The Seven Sisters

The Seven Sisters, a consortium of prestigious East Coast liberal arts colleges for women, originally included Mount Holyoke, Vassar, Smith, Wellesley, Bryn Mawr, Barnard, and Radcliffe colleges. Today, five of the Seven Sisters remain women’s colleges; Vassar is coeducational and Radcliffe has merged with Harvard, becoming the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.

The female equivalent of the once predominantly male Ivy League, the Seven Sisters originated in 1915, when Mount Holyoke, Vassar, Smith, and Wellesley colleges held a conference to discuss fund-raising strategies. This historic meeting led to additional conferences over the next decade, at Bryn Mawr, Barnard, and Radcliffe. By 1927 these seven elite women’s colleges were known as the Seven Sisters and over the years have continued to meet to discuss issues of common concern, such as institutional goals, admissions, financial aid, and curriculum matters.

The name “Seven Sisters” has its origins in Greek mythology. It refers to the Pleiades, the seven daughters of Atlas who, according to one myth, were changed into stars by Zeus.

The Seven Sisters were immortalized in popular culture in a 2003 episode of The Simpsons. Having won local and state spelling bees, Lisa Simpson advances to the national finals. However, the moderator, concerned about the contest’s low television ratings, offers Lisa free tuition (“and a hot plate”) at the Seven Sisters college of her choice if she will allow a more popular contestant (who happens to be a boy) to win. Lisa refuses, but has a dream in which students from each of the Seven Sisters appear to her.