Wellesley College Names First African American President

Dr. Paula A. Johnson brings educational and medical experience to the role

Dr. Paula A. Johnson, president, Wellesley College

Dr. Paula A. Johnson, president, Wellesley College

Dr. Paula A. Johnson, a Harvard Medical School professor and advocate for women’s health, has been named Wellesley College president, officials have reported, making her the first African American to lead the school.

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She’s set to be the 14th president of the women’s liberal arts college and will replace H. Kim Bottomly, who is stepping down after being in the post for nine years.

“Her record as a scholar and leader, together with her passion for women’s health and education, the energy and insights she conveyed in our discussions, and her enthusiasm for Wellesley convinced us that she is truly the best person to lead the college at this time,” the school said of Johnson.

“Dr. Johnson brings a strong appreciation of Wellesley’s academic culture and distinctive contributions to higher education. She will be a compelling champion for the liberal arts and for the enduring value of the educational and scholarly work of Wellesley faculty and staff. Having devoted her life to improving the lives of women, Dr. Johnson brings a rare understanding of the issues of equity, inclusion, and well-being that are so important to our community.”

Johnson, 56, said in an interview that she felt a special responsibility as the college’s first African American leader and believes that one of the institution’s strengths is student diversity.

[WATCH: Students Interview Dr. Paula Johnson, Below]

She added that she would work “to not only strengthen and deepen that diversity, but also ensure that our residential experience is taking full advantage of that diversity, that our young women are really experiencing all the richness that that diversity brings on campus.”

Johnson was unanimously recommended by a committee of students, alumnae, trustees, faculty, and staff recommended after an eight-month search to fill the position.

“Even among a superb group of candidates, Dr. Johnson stood out through her record as a scholar and leader, together with her passion for women’s advancement, education, and well-being, the energy and insights she conveyed in our discussions, and her enthusiasm for Wellesley,” Debora de Hoyos, chairwoman of the search committee and a college trustee, said in a statement.

Johnson brings experience as the former chairwoman of the Boston Public Health Commission, a professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and a physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

A graduate of Harvard and Radcliffe colleges and trained in internal and cardiovascular medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, she currently serves as the chief of the division of women’s health and is founder and executive director of the hospital’s Mary Horrigan Connors Center for Women’s Health & Gender Biology.