Linda Koch Lorimer is Senior Counselor to the President of Yale University, and has dedicated her career to higher education. Over her more than two decades at Yale, Lorimer has led major strategic initiatives to support the improvement and internationalization of the university, helping to cement Yale as one of the world’s great global institutions of higher education. A graduate of a women’s college, Lorimer has also contributed extensively to the advancement and education of women.
Born in 1952 in Virginia to Admiral Ferdinand and Elizabeth Koch, Lorimer graduated from Norfolk Academy in Norfolk, Va., in 1971. She went on to study political science at Hollins College, where she was valedictorian and President of Student Government. After graduating from Hollins in 1974, Lorimer enrolled at Yale University Law School where she pursued studies related to not-for-profit and education law and clerked for President Kingman Brewster and his legal advisor Jose Cabranes.
Lorimer graduated from law school in 1977, married a fellow law student and moved to New York City where she joined the firm of Davis, Polk and Wardwell. It wasn’t long, however, before Lorimer found herself back at Yale. In 1978, she returned as Assistant General Counsel and was soon promoted to Associate General Counsel and, in 1981, to Acting Co-General Counsel.
It was during these early years of working at Yale that she caught the attention of then-President Bartlett Giamatti who recognized her administrative strengths and her many talents. In 1983, Giamatti recruited Lorimer as one of Yale’s three associate provosts, making her the youngest person in university history to reach that administrative rank. By 1984, she was Acting Chief of Human Resources and a key member of Yale’s management team during the clerical and technical workers’ strike that year. Her responsibilities included academic and administrative policy for a variety of departments and administrative units. She was also involved in labor negotiations and fundraising in addition to teaching an undergraduate law course. Giamatti referred to Lorimer as his “utility infielder,” a role she has embraced in her work to better the university.
In 1986, Lorimer was offered the position of President at Randolph-Macon Women’s College in Lynchburg, Va. She was the youngest president the college had ever hired, and she was the first woman president. During her tenure, the college doubled its endowment, invested heavily in campus improvements and made substantial academic strides. She also led the college to the forefront of the sustainability movement. Under her leadership, the college was also featured as a case study of effective board-administration teamwork.
While president of Randolph-Macon, Lorimer was elected to the Yale Corporation in 1990. In 1992, she served on the 12-member presidential search committee that sought a replacement for out-going president Benito Schmidt. The committee ultimately selected Richard Levin as the university’s 22nd President. One year later, Levin offered Lorimer an opportunity to return to Yale as Vice President and Secretary, one of only six university officers. Though it was a difficult decision, Lorimer chose to leave Randolph-Macon and return to New Haven to take the job at Yale.
Early in his presidency, Levin announced that one of his highest priorities for the university was to strengthen its relationship with the city of New Haven. Lorimer worked closely with Levin to develop a comprehensive strategy for urban partnership and a renewal of town-campus relations. She also coordinated the Yale Corporation, organizing major public events and serving as Levin’s senior advisor. Under Lorimer’s leadership, the university developed a strategic community relations framework, created the Office of New haven Affairs and University Properties and partnered with New Haven public schools to promote new investments in the downtown area. As a result of her outstanding contributions to economic and human development in New Haven as well as her efforts in neighborhood revitalization, Lorimer was awarded a Special Elm and Ivy Award in 1998.
Under Lorimer’s leadership, the role of Secretary expanded significantly to include overseeing the offices of the Association of Yale Alumni and the Yale University Press, coordinating international affairs and communication and guiding Yale’s use of digital technology to disseminate the university’s intellectual treasury. In 2009, she also assumed oversight of Yale’s sustainability initiative. She also led Yale’s efforts to expand globally with projects including Yale-NUS College and the Yale India initiative. Known as the “incubator” for university projects, Lorimer has a history of taking on new initiatives and overseeing them until they can operate independently. She is considered one of the most adept administrators in higher education.
