In Her Own Words

Oct 06, 2019

In the fall of 1972, 325 young women walked onto campus and the Notre Dame family was forever changed.  This summer, some of ND’s first female freshmen – Mary (Dondanville) Rooney, Shayla (Keough) Rumely, Maryrose (Hawkins) Mulvey, Ellen (Ross) Sobczak, and Sue (Schoenherr) Stratta – reminisced about the early days of coeducation on campus. Here are just a few of the stories they have to share.

We were thrilled to be there.

When we applied to Notre Dame in the fall of 1971, each of us indicated that we wanted to apply only to Notre Dame if ND and SMC failed to merge. The sudden collapse of the merger in the spring of 1972 created such a period of uncertainty that finally arriving on campus as Notre Dame students in the fall of that year felt miraculous.

Maryrose Hawkins recalled arriving at Walsh Hall with her mother, who couldn’t help but notice a row of recently removed urinals lined up behind the dorm (an article from the September 6th, 1972 edition of the Observer reports that renovations to convert Badin and Walsh to women’s dorms were still ongoing when students arrived on campus).

But ND’s hasty and seemingly haphazard preparation for women belied the reality of its commitment to codeducation. Fr. Hesburgh, Sr. Jane Pitts (Walsh’s Assistant Rector), Dr. Emil T. Hofman, and others supported us and made us feel like we belonged. We were not separated from the rest of campus; we were part of the community.

Educated like men…

Looking back on the way we were treated, we were educated in the same way that the men were. It was assumed we would have professional careers and we considered our career options to be doctor, lawyer, dentist, engineer, scientist, business woman, or scholar. Despite this, a pre-professional advisor, befuddled by the presence of women in his elite department, made it clear that every “girl” going to medical school took the place of a man, so we felt like we needed to be serious and prove ourselves.

We spent a lot of time talking about our futures, but we didn’t fret about having it all or balancing a career and family. Having gotten into Notre Dame, we were blithely confident that everything would work out.

Often the lone female in many of our classes, we bonded when we got back to the dorm.  This resulted in lifelong friends, best friends still, almost 50 years later.  We got a great education, we had a lot of fun, and we made steadfast, lifelong girlfriends. For our group, this was the lasting legacy of Notre Dame.  

Bathtubs, pianos, and game day chem lab…here are a few funny memories that surfaced.

Freshman year I lived in Walsh, next door to four Junior transfers from St Mary's.  They were so sophisticated and glamorous -- they drank coffee and had loads of male friends -- and we watched their comings and goings enviously.  Their quad had a claw footed tub that they let me soak in on Friday afternoons. – Ellen

I played the piccolo in the marching band, and after practice we ate a late dinner in NDH with the football players. My first time there, I collided with someone with a tray and looked up to see the biggest man I had ever seen in my life.  – Sue

We bought a piano our sophomore year in Farley, and Sr. Jean Lenz wasn’t sure if it was allowed in the dorm so she asked the previous rector. His response: “It’s better than having a horse in the elevator.” – Mary and Shayla

Coming from California, I was sick all the first winter, so I put Vick’s Vapor Rub in a hot pot. Our section had to be evacuated from the fumes. – Maryrose

Football Saturdays were so different. I had a Saturday morning Chem Lab from 8am-noon as a first semester freshman. When we heard the band march by, we raced to finish our experiments and get out of there. – Mary

For the first few weeks of that first semester, the woman of Walsh were all wearing orange-tinted underwear. Apparently, the University had installed new washing machines for our "convenience" (and to save the Holy Cross brothers from having to launder our bras & panties). Unfortunately, the pipes were full of rust, so all of our "Whites" (in the early 70's, most underwear was white) came out sort of peachy. - Sue

We want to hear from all of you — about the swim test, the dining hall, being the only female in class, being the first (fill in the blank) —  as we prepare to celebrate 50 years of undergraduate coeducation in 2022. If you are interested in participating "In Her Own Words," please let us know. Help us shape this project and record history.


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