Elizabeth Neill Banton ’34 Celebrates Her 103rd Birthday

February 28, 2017
Elizabeth Neill Banton ’34 Celebrates Her 103rd Birthday

When Elizabeth “Betty” Neill Banton ’34 was born women in the United States didn’t yet have the right to vote. On the occasion of her 103rd birthday, Wellesley College celebrates her life---and celebrates the achievements of all women in the last 103 years. Banton has witnessed the first woman: to be appointed to the Cabinet (1933), to earn a Purple Heart (1942); to earn a seat on the New York Stock Exchange (1967); to run a Fortune 500 company (1972); to race in the Indy 500 (1977); to be appointed to the Supreme Court (1981); to go to space (1983); the first Native American woman to become a federal judge (2014); among many other milestones.

During her life she saw: Rosa Parks prompt the Montgomery bus boycott (1955); Dolores Huerta co-found the United Farm Workers (1962); Maria Goeppert Mayer become the first woman from the U.S. to earn the Nobel Prize in Physics (1963); Shirley Chisholm become the first Black woman elected to Congress (1968); Connie Chung become the first Asian American to host a major newscast (1993); the first transwoman to speak at a national political convention (2016); and countless other women who changed the course of history.

When Banton learned that she would be unable to attend her 70th Wellesley reunion in 2004, she penned a letter to her classmates to be read at the event. After recalling some of her “bright and numerous” memories of Wellesley, she ended the message by saying, “We were blessed to have had four years that have given strength and meaning to the years that followed.”

After graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Wellesley, she obtained her master’s degree in Latin from the University of Chicago, and worked toward her Ph.D. at the Catholic University of America and the University of Michigan. She taught French at Southern University in Scotlandville, La., and Latin and English in the public school systems of Washington and Detroit, where her students remember her fondly.

Banton is the widow of Clarence Banton of Detroit, one of Michigan’s 155 Tuskegee Airmen. Following World War II, the Bantons settled in Michigan, and she continues to reside in Detroit. She is the mother of two sons, Clarence and James (deceased). She reads avidly and closely follows current events.

Happy 103th, Ms. Banton!