between 55 and 60 percent of women in all categories of undergraduate higher education.
But just as women have been kept out of science and technology for many years because of stereotypes, "it's also important that women not let their stereotypes of what careers in science and technology are like keep them out of those careers, too," she said.
Sandra Stone, vice president for academic affairs at Dalton State, said there's still a high concentration of women in traditionally female occupations such as nursing and teaching but those numbers don't track as they move up the career ladder.
"There are more women faculty but there also more women part-time faculty, which doesn't come with the same pay and benefits, and there are more women in tenured-track positions," she said. "As the academic rank goes up, the percentage of women goes down."
Nationwide, about 23 percent of college presidents are women, a number that has stayed constant for more than a decade. In Georgia, the percentage is even lower -- less than 20 percent.
And women in academia still make 81 percent of what men make, Stone said.
"There's this notion that women can have it all, and they can, but it's not easy," she said.
Tammy Byron, 34, an assistant professor of American history at Dalton State, said she could relate to some of the attitudes toward women, which are not much different than in the past.
"As a female student, sometimes I felt as though my male colleagues didn't appreciate my capacity as a student," she said.
Perla Trevizo joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 2007 and covers immigration/diversity issues and higher education. She holds a master’s degree in newswire journalism from Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid, Spain, and a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Texas. In 2011 she participated in the Bringing Home the World international reporting fellowship program sponsored by the International Center for Journalists, producing a series on Guatemalan immigrants for which she ...