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More than 80 years after Bentley’s doors opened to women, four of ‘the firsts’ tell their tales
Much of history is a book filled with the stories of men, written by men — and the Bentley of 1917 was no exception to the times: a school founded by a man for male accountants. Thankfully for the university as it stands today, in 1941 women were not only finally, officially admitted to Bentley, but accepted, supported and celebrated.
It’s time to fully witness this journey of more than eight decades. Let’s start by peeling back the sepia filter on four of their number: Bentley women who never intended to pioneer a thing but, just by being themselves, helped write history for all who followed.
A String of Pearls
1945, Exeter, New Hampshire
For almost 100 years, the Robinson Female Seminary was housed in the old Exeter town hall. Each school day, flocks of girls raced up and down the grand Victorian mansion to class, studying history and English, geology and domestic science. Mary (Durgin) Kline ’48 was one of Robinson’s star math pupils. For her, numbers were as easy to piece together as the colors in a quilt. All it took was a quick step back to see the pattern.
Eight miles up the road and a generation back, the names Durgin and Gallant had meant something. The silk mill, the grocery store, the bank — Mary’s family practically owned the town of Newmarket. But, with two world wars and the hospitalization of her father, Mary was waiting tables and doing odd jobs from 13 on.
It was her bookkeeping teacher who approached Mary about an accounting school in Boston. “You have a flair for it,” she said.
Mrs. Durgin didn’t approve. Her daughter at an all-boys school, in the city? All by herself? But Mrs. Durgin also realized that, someday, Mary would marry. What if something happened to Mary’s husband, as it had to hers?
1945, Chelsea, Massachusetts
Saturday mornings meant citrus and stacking for Rosaline ’48 and Eunice ’51 Berkowitz. Mountains of oranges. Pyramids of grapefruit. Weekends were a busy time at the family’s kosher grocery store. Fresh produce was their best marketing — and math lesson. Mrs. Berkowitz was a whiz at weighing and calculating each order in her head, and she expected the same of her daughters.
The girls did not disappoint, and never would.
Their father had passed away when Ros was 12 and Eunice 9, bonding them even closer to their mother, a Ukrainian immigrant. “How did I get two crazy children like this?” she’d ask in Yiddish. In their tight-knit Jewish corner of the city, friends looked out for Mrs. Berkowitz. A neighbor offered bookkeeping work to Ros: five days a week for $10. After two months, she was already making $12.
Ros loved numbers because the answer was either right or wrong; there was no in-between. When you finish the job, she reasoned, you know you’re right because everything balances out.
One day she rushed home to tell Eunice: “Bentley’s is admitting women.” That was Mr. Harry C. Bentley’s School of Accounting and Finance, and Ros was desperate to go. But when her letter came, the envelope was as thin as a deli slice. Mrs. Berkowitz grabbed their coats and drove them to Boylston Street.
“We’re all booked up,” said Maurice Lindsay, then professor and future president of the school. The war had ended, he explained, and the boys were coming home. Ros tried not to cry — the end of the war was a miracle — but she couldn’t help it. She wanted and deserved a seat.
Professor Lindsay leaned forward. “Go home,” he said. “You’ll hear from me in a week or so.”
1940, Lawrence, Massachusetts
Elizabeth McAuliffe ’45 always worried about leaving her mother alone.
Mrs. McAuliffe’s first “shock” came when Elizabeth was 14 — a stroke that left her in no position to work. Elizabeth thrived in math and history at school, but the latter didn’t earn much on Main Street. A local auto repair shop hired her as an accountant and teller. She also found work with the area’s first “superstore” that sold all kinds of food and goods. In the limited free time she could muster, she made it out to Canobie Lake Park on a Saturday night to see acts like Tommy Dorsey, but her days as the breadwinner were long.
Three years later, Elizabeth sent her own application to Bentley’s — and soon found herself sitting in a class taught by the man himself.
Take the ‘B’ Train
Each school day, Elizabeth packed her lunch, kissed her mother goodbye, and caught a ride with Dorothy Keighley ’45 to the Haverhill station. The pair studied or played cards with fellow riders to pass the 45-minute ride to Boylston Street, not a Prudential Center in sight. The classroom they stepped into was more gender balanced than one might imagine. Of the 42 day students, 16 were women.
Harry Bentley was steering his school through another world war.
Twenty-six years earlier, World War I had taken 4 million American men into battle — about 4% of the U.S. population at the time. Turning to coeducation for revenue, Bentley admitted 162 women in the fall of 1918. But when an armistice was declared just three months later, many of these new students rightly suspected that returning servicemen would take or resume all the available accounting jobs. Only three women would graduate. And Bentley’s doors closed to women until it faced the same economic dilemma in 1941.
Even so, Elizabeth never felt a social divide or discrimination for her gender. “We sat side by side with the men, and, no matter who you were, no one was allowed an adding machine,” she remembers. Harry Bentley taught taxation himself and employed Liz and Dorothy for two summers: first, as bookkeepers, and then as test students for his course curriculum and proofreaders of his book.
“He trusted us implicitly,” she says. “Working for him over the summer was wonderful because it was just like being back in school, and he was such a nice man.”
Mary and Ros share Elizabeth’s memory of a kind Harry Bentley. But their first day of class, in 1946, was a bit different.
“All of the women were told to come to the front of the room,” Mary says. “I think there were about five of us girls.” (The commencement program shows eight.) “We were told to sit right up front and stick together.”
For seven hours a day, they took classes in law, taxation, English and corrective script in the company of 392 men. “We felt as women we were equal to every man there.”