When Yale President Richard Levin retired in 2013 and his successor, Dr. Peter Salovey, took office, Lorimer’s title changed. She became the Vice President of Global Strategic Initiatives, a position she held until 2015.
Outside of her work at Yale, Lorimer has served on numerous non-profit and corporate boards. She was Chair of the Board of the American Association of Colleges and Universities and Chair of the Board of the Women’s College Coalition. She has also served on more than a dozen non-profit boards and the boards of four public companies. Currently, Lorimer is Vice Chair of the Global Agenda Council (based in Switzerland), focused on envisioning “The Future of Universities,” and serves on the boards of Save the Children, Yale-New Haven Hospital and Hollins University. She is also on the board of the McGraw-Hill Corporation where she serves as the company’s first Presiding Director, one of few women in the corporate world to hold such a post. Lorimer has also received many awards for her work including the Order of Merit from the Government of Argentina for advancing international education (2003), the Sandra Day O’Connor Award from the American Bar Association for board excellence (2008) and the Yale Medal for Outstanding Service to the University (2008), the institution’s highest service award. She has also received four honorary degrees for her efforts to advance women.
Linda Koch Lorimer currently resides in New Haven, Conn., with her husband Charles Ellis, a fellow Yale alumnus and member of the Yale Corporation.
During This Time
1966 - Today: Struggle for Justice
Feminism in the late 1960s was aided by President Kennedy, who formed the President’s Commission on the Status of Women in 1961, and his successor, President Johnson, who backed passage of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibiting discrimination based on race, sex, national origin, or religion. Difficulties in implementing the law through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) led a group of women in 1966 to create the National Organization for Women (NOW), demanding “action to bring American women into full participation in the mainstream of American society now.”
A younger group called for a more radical approach to social change than simply considering what was possible to achieve politically. “Women’s liberation” demanded freedom without limitation. Some took part in consciousness-raising groups, others demonstrated against the Miss America pageant, and many discussed their expectations of mutual enjoyment of sex. They established rape crisis centers, domestic shelters, and women’s studies programs. Title IX of the federal Education Amendments Act also increased pressure on universities to hire more women faculty and expand the number of female college athletes. Activist protest among gays and lesbians, such as the Stonewall Riot, symbolized this group’s potential to resist oppression.
Under pressure, many states repealed legislation prohibiting abortion. In 1973, the Supreme Court legalized its availability to women in Roe v. Wade. Also in 1973, the Senate and the House of Representatives passed the ERA, and states began its ratification.
Yet, dissension arose in the ranks of the movement, as it had earlier after passage of the 19th amendment. Feminists disagreed as to whether pornography should be banned or protected as a form of free speech, and whether lesbian identities should be kept secret or disclosed. Black women were more concerned with poverty and welfare in their communities than with personal career advancement; for them, sterilization abuse was more important than abortion, and they were deeply insulted by attacks on the African American family as matriarchal and dysfunctional.
A backlash was growing in the 1970s, along with a New Right in politics. The ERA was defeated and opposition to abortion increased. Conflicts between pro-life and pro-choice candidates have impacted every presidential campaign since then.
Still, gains have been made in many areas. From 1960 to 2000, increasing numbers of women sought entry to higher education, and bachelor’s degrees awarded to them increased from forty to sixty percent. Definitions of marriage have changed, as when courts gave full rights and responsibilities and the name of marriage to same-sex civil unions in Connecticut in 2008. The Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings in 1991 highlighted concern about sexual harassment on the job, and the number of sexual harassment cases filed with the EEOC have increased, as have judgments in favor of the women. Finally, in 2009, women crossed the fifty percent threshold and became the majority of the American workforce. Once largely confined to repetitive manual jobs, now they are running organizations that once treated them as second-class citizens.
The Women’s Movement has changed women’s lives, influenced the economy, and made debate about their roles, family life, and sexual conventions central to national politics and American history.
Special thanks to Barbara E. Lacey, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of History, St. Joseph's College (Hartford, CT) for preparing these historical summaries.