The first female students move in to the dorms on South Quad in front of the Hammes Bookstore, September 2, 1972.
Source: University of Notre Dame Archives.

Coeducation: It's Official

Going Coed

The two schools would continue the co-exchange program, and Father Hesburgh would keep the door open to a future unification, but Saint Mary's College would continue as an all-women's college, and Notre Dame would prepare for coeducation, to begin in September of 1972.

In March 1972, an Advisory Committee for Coeducation was created to ease the upcoming transition. The men and women of the committee met to determine what steps were necessary to complete by the fall or in the near future. They also contacted schools, such as Yale and Princeton, which had recently become coeducational, to thoroughly study and consider what issues might arise.

The committee submitted their report with both short- and long-term goals. One of the first goals mentioned was the need to hire more women at all levels at the University. Not only would that be an important move in and of itself, but it would be vitally important for the new female students. Then the hall staff needed to be hired for Badin and Walsh as soon as possible in order to aid in the transition. The committee called for permanent general improvements to the dorms, but also temporary additions to the halls.

The committee encouraged the University to create a Center for Women. This Center would allow women an open space to discuss issues specific to them, to utilize the women at Notre Dame and Saint Mary's as resources, and to promote ongoing communication with the current campus community and incoming students.

In May 1972, in response to the coeducation committee report, Father Hesburgh offered his reflections in the Observer on the changes to come in the fall. He asked them to consider what coeducation would mean at Notre Dame, how they would change, and how the University would be transformed. He echoed the committee's report in his mention of the need for general "reflection, dialogue, discernment, and openness to change."

With just a few short months until the start of the fall semester, there was much to be accomplished on campus, most immediately, the transition of Walsh and Badin halls. For security, outdoor lights were installed, as well as a card-lock system in each hall, and women security guards were hired to staff the halls seven nights a week. The rooms were outfitted with curtains and full-length mirrors, and the basements were equipped with coin-operated washing machines and dryers, and an ironing room. Elsewhere on campus, a few changes were made as well. The infirmary was enlarged and divided, locker space was added at the Athletic and Convocation Center (or ACC-later renamed the Joyce Athletic and Convocation Center, or JACC), and the campus bookstore expanded its inventory.

The Women Arrive

A female student walks on campus in the rain, September 2, 1972.
Source: University of Notre Dame Archives.


The first women arrived in early September-125 freshmen and 240 transfer students. The first year of coeducation, the ratio of male to female undergraduate students was 17:1. According to the assistant rector of Badin Hall at the time, Susan Bennett, "There were actually fewer women on campus the first year of coeducation than in prior years because the exchange program with Saint Mary's was cut back." It was that much more important to make the new students feel welcome at Notre Dame. A picnic and celebration were held on South Quad, and a banner hung from South Dining Hall that read, "We're Glad You're Here."

Coeducation Picnic on South Quad outside of South Dining Hall, with a banner that reads "We're Glad You're Here," September 14, 1972.
Source: University of Notre Dame Archives.


Male and female students walking on campus, c. 1970s.Photo by J.J. Cottrell.
Source: University of Notre Dame Archives.


Many women in those early days, as chronicled in the book, Thanking Father Ted, remembered Father Hesburgh's comforting presence on campus. Susan Bennett, the first woman assistant rector of Badin Hall, recalled:

He kept a watchful eye on the integration process of the new women at ND. He seized every opportunity to reinforce the positive aspects of this culture change without patronizing the women or placating the men. He was truly a role model for his faculty and staff. He was a source of strength for those of us fighting the daily wars and/or supporting the young women students.

A collage featuring Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh and Badin Hall residents, c. 1970s.
Source: University of Notre Dame Archives.


Kathleen Cekanski, the first woman rector of Badin Hall, remembered Father Hesburgh offering encouragement to the young women one evening:

He told us ... that walking down this new path was worth the fight. If we were going to make a positive impact on the university, we had to make a stand. We deserved to be here. Father's eloquence and presence meant a lot to each of the women that night.

Whether or not women had active social lives that first semester, they generally thrived in the classroom. The first class of undergraduate women at Notre Dame averaged a higher GPA than the men.

Many thought the first year was a success but that the transition was going too slowly; however, the administration agreed on a gradual transition to coeducation. Richard Conklin, Notre Dame's spokesperson during that time, later explained in Thanking Father Ted, "[t]his restriction [on female enrollment] was actually dictated by the university's single-sex residence hall policy, but it also served to phase in coeducation, which helped the transition."

Over the next few years, three more former men's dorms were converted to women's residences-Breen-Phillips, Farley, and Lyons. All the while, more and more men were moved to the remaining crowded men's halls or were forced to find housing off campus. As the number of religious women began to decline on campus, Lewis