Trailblazer for a Generation
Elizabeth E. “Betsy” Bailey M.S. ’66 Hon. D. Eng. ’00, the first woman to serve on the Civil Aeronautics Board who helped to deregulate the nation’s airlines — among many firsts during a distinguished career in academia, government and industry — died on August 19, 2022, at her home in Reston, Virginia. She was 83.
Bailey, who earned a master’s degree in mathematics from Stevens, launched her career at Bell Laboratories. She later served as a professor and dean at Carnegie Mellon University; as a visiting scholar at Yale; and a professor at the Wharton School, where she was professor emeritus of business economics and public policy. The first woman to receive a Ph.D. in economics from Princeton and the first woman to lead a department at Bell Laboratories, Bailey was inducted into the elite Stevens Hall of Achievement in 2016. She also received the university’s Distinguished Alumni Award – Academia & Government in 2015.
In 1977, President Jimmy Carter appointed Bailey to the Civil Aeronautics Board, where she served for six years and played an instrumental role in the government deregulation of the airline industry. The policy change encouraged competition and helped bring down airline tickets prices for passengers.
“It’s allowed an awful lot of people to travel who couldn’t have afforded to travel before,” she told the Princeton Alumni Weekly.
During her acceptance speech at Stevens’ 2015 Awards Gala, Bailey recalled joining Bell Labs as a computer programmer and technical aid in 1960. Women at the company then were not given the career path to become a member of the technical staff, she said. But when Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, opportunities opened up.
“Bell Labs basically had to review all of its women college graduates and give them the same opportunities to further their education and (to earn) a master’s degree that the men had,” she recalled. “That’s the first pioneering thing that I was part of. It pleased me to no end to come here. … I am truly grateful for the base that Stevens gave me. It enabled me to go on in my career.”
Bailey worked with Bell Laboratories from 1960 to 1977, rising to head of the Economics Research Department.
After serving with the Civil Aeronautics Board, Bailey joined Carnegie Mellon’s Graduate School of Industrial Administration in 1983, where she served as dean. She later joined the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in 1991 where she chaired the Department of Business and Public Policy before retiring in 2010. Her research focused on economic regulation and deregulation, market structure and corporate governance.
As Bailey served as a fierce advocate and mentor for women throughout her career, she also opened possibilities for children with disabilities. As a single mother raising a son with learning disabilities, she was dissatisfied with the opportunities for him, according to The New York Times, and helped to start the Harbor School, a school for children with disabilities in Monmouth County, New Jersey. She cared for her son James for most of his life, The Times reported.
James died in 2018. Bailey is survived by her son, William; four sisters; and two grandchildren.
When she was chief of economic research at Bell Labs, Bailey recalls a male executive instructing her to take notes in the back of the room, assuming she was a stenographer. Serving on the boards of several Fortune 500 companies, she was often the only woman, she said.
“Among women, there’s too much of a tendency to hope that they get noticed,” Bailey told The Christian Science Monitor. “Women need to take their careers into their own hands. True merit doesn’t always shine out — it has to be brought to the boss’ attention.”