Power: The 100 Women Who Run This Town

Kathy Spiegelman
50, Chief University Planner, Harvard University
Newly named to oversee Harvard’s controversial Allston expansion, Spiegelman wields extraordinary power over the fate of an entire Boston neighborhood, where the university owns 48 acres it picked up secretly through proxies, plus 90 more it bought last month — the CSX rail freight yards at Allston Landing. Harvard’s investment in Allston will be “in the billions,” according to Harvard Magazine, and the university has already started squeezing out some businesses. (Pepsi, a fixture in Allston for 47 years, was booted out of its 60,000-square-foot distribution facility last year.)

Lisa DeSisto
40, Vice President and General Manager, boston.com
DeSisto sweated out the launch of boston.com in 1995. It was worth the worry. Today, she runs what has become one of the world’s most visited regional Web sites, averaging 3 million page views per day. Online Journalism Review called her one of the 50 names to know in New Media. Number One? Bill Gates. DeSisto is also the first vice president of the Newspaper Association of America’s New Media Federation.

Jamie McCourt
49, Vice President and General Counsel, the McCourt Company
“You underestimate Jamie McCourt at your own risk,” says then-state Senator Stephen Lynch of South Boston. McCourt, a real estate lawyer with an MBA from MIT, is the public face of the private couple that owns 25 acres of the Boston waterfront that will likely be the site of the next major development there, given the paralyzing feud within the rival Pritzker clan, which owns much of the rest. With husband Frank, who is rumored to be in the race to buy the Anaheim Angels, McCourt has a net worth estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars and is heavily involved in charity work.

Charlene Engelhard
48, Philanthropist and arts patron
Engelhard may be quiet, but her money talks for her. The heiress to father Charles Engelhard’s South African mining fortune, she now sits on the board of trustees of his eponymous foundation and directs portions of its $133 million endowment to local organizations. Ever wondered who pays the bills at the Institute of Contemporary Art and the American Repertory Theatre? Certainly not Mitt Romney. Engelhard, along with fellow power listee Barbara Fish Lee, also helped foot the $750,000 bill to start Harvard’s Fogg Museum’s Department of Modern and Contemporary Art five years ago.

Linda Mason
48, Chairman, Bright Horizons Family Solutions
Mason’s Watertown-based company, which she cofounded with husband Roger Brown, is now the world’s largest provider of employer-sponsored childcare and early childhood education. And it’s growing like a preteen. Earnings last year rose 30 percent, and the number of Bright Horizons daycare centers in North America, Britain, and Ireland increased to 465. Mason, who published The Working Mother’s Guide to Life last year, also found time to cofound the Bright Horizons Foundation for Children and Horizons Initiative, which helps homeless Boston-area children. She’s on the board of the Boston Globe and served on Governor Mitt Romney’s transition team.


Pamela McDermott
52, Founder and President, McDermott Ventures
When Russia Wharf, Columbus Center, and the Pritzker family’s Fan Pier on the waterfront are finally developed, each of the hotly anticipated projects will bear the mark of McDermott, a plugged-in public relations and marketing consultant who’s helped pave the way for their construction. After splitting with former partner Thomas P. O’Neill III six years ago, McDermott has built her firm into an enterprise distinguished as much by its high-profile clients as by its versatility: In addition to the Globe and Equity Office Properties Trust (the nation’s largest office building owner), she represents a growing roster of entertainers, including acclaimed Irish tenor John McDermott. (No, they’re not related.)

Jeanette Clough
48, President and CEO, Mount Auburn Hospital; Treasurer, Massachusetts Hospital Association
She took her hits last year when one of her surgeons walked out of an operation to cash a check and the hospital failed to tell the patient right away. But she is still in charge. She has instituted tough cost-saving measures without sacrificing the hospital’s reputation (the aforementioned imbroglio notwithstanding), while spearheading an award-winning patient safety initiative to reduce deadly medical errors. At the Massachusetts Hospital Association, Clough (who becomes chair-elect next month) has successfully lobbied Beacon Hill to increase its contribution to the state’s healthcare safety net. Now, with proposed budget cuts threatening to erase those gains, she’s poised to go head-to-head with the governor.

Virginia Harris
57, Chairman, Board of Directors, First Church of Christ, Scientist
Powerful? This woman runs a whole religion. For the first time, women now control the board of the cash- and property-rich Christian Science Church. And Harris tightened her hold on the Boston-based denomination still more last year with a fawning 5,400-word profile in the Boston Globe Magazine (it gushed about her scarves and her involvement in picking out the colors for the church administration building) and the opening of the $50 million Mary Baker Eddy Library for the Betterment of Humanity. Christian Science officials say the library represents a new era for the church. And not a moment too soon, considering that membership has dropped precipitously.

Joan Wallace-Benjamin
49, President and CEO, the Home for Little Wanderers
“Joan Wallace-Benjamin is the ideal leader.” So said the chairman of the board of the Home for Little Wanderers, Michael Goldberg, as he addressed the 1,000 people who from that point on would be calling Wallace-Benjamin boss. As head since February of the largest child welfare agency in New England, she’ll need all the clout she can muster to keep state funds rolling in (about three-quarters of her budget comes from the government) as Governor Mitt Romney continues his Big Pinch.

Natalie Jacobson
59, Anchor, WCVB-TV
We’ve lost count of how many younger rivals the first woman to anchor an evening Boston newscast has outlasted over the three decades we’ve been welcoming her into our living rooms. We still watch her. We still trust her.