Financially, Bentley was a bold bet for Mary and Ros, who were paying the full tuition of $350 (about $4,250 today). The average family income in 1948 was $3,200. But, Eunice says, an accounting degree was assured income, absolutely worth the investment.
In 1949, she took that Bentley wager herself. From their home above the family market, the sisters watched the Tobin Bridge rise and bemoaned the traffic it caused. “I was always late to class!” Eunice laughs. She, like Ros, loved math. In fact, a high school teacher had said she was smart enough for MIT — an observation that sent Mrs. Berkowitz to her brother for advice.
His less-than-encouraging response: “If and when Eunice needs to wash diapers, she won’t need a diploma.”
“So that was that,” says Eunice, who remembers a far better reaction to news of her attending Bentley. “A friend of our mother’s was a butcher and when he heard I was going, he took me aside and said, ‘That’s a good school. The best in the country.’ I knew I’d made the right choice.”
Some Enchanted Evening
After class, Mary either worked as an accountant for a baby product factory downtown or headed straight home to the Franklin Square House, a former hotel that once hosted Ulysses S. Grant and now a working-women’s dormitory in the South End. Curfew was at 11, except on Saturday when the doors were locked at midnight.
With so much school and part-time work, there wasn’t much time for socializing. Respect and discipline for their studies were paramount; that memory is unanimous. But Elizabeth remembers playing hooky with classmates for Ladies Day at Fenway Park, Mary recalls the odd movie for 15 cents, and Ros helped organize a Valentine’s Day dance with male and female students from college clubs around Boston.
“Bentley boys weren’t invited,” Mary says. “But Harry finagled his way in.”
That’s Harry Kline, who made a point of sitting by the pencil sharpener so he could have face time with Mary. Harry Kline, who surprised her by asking her to dance. Harry Kline, who, Mary adds with a smile, “made sure we danced for the rest of our lives.”
Years later, after Harry and Mary had their first son, the couple returned to Boylston Street to see the man who’d unwittingly made their match. “He took the baby,” she says, “and he looked and he said, ‘Well, I finally have a product.’”
As Time Goes By
Mary became a full-time mother after Bentley, working for a short while for her father-in-law. “I was so proud to be able to whip up an accounting system for him,” she says. The Klines spent a few years in South America and relocated 36 times in the U.S. before retiring in Virginia.
Ros also married and devoted her time to motherhood, but returned to accounting when her youngest turned 13. In retirement, her biggest wins have been on the BINGO board, where she has won time and again.
Elizabeth made a name for herself with J.W. Robinson’s, once a prominent shoe purveyor, and has stayed a lifelong learner. She continued her education at Northeastern University, graduating in 1957 and becoming an early adopter of computers in the workplace.
In roles from office manager to controller to accountant, Eunice worked until Mrs. Berkowitz passed away in 1993 at the age of 99. She credits Bentley for helping her continually move up in her career and support her mother.
“You didn’t even have to go for an interview if you didn’t want to,” she says. “If they heard you came from Bentley’s, the job was yours.”
“I can picture walking into the building and there was a big sign up there: Bentley College,” she remembers. “Across the street was the railroad, and that was our campus. I come to Bentley now and I think, ‘Oh, I wish I could’ve come here at this time.’”
The freedom to explore your talents in creative ways, to give time to social growth — that’s what Mary envies most. Ashleigh wishes Mary could be a student again, too. Creative Industries is her major and her résumé has no end of activities, from the Bentley Asian Student Association to the Bentley Women’s Network.
As president of the Bentley Investment Group, Nicole says the respect that Mary experienced still holds across gender lines. While she is one of a few women in the group, “Everyone is pushing to add more balance to the club.”
In 2018, Mary visited the Waltham campus for her 70th reunion. She plans to return this spring for her 75th. She hopes to march down the commencement aisle, leading the way for Nicole and the hundreds of other women who have followed her path. For her, Bentley will always be more than books and Boylston Street.
“It was a happy time in my life, because I hadn’t had much happiness before that,” Mary says. “It was the start of everything.”
We are saddened to note that Elizabeth M. McAuliffe ’45 passed away on April 14, 2023, at age 97.
The Stand-Up Standout
Pat Flynn didn’t resign from her first full-time job because of the women’s liberation movement. She left the almost entirely male ranks at Paine Webber in 1972 because of something she knew personally: Her skills were worth investing in. She was worth investing in. The finance firm seemed to think otherwise, barring women from its stockbroker training program.
Her tenacity started early. The high school senior, known as “Flynn from Lynn” (of the legendary Massachusetts “City of Sin”), sent 50 handwritten scholarship appeals to secure a full ride to Emmanuel College. Next came master’s and PhD degrees in economics from Boston University. She joined the Bentley faculty in 1976, where her work on high-tech economic development, corporate governance and women in business earned wide recognition. That includes stories in The Wall Street Journal and on The Today Show, testimony before the U.S. Congress, and dozens of journal articles and publications. When her son was 7, instead of a book or souvenir, he brought Mom into school for “show and tell.”
Pat was a natural choice for dean of the McCallum Graduate School of Business, which she helmed from 1992 to 2002. As one of only six woman deans in the country at the time, she was in high demand, with offers to join business groups and corporate boards, alumni meetups around the world and more. She served as co-chair of the United Nations Working Group on Gender Equality, which encompasses more than 700 business schools in over 85 countries, and started the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business committee to cultivate women leaders in business education. During her time, Bentley’s Entrepreneurship, Management of Information Systems and Part-time MBA programs earned national top 25 rankings — the foundation for their outstanding reputation today. With plans to retire in June 2023, Pat is excited for what comes next, including further work on mutual fund boards.
Statistics from 2020 in which Pat takes special pride
Women Full Professors
U.S. Business Schools: 23.6%