The McMillan-Stewart lectures are coordinated by the MIT Program in Gender and Women's Studies and are organized by the holder of the namesake chair, Lerna Ekmekçioğlu, of the MIT History Faculty since 2011. Endowed by Geneviève McMillan, http://mcmillanstewart.org/, the lectures provide a space for scholars, artists, journalists, activists, and other experts to reflect on issues related to women in the developing world, specifically (but not exclusively) in the Middle East and North Africa. Lectures are free and open to the public.
Born in 1922 in Orthez in the French Pyrenees, Geneviève Lalanne arrived in Paris in 1943. She earned a bachelor's degree in English at the University of Bordeaux and was one of the first women to graduate from the École des Sciences Politiques, the leading school in France for public administration.
In 1944, after the liberation of Paris, she met Robert McMillan, an American officer and an architect. He introduced his future wife to Madeleine Rousseau and her salon in Paris. Rousseau was a collector of African and Oceanic art and sparked that interest in Geneviève (who was also known as Ginou). She became Ginou's mentor. By 1946, Mrs. McMillan had earned her college degree, married McMillan, and left for the United States. The McMillans divorced in 1950 and Mrs. McMillan moved from their house in Lexington to Cambridge. In 1950, Mrs. McMillan opened Henry IV, one of the first French restaurants in the Boston area, which had a pastry shop and a nightclub. She brought in a chef from France. The restaurant, which was downstairs in the two-family house Mrs. McMillan had purchased in Harvard Square, attracted such artists and writers as William Faulkner, Thornton Wilder, and Juan Miró.
Although Mrs. McMillian had not started out wealthy, she was a successful businesswoman who acquired properties around Harvard Square, which helped her build her collection and support the arts, civil rights, and various political causes. She also shared her wealth with others.
For long year Mrs. McMillan expanded her collection of African art which she eventually devoted to Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. She also sponsored and mentored young students from African countries. She was especially willing to help women from the developing countries to improve themselves through education. In order to facilitate the advancement of knowledge in this direction, Mrs. McMillan endowed a chair and lecture series at M.I.T. She named the chair after her late friend Reba Stewart, a talented artist who died in 1971 after having contracted malaria in Africa where she had visited to paint.
Biographical information on Mrs. McMillan is adopted from Boston Globe’s May 24, 2008 obituary and is mostly based on an interview with Mrs. McMillan’s longtime friend Anne Marie Stein, dean at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design.