Our History, Our Leaders

A Tradition of Innovation

The Women's Board was established in 1960 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Chicago in order to personally acquaint its members with the University's research, programs, and faculty; to encourage its members to serve as advocates for the University to the larger community; and to strengthen the University through funding special projects supporting faculty research, the arts and cultural institutions, student life, and community outreach.

The Women's Board has been guided by women whose fervent belief in its mission and devotion to the University have resulted in the substantial growth over time of both the Women's Board's membership and its philanthropic support of the University. Since our founding, the Women's Board has been led by the following women.


Mrs. J. Harris Ward (1961–1969)  

Mary Ward Wolkonsky was an extraordinary woman who throughout her life offered her talents in a multitude of community service activities, particularly those that advanced the role of women. Mrs. Wolkonsky loved Chicago, and she made a major and lasting contribution to the educational and philanthropic world in the city.

She was married to J. Harris Ward, who was a chairman of the board of Commonwealth Edison, as well as a University of Chicago Trustee (1956–74). He died in 1975, and in 1980 she married Peter Wolkonsky, a retired medical director of Amoco Oil Company who had earned his undergraduate and medical degrees at Chicago.

Founding the University of Chicago Women's Board in 1960, she served as its Chair for eight years. Under her leadership, Women's Board members contributed $200,000 in 1968 to renovate a Chicago landmark: the Lorado Taft Midway Studios, the very first project funded by the Board.

Named a University of Chicago Trustee in 1975, she chaired the University's Visiting Committee to the Department of Music and founded the department's Chicago Jazz Archive, University's Special Collections Research Center. She also served on the board of International House.

Her commitment to the city of Chicago was equally long-standing. In 1948 she founded Know Your Chicago, not only as a way to share her excitement for the city, but also to educate women for civic participation. Know Your Chicago continues today through the University's Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies. Mary also founded the Bright New City, a series of lectures and seminars on the physical and cultural aspects of Chicago. She was a member of the Board of Directors of the Lyric Opera and was instrumental in creating its Women's Board. She served on the boards of the Chicago Public Library Foundation, the Chicago Symphony, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Field Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago, and Planned Parenthood.

Mary Ward Wolkonsky, a Life Trustee of the University, died in 2002 at the age of 94. Her numerous awards and honors are a testament to her vision and character.


Mrs. George A. Ranney (1969–1973)

Nora “Nancy” R. Ranney was a humanitarian deeply involved in the Chicagoland community, holding leadership positions on many influential boards and committees. In her lifetime she chaired the Women’s Board at the University of Chicago, the advisory committee of the Ryerson Conservation Area in Deerfield, was president of the board of Chicago Lying-In Hospital and the Chicago Commons Association. Nora also vice-chaired the Chicago Orchestral Association and was a member of the executive committee of the Chicago Community Trust.

Nora was enthusiastic about her community service and not only provided financial support but helped shape the direction of the organizations she was involved in. During her time as Women’s Board Chair, funds were allocated by what we now know as the Women's Board Grants Committee to make the Woodlawn Social Services Center a more friendly, livable space.

Nora passed away in March 1987.      


Mrs. Raymond W. Garbe (1973–1977)

Ruth Moore Garbe was a journalist with an interest in evolution and science and a woman with a passion for Chicago architecture and philanthropy. Ruth was very involved with Chicago life and covered urban affairs for the Sun-Times. She wrote several books on evolution, including the best-selling Man, Time and Fossils: The Story of Evolution, published in 1953.

Ruth served on Chicago’s Commission on Historical and Architectural Landmarks, chaired the Prairie Avenue Historic Committee and was President of the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s Board of Directors. In 1981 she was titled Chicago Preservationist of the Year.

During her time as Women’s Board Chair she guided the Women's Board Grants Committee in providing funding for a new dome at the Yerkes Observatory, a photography darkroom for the Department of Visual Arts, and other projects around the University of Chicago.

Ruth passed away in January 1989. She was 80 years old.


Mrs. William W. Darrow (1977–1981)

During Anita (Onnie) Darrow’s time as Women’s Board Chair, she guided the Grants Committee in funding the Visiting Fellows Program and the President's Fund.

Another interest of Onnie’s was supporting the North Shore Country Day School, not only financially, but by finding housing for international students, organizing reunions and other alumni programs, supporting the schools musical programs, and organizing an endowment fund in the memory of a fellow alumni.


Mrs. Keith I. Parsons (1981–1984)

Lorraine Parsons maintained a long and storied history with the University of Chicago, having received her bachelor's and master's degrees in history from the University in 1934 and 1938 respectively. Until 1943, she held a position on the University's faculty in the Department of History.

Lorraine expressed a lifelong appreciation for literature, having participated in the first-ever Great Books discussion class with prominent educators Robert Hutchins and Mortimer Adler in 1930. Later, she would bring this commitment to lifelong learning during her tenure as chair of the Women's Board—the first University alumna ever to hold this position—when she helped to raise support  from the Board's then-300-strong members, funding the University's theaters, student counseling services, and architectural restoration at the Divinity School.

