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Eleanor Birch: Honoring a Trusted Mentor and Advisor

Eleanor BirchSome alumni may remember Professor Eleanor Birch as a tough statistics professor or for her quick Massachusetts accent, warning students each semester, “I will try to talk more slowly if you promise to try to listen more quickly.” To Marie Kidder (MBA80), she was a valuable mentor and leader who supported her dream to have a career in business.

Prof. Birch was a long-time faculty member in management sciences (one of only two female faculty members when she joined the college in 1968), who later became associate dean and director of the MBA Program from 1984 to 1988. She passed away in June 2012.

Prof. Birch so profoundly impacted Kidder’s life that she, along with her husband, Bill (MBA80), established the Eleanor Birch Memorial Fund in her honor with an initial fund balance of $50,000. The fund will provide unrestricted support to promote teaching excellence for the Tippie MBA Program. Their hope is that others will join them in supporting this fund.

As the story goes, a cautious but determined Kidder visited with an advisor in the business college. She was dismissively told that she shouldn’t bother pursuing anything in business largely because she was a woman.

“On my way out, I ran into a friend in the hallway, and he told me not to leave before I spoke with Prof. Birch,” Kidder said. “I walked up five floors to her office, stammered out my story to her, and she immediately offered to help and asked if I could start classes in January.”

Marie and Bill KidderThe rest, as they say, is history, thanks largely to the support of Prof. Birch. Kidder recently retired after 25 years with SC Johnson Co. as the director of global control. During her career, she oversaw corporate finance and information technology, proving Prof. Birch right in her belief that she could succeed despite business being dominated by men.

“Bill and I owe her so much; she made the life we now live possible,” said Kidder, an Iowa City native. “I’m one of many women who owe Prof. Birch for not only believing in us but for encouraging women, who had been pigeonholed into certain professions, to aspire to do more. This is our best way of saying ‘thank you’ and honoring the pioneering woman that she was.”

Nancy Kittle (MA77) agrees that Prof. Birch set an example for all young women.

“She was one of three professors who made my dream of being a pioneer in my field of labor relations a reality. Her appoint­ment as associate dean was a signal to all that accomplishments and ambition will be rewarded and women can achieve the highest levels they aspire to and beyond.”

Join the Kidders in Honoring Eleanor Birch

If you would like to honor Prof. Birch, designate your gift to the Eleanor Birch Memorial Fund on the web at or by mail to the UI Foundation, P.O. Box 4550, Iowa City, IA 52244-4550.

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