Jane Bell Gladding


Today, we held the ribbon cutting for Gladding Residence Center. The center is named after an accomplished person who helped make VCU the university it is today. 

Seventy-one years ago, RPI hired a pioneering woman—Jane Bell Gladding. Throughout her life she broke scientific barriers and glass ceilings.

Before coming to RPI, Mrs. Gladding graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a chemistry degree from Smith College in Massachusetts and had a fascinating career in the scientific field.

As a scientist, she worked alongside an experimental surgeon named Raymond C. Parker at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research in NYC. In 1934, Dr. Parker published an influential paper called “Studies on Organogenesis” in the Journal of Experimental Medicine in which he credits Jane Bell Gladding—who was then just 25 years old—for conducting the biochemical experiments that led to his landmark findings. Raymond Parker did amazing work and he’s credited for opening the door to Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine. However, Parker wasn’t a chemist,  so he relied on Gladding’s expertise.

Gladding also conducted chemistry experiments for Alexis Carrel, a biologist and surgeon who won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his work in vascular suturing, a procedure that eventually made organ transplantation possible.

Keep in mind that Jane Bell Gladding’s incredible work as a chemist came in the 1930s, when 26 states had laws prohibiting the employment of married women like her. The belief at the time was if a woman was employed, she was stealing a job from a man.

Along with her husband, Jane Bell Gladding came to Richmond to work at the Virginia-Carolina Chemical Corporation. It was one of the largest chemical companies and was later bought by Mobil Oil.

In 1947, RPI asked Gladding to work with chemistry students as a lab assistant. Soon, she was on faculty and taught five classes a week.

Jane Bell Gladding would go on to serve as Dean of Women at RPI and as associate dean of students at VCU until she retired in 1973. She was a tireless advocate for students and worked to ensure they had a first-class educational experience.

Working with SGA and Honors Council, Gladding opened the first “Ask It Booth” in 1972 to help students having difficulty navigating college. She answered questions about how to find buildings, how to meet with administrators, what classes to take and what books to buy. She once helped a young girl who came to the booth asking where to find water so her thirsty dog could get a drink. Gladding told her because she helped everyone. That’s just what she did.

I didn’t have the honor of knowing Jane Bell Gladding personally. But I see her legacy every day at the university she helped build. News reports described her as “elegant…wise…and graceful.”

As we dedicate a residence hall named in her honor, I think of her enduring efforts to help students succeed. I see the historic growth in our graduation and retention rates, especially among underrepresented students. I imagine she would be as proud as I am of the work the university community is doing to help students succeed.

I think of Jane Bell Gladding’s remarkable career as a chemist and dean and I see the amazing research, creativity, and innovation coming from VCU—a leading research university in the 21st century—and I am grateful for her legacy of excellence.