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Our 1956 Champion of Humanities

Our 1956 Champion of Humanities

When Lia Gelin Poorvu ’56 was a student at Wellesley, the Margaret Clapp Library was her sanctuary. If she wasn’t in the French corridor immersing herself in the language with classmates, she was hunkered down in the library getting her work done. The beauty of the campus drew the New York native to Wellesley in 1951, and her passion for the humanities, appreciation for the academic program, and love of the library have kept her connected to the College long after commencement.

A prominent alumna who is well-respected in the College community, Lia served 12 years on the board of trustees, from 2000 to 2006 and again from 2017 to 2023. She is a true advocate for Wellesley and her support spans from the academics and liberal arts to the library and its Special Collections. Over the years Lia and her husband, Bill, have made transformational gifts to the areas that they are most passionate about. They also do not hesitate to respond to the immediate needs of the College and its students by giving generously to The Wellesley Fund each year.

“Wellesley provides a wonderful education where you will be challenged academically,” she says. “It also gives women a place where they are supported by their peers to think critically about how to respond to today’s changing world.”

Andrew Shennan, provost and Lia Gelin Poorvu ’56 Dean of the College, knows firsthand how extraordinarily dedicated Lia is to the College. The two share a love of French culture and a belief in the value of liberal arts education—Lia taught French language and culture for more than 40 years, including the last 25 years at Tufts University. This connection made the deanship named in her honor even more special. “The support Lia and Bill have given to me during my time as provost has been indispensable to my work, and I will always be proud that I have held an office with her name attached to it,” says Shennan, who recently announced that he will be retiring from the position this spring after 20 years.

Wellesley’s rigorous academic program is one of Lia’s philanthropic priorities, and so is the library. Although she spent a lot of her time in the library as a student, she was unaware then of the hidden gem of Wellesley’s Special Collections. But today she finds her gifts to the Collections as some of her most gratifying. Lia is overjoyed to see the creative ways faculty and students use its resources in innovative, multidisciplinary courses.

Lia is, quite simply, a champion for Wellesley. She defends an education rooted in the humanities, and she understands the importance of a college that educates women. “Wellesley inculcates students with the sense of empowerment that it takes to become leaders in driving change to bring about equality,” she says.