Wellesley College Names Harvard’s Paula A. Johnson Its New President

She's the first African American president in the school's history.

Courtesy Photo

Courtesy Photo

Wellesley College has named Harvard University’s Paula A. Johnson its new president, making her the first African American to lead the private, women’s, liberal-arts college in its 146-year history.

The school’s trustees selected Johnson after an eight-month search that began after H. Kim Bottomly announced she would step down as president this summer after nine years at the helm of Wellesley College.

“The search committee was fortunate to have an exceptionally strong pool of candidates to consider, and was unanimous in recommending Dr. Johnson to the Board of Trustees,” said trustee and presidential search committee chair Debora de Hoyos in a release. “Even among a superb group of candidates, Dr. Johnson stood out through her record as a scholar and leader, together with her passion for women’s advancement, education, and well-being, the energy and insights she conveyed in our discussions, and her enthusiasm for Wellesley.”

Johnson currently serves as chief of the Division of Women’s Health at Harvard Medical School, as well as Brigham and Women’s Hospital, where she founded and serves as executive director of the Connors Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology.

“I am honored and humbled to be asked to serve as Wellesley’s president, and I view this presidency as the capstone of my career, which has been devoted to the advancement of women through education and faculty development, and by working to improve their health and well-being,” Johnson said. “On a personal note, the vital role that the College has played in educating women who impact the world in every domain has been very near and dear to my heart. I have spent my entire career literally 20 minutes from the Wellesley campus, and for nearly 27 years, I have been the daughter-in-law of a very proud Wellesley alumna.”

Elected to the National Academy of Medicine, the former Boston Public Health Commission chair gave a TED talk in 2013 on the differences between how men and women respond to treatment.

“Paula Johnson is the perfect person to steer Wellesley into the future,” said Laura Daignault Gates, chair of the Wellesley College Board of Trustees. “As the College approaches its 150th year, we are steadfast in our mission to provide an excellent liberal arts education for women, because it is clear that the liberal arts and the concept of a women’s college are as important and as valid today as they have been at any time in the past.”

Johnson attended Harvard and Radcliffe Colleges, earning her MD and MPH degrees from Harvard. A Brooklyn native, she lives in Brookline with her husband, two children, and a Havanese puppy.

Johnson will begin her duties as president on July 1.