What are the Seven Sisters Colleges?

When men dominated the Ivy League, these seven elite women’s colleges convened to discuss how to provide more opportunities to women.

At one time, Ivy League schools were reserved for men. But in 1915, a historic conference between Mount Holyoke, Vassar, Smith, and Wellesley colleges started a discussion to promote education for women at a level more equal to what was offered to men. During the early 20th century, women’s schools were having difficulties raising endowment money to compete with men’s schools.

Initially, only Mount Holyoke, Smith, Vassar, and Wellesley met, calling themselves the “Four College Conference.” However, by 1926, the group expanded, inviting Barnard, Bryn Mawr, and Radcliffe to participate. Additional conferences were held, and by 1927, seven colleges emerged as “the Seven Sisters,” a group of elite women only colleges parallel to their male Ivy League counterparts. The “Seven Sisters” name comes from Greek mythology, specifically to the Pleiades, the seven daughters of Atlas who Zeus changed into stars.

Goals of the Seven Sisters Colleges

  • Secure more funds to pay Seven Sisters professors the same as Ivy League professors
  • Call attention to more generous public support of schools like the Seven Sisters colleges
  • Increase professor salaries so female students can receive high-quality instruction equal to their brothers

List of Seven Sisters Colleges

Name Niche Grade Size Acceptance Rate Ivy League Affiliation
Niche Grade A+
Size 2466
Acceptance Rate 23%
Ivy League Affiliation Columbia University
Niche Grade A
Size 1309
Acceptance Rate 41%
Ivy League Affiliation Penn, Haverford College, Princeton University, Swarthmore College
Niche Grade A
Size 2290
Acceptance Rate 42%
Ivy League Affiliation Dartmouth College, Amherst College
Niche Grade N/A
Size N/A
Acceptance Rate N/A
Ivy League Affiliation Harvard University
Niche Grade A+
Size 2643
Acceptance Rate 43%
Ivy League Affiliation Amherst College, Yale University
Niche Grade A+
Size 2370
Acceptance Rate 23%
Ivy League Affiliation Yale University
Niche Grade A+
Size 2368
Acceptance Rate 35%
Ivy League Affiliation Harvard University, MIT

Ranking of Seven Sisters Colleges

There’s a reason why Seven Sisters colleges are viewed as Ivy League sister schools. Like their Ivy League counterparts, they generally have excellent academic reputations paired with low acceptance rates. Barnard and Vassar colleges are the hardest to get into, each with 23 percent acceptance rates, and none of the colleges have Niche Academics grades below an A, with Wellesley ranked the highest at an A+.

Changes at Vassar and Radcliffe

In 1969, Vassar went coed, becoming the first of these female colleges to do so. This came after the school rejected the idea of merging with Yale, which would have moved the New York state women’s college to New Haven, Conn. While the Vassar–Yale study was conducted to prepare University students for the arrival of women, in 1967, after a year of weighing the pros and cons, Vassar trustees struck down the idea of moving the college. However, the info from the study helped Vassar College follow through with adopting coeducation.

Radcliffe College, founded in 1879 as a Harvard coordinate institution, was a women’s liberal arts college parallel to its Cambridge brother. For the first 70 years, Radcliffe students received diplomas from Radcliffe. Then, around 1963, diplomas came from “Harvard-Radcliffe.” In 1977,  a formal merger was signed, and by 1999, Radcliffe College officially dissolved into Harvard University. Today, remnants of the Radcliffe name exist in the form of the Radcliffe School of Advanced Study.

Seven Sisters Colleges Today

Today, the other five of the Seven Sisters still function as private women’s colleges (Barnard, Bryn Mawr, Mount Holyoke, Smith, and Wellesley). While the colleges have changed over the years, the Seven College Conference still meets seasonally to discuss diversity, equity, and achievement, and also to share school histories.

Although all of the Ivy League schools are now coed, that doesn’t make the Seven Sisters any less relevant or important. They continue to educate both men and women alike, with reputations similar to the Ivy League counterparts they set out to compete with all those years ago.

Famous Seven Sisters Alumni

Name Seven Sister College
Name Madeleine Albright
Seven Sister College Wellesley College
Name Barbara Bush
Seven Sister College Smith College
Name Stockard Channing
Seven Sister College Radcliffe College
Name Julia Child
Seven Sister College Smith College
Name Hillary Rodham Clinton
Seven Sister College Wellesley College
Name Emily Dickinson
Seven Sister College Mount Holyoke College
Name Nora Ephron
Seven Sister College Wellesley College
Name Jane Fonda
Seven Sister College Vassar College
Name Betty Friedan
Seven Sister College Smith College
Name Katharine Hepburn
Seven Sister College Bryn Mawr College
Name Zora Neale Hurston
Seven Sister College Barnard College
Name Erica Jong
Seven Sister College Barnard College
Name Helen Keller
Seven Sister College Radcliffe College
Name Lisa Kudrow
Seven Sister College Vassar College
Name Edna St. Vincent Millay
Seven Sister College Vassar College
Name Cynthia Nixon
Seven Sister College Barnard College
Name Jackie Kennedy Onassis
Seven Sister College Vassar College
Name Sylvia Plath
Seven Sister College Smith College
Name Bonnie Raitt
Seven Sister College Radcliffe College
Name Nancy Reagan
Seven Sister College Smith College
Name Joan Rivers
Seven Sister College Barnard College
Name Diane Sawyer
Seven Sister College Wellesley College
Name Gloria Steinem
Seven Sister College Smith College
Name Meryl Streep
Seven Sister College Vassar College
Name Twyla Tharp
Seven Sister College Barnard College
Name Wendy Wasserstein
Seven Sister College Mount Holyoke College

Author: Alex Caffee

Marketing and Business Analyst at Niche. Dessert aficionado. Found my Niche in Pittsburgh, PA!

What are the Seven Sisters Colleges?