Lorraine held positions at other important philanthropic entities in Chicago, such as the Chicago Child Care Society and, of course, the Great Books Foundation.

Lorraine passed away on August 16, 1985, at the age of 72, one year after leaving her indelible mark on the Women's Board and the University community.


Lyndy Bogert (1984–1987)

In her lifetime Lyndy Bogert chaired the University of Chicago’s Women Board, the City Associates the Art Institute, and, for more than a decade, served on the Board of Managers of the Chicago Child Care Society and was on the board of the Better Government Association. Her commitment to community service shows not only in her board involvement but her volunteer work. Lyndy spent more than 2,000 volunteer hours with the Rush Medical Center.

During her time with the Women’s Board, many notable projects were funded including Student Support Groups with the Dean of Students Office, a Student Resource Center, and a Teen and Young Adult Clinic with the Wyler Hospital.

Lyndy passed away at age 65 in 1993.


Louise Glasser (1988–1991)

Louise Glasser has been a Women’s Board member since 1979. She worked with the Grants Committee throughout the 1980s. Under her guidance as Women’s Board Chair, the Grants Committee provided funding to preserving the Slavic Collection and to support the radio station WHPK. The Board also funded summer seminars for Chicago area high school teachers and the Motet Choir. During her tenure as Chair, Louise set the policy of holding program a month for Women’s Board members.

Louise has also been active with the Visiting Committee to the School of Social Service Administration and has been a Know Your Chicago member since 1978. She currently works with their Board. Her husband, James J. Glasser, is an Emeritus University of Chicago Trustee.

Louise has been involved with several significant philanthropic and community service organizations. She has been a trustee at the Newberry Library for more than 30 years. She served as president of the Women’s Board of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, where she continues to serve as director of  RIC’s Foundation Board. She currently is a member of the Woman’s Board at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Field Museum of Natural History, where she serves as co-chair and founder of the Cultural Collections Committee.

In Tucson, Arizona, Louise has served for nine years on the Board of Sonoran Institute, a multifaceted conservation organization that works in the inter-mountain West. She serves on the boards of the Women’s Foundation of Southern Arizona and the board of the College of Fine Arts at the University of Arizona.


Sonja Fischer (1991–1994)

Sonja Fischer has been a Women’s Board member since 1972. She has served on both the Grants Committee and the Steering Committee. During her time as Chair, the Grants Committee supported funding for a Satellite Imaging Laboratory for the Oriental Institute and a dinosaur excavation expedition. She also served on the Visiting Committee to the Division of the Humanities for more than 20 years.

Sonja is the principal at the Sonja and Conrad Fischer Foundation.


Iris Witkowsky (1994–1997)

Iris Witkowsky received her BA from Northwestern University in 1950. She has been involved with the Women’s Board since 1986. During her time as the Board’s chair, the Women’s Board provided funding for an interreligious worship space for Rockefeller Chapel, the renovation of the Center for the Study of Languages, and a pediatic immunization program.

Iris is a board member with the Chicago Commons Association, the International Visitor’s Center, and Know Your Chicago. She was chair of the Know Your Chicago Committee in 1994. 


Diana Hunt King (1997–2000)

Diana Hunt King has been involved with the Women’s Board since 1993, playing an instrumental role on the Grants Committee and Steering Committee in the 1990s. During her time as Women’s Board Chair, the Grants Committee funded a graphics center for the biopsychological sciences, the Washington Park Youth Program, and conservation equipment and the publishing of Eygptian artifacts at the Oriental Institute. Diana has also been very involved with the Visiting Committee to the University of Chicago Library, of which she has been a member since 1996 and previously chaired.

Beyond her involvement with the University, Diana continues to be active with the Lyric Opera of Chicago Lecture Corps which she co-chaired from 1992 to 1996, and on the Board of the Chicago Chamber Music Society, where she served as president from 2005 to 2008.


Joan Feitler (2000–2004)

Joan Feitler has been a Women’s Board member since 1991 and served on the Steering Committee for several years before becoming Chair in 2000. Through her guidance the Grants Committee funded many meaningful projects, including supporting the Smart Museum’s “Art to Live With” program and the Mitchell Patient Fund for the University of Chicago Medicine’s social work department. She has been a member of the University’s Visual Arts and Social Sciences Visiting Committees and served as a Court Theatre board member.

In 1997 she received an Alumni Service Citation from the University for her years of service. In 2011 Joan and her husband , Robert Feitler, were honored at the Chicago Convenes with the University of Chicago Medal, an award that recognizes distinguished service of the highest order to the University by an individual or individuals over an extended period of time.

Joan worked as an educational consultant, advising her clients on college admission, for almost two decades. She graduated with a BA from Goucher College in 1953 and has a master’s degree in sociology from the University of Chicago. Joan is married to University Trustee Emeritus Robert Feitler. The couple was active in founding the Smart Museum of Art in 1974.


Katharine L. Bensen (2004–2007)

Kate Bensen, University of Chicago alumnus, Kate began her career as an attorney at Schiff Hardin LLP. It was here that she first discovered an interest in nonprofit organizations, choosing to focus her practice on finance and counseling nonprofits. She currently is the president and CEO of the Chicago Network, an organization for Chicago's most distinguished women, gathering roughly 400 members drawn from the higher echelons of business, the arts, government, the professions and academia. The Chicago Network's mission is to create empowering relationships for women leaders that enable members to increase their impact on their organizations and the community at large through peer networking, mutual support and issue awareness.

Kate served on University of Chicago Alumni Board of Governors (past President) and she received the University of Chicago’s Alumni Service Medal in 2008 for her involvement in securing the University an Alumni House headquarters. During her time as Women’s Board Chair, she guided the Grants Committee in funding operations for the University’s Family Resource Center, the launch and publishing of Chicago Maroon's first quarterly magazine, and student involvement in the cleaning and reconstruction of a dinosaur. She also served on University of Chicago Alumni Board of Governors as president.

In addition to her work with the University, she has served on other Boards including the National Public Housing Museum (nominating and governance chair), Chicago Finance Exchange (past chair), Institute for Psychoanalysis, Fortnightly of Chicago, Guild of the Chicago History Museum (nominating committee chair), Joffrey Ballet Women’s Board (membership chair), Friends of the Parks, Emergency Fund (nominating and governance chair), James Kelly Choreography Project, and Fairway Network.


Jill F. Levi (2007–2011)

Jill Levi graduated from the University of Chicago's Graduate School of Social Service Administration.  Jill worked as a pediatric social worker for a number of years at the University of Chicago Hospitals and Clinics.  During her time as Women's Board Chair, the Board's Grants Committee supported many significant projects for the University, including the purchase of a Digital Language Lab for the Center for the Study of Languages, and funding for the Thirty Million Words Initiative, and the Comer Pediatric and Adolescent HIV Care team.

Jill led the Board’s fundraising efforts for a special Women’s Board Scholarship Drive that resulted in an endowment fund currently at $1.4 million annually supporting three to four student in The College.

Jill initiated and chaired the inaugural event that launched the Women’s Board into a year of celebration of their 50th Anniversary. The program included current and past presidents, of the University of Chicago. Robert Zimmer, Hanna Gray, Hugo Sonnenschein and Don Michael Randel moderated by Ray Suarez (AM 1993, Social Sciences Division), Senior Correspondent, The NewsHour on PBS.

Jill also serves on the boards of the Smart Museum of Art and Know Your Chicago, and has served on a variety of committees at the Francis W. Parker School in Chicago, as well as supporting many social agencies in the Chicago area.

Jill is married to John Levi, a '65 Lab grad and son of Edward Levi, President of the University of Chicago from  1968-1975. Johnis a partner at Sidley Austin LLP, and Chair of the Legal Services Corporation Board.


Alice Young Sabl (2011–2015)

A member of the Women's Board since 2004, Alice has been instrumental in leading the Women's Board on a variety of important initiatives, including increasing and diversifying our membership, advocating for greater participation in funding University projects via Women's Board and collaborating with other University partners to expand the Women's Board reach and impact at Chicago.

Alice served on the Steering Committee since 2009 until 2015 and chaired the 2010 Grants Committee.

In her more than 25 years of leadership roles in such prominent Chicago organizations as the Goodman Theatre, the Children’s Home and Aid Society, the Art Institute, and Brookfield Zoo. She is also a member of the Neurosciences Leadership Steering Committee at Rush Hospital.

Previously, Alice served as a trustee of the National Boys and Girls Club, president of the Architecture and Design Society of the Art Institute of Chicago, and a vice chair of the National Alzheimer's Board.

Alice received her BA and PhD in sociology from Stanford University and taught at Carnegie Mellon in the Business and Public Policy Schools.


Priscilla Kersten (2015-Present)

Priscilla Kersten was appointed to the position of chair of the University of Chicago Women's Board on July 1, 2015. Priscilla is the president of Square One Foundation, a private family foundation active in civic, educational, and social justice issues. She is a founding member of Impact 100 Chicago, on the board of the Chicago Children’s Choir, and is the immediate past chair of High Jump, an organization that serves academically talented and under-resourced middle school students.

She has served as vice president of the League of Women Voters of Chicago and as a board member at the Latin School of Chicago, the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, and the Jewish Women’s Foundation.

At the University of Chicago, Priscilla served on the governing board of the UChicago Charter School. She has been a member of the Steering Committee of the Women’s Board since 2011, was a founding co-chair of the UEI Partners Committee, and participated in the Women’s Board Grants Committee in spring 2015.

Priscilla holds a BA from the University of Michigan and an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. She and her husband, University of Chicago Trustee Steven A. Kersten, JD'80, have three children, Sam, Ben, and Allie.