Hamilton shatters Stamford’s glass ceiling

Stamford Board of Education interim superintendent Winifred Hamilton in her office in Stamford, Conn., Sept. 27, 2011. Photo: Keelin Daly / Stamford Advocate

When Winifred Hamilton was approved as superintendent Tuesday evening, it marked the first time a woman has been permanently placed in the city’s highest education position — after 121 years of 19 men holding the post.

Board of Education member Jackie Heftman was the first to make note of Tuesday night’s historical significance in a city that has always been run by men both on the education and city sides (there has never been a female mayor or police chief in Stamford, either).

“I will be very proud to be part of the Board of Education that appoints the first female superintendent in this city,” Heftman said early on during the meeting.

Hamilton served as acting and interim superintendent prior to Tuesday’s appointment, making her the second woman to direct the district on a temporary basis. As reported in a story  last summer examining Stamford’s “glass ceiling,” Helen Tobin had served as interim a total of three times — but always handed the permanent position off to a man. From that story:

Stamford Public Schools appointed its first superintendent, Everett L. Willard, in 1891. Another eight men served in that post, for an average of 7.5 years each, through 1959, when the reins were handed over to Helen A. Tobin.

Tobin held those reins for the district three times through the 50s, 60s and 70s. But she always had to give them back.

Though Tobin served three times as acting superintendent for the district, she was never appointed permanent superintendent.

In a 1973 interview with The Advocate regarding her retirement after 47 years in the district, Tobin said she never wanted to become permanent superintendent.

“When you are an acting superintendent everyone flocks to your support — the principals, the coordinators, everybody — and they all put their shoulders to the wheel. But I have been very happy in every instance when a man superintendent came in to take over the job,” she said then.

Having a woman superintendent in Connecticut is far from an anomaly. According to the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, 50 of the state’s 156 permanent public school superintendents are women. It’s a post Connecticut women have been holding since 1975, when Edythe J. Gaines was named superintendent of schools in Hartford, according to Bambi Mroz at the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame.

“I don’t think that she had aspirations to be the big shot. She just wanted to do the best she could for the kids, and the city of Stamford as well,” said Helen Tobin’s nephew, James Tobin. Helen Tobin died in 1999, at the age of 94.

“I know that at one point they wanted her to become the superintendent, and she didn’t want to do it,” he said.

To read the full story about Stamford’s (now cracked) glass ceiling, click here.

Maggie Gordon