Taft's Female Entrepreneur Fellowship is creating opportunities on campus for learning and networking, while offering a supportive space for sharing perspectives and exchanging ideas.
Taft’s 2022 celebration of 50 years of coeducation was a time of reflection—a time to honor the women who faced down sometimes seemingly insurmountable challenges to help make Taft the community it is today. For some, including upper mids Ivy Kargman and Theodora Ryan, it was also a time to reflect on the challenges many women continue to face outside of Taft’s walls.
“Despite tremendous progress over the years, women continue to face adversity in many workplaces,” Theodora says, “especially in the business world.”
Believing that knowledge is power and that experience is a proven teacher, Ivy and Theodora developed a plan to harness both for the benefit of the Taft community. Taft’s Female Entrepreneur Fellowship (FEF) lies at the heart of that plan.
FEF is, as their mission statement reads, “meant to inspire and encourage women to strive for financial and societal success,” while empowering them through knowledge, skills, and insights from female role models to stand up to “the adversity women often face in the world of business.”
“The club is meant for everyone, not just women,” notes Ivy. “We believe the first steps toward equality in business truly begin with acceptance and acknowledgment from everyone.”
Before arriving at Taft, Ivy attended an all-girls school.
“As you might imagine, it was all about female empowerment there,” says Ivy. “I thought I could use some of the lessons from that experience to contribute to the Taft community in a positive way. Theodora also had ideas around female empowerment and leadership from her own experiences.”
Through FEF, Theodora and Ivy are creating opportunities on campus for learning and networking, while offering a supportive space for sharing perspectives and exchanging ideas.
“We want FEF to be a mix of conversation-based seminars, somewhat formal mini-lectures, and guest speakers,” says Ivy. “We will research and develop content for the mini-lectures, which will cover everything from navigating the workplace as a woman to presenting research on well-known entrepreneurs. The first presentation we did was on Whitney Wolfe-Herde, CEO of Bumble, for example.”
For their first guest speaker, Ivy and Theodora tapped into resources a bit closer to home: Former Taft faculty member Anne Romano came back to campus to talk about her book, Winnie Taft. Together, Anne and Winnie represent not only strong and influential women, but the critical role women have played in the history of Taft School.
Within a year or two of founding the school, Horace Dutton Taft married Winifred Thompson, a teacher at New Haven High School. Together they scouted sites for a new campus, one that would support the kind of growth that would allow them to fully realize their vision for the school. The 1893 move to Pelham, NY, to Watertown, CT, represented the combined leadership and efforts of Winnie and Horace. Winnie’s premature passing in 1909 had a profound impact on Horace, and on Taft students.
“Winifred Taft added an intellectual, fiscal, artistic and social depth,” to the school, Romano wrote in her book. “It was Winifred who met with architects, managed the daily account books and endless details, while Horace saw to scholarship, lessons and ideals.”
“Mrs. Romano was brilliant, she was funny, but most importantly, she was passionate,” says Ivy. “We are so grateful to her for bringing Winnie Taft to life and taking the time to join our FEF event.”
Theodora and Ivy are currently working to schedule FEF’s next guest speakers, and are in talks with two female company founder/CEOs. In the meantime, FEF continues to host meetings, and their numbers continue to grow.
“FEF is a perfect example of how the diversity of our community can create opportunities for growth and learning in and out of the classroom. Everyone brings something different to the table; learning from our peers has been incredible, and we look forward to learning even more. Our goal is to reach the entire Taft community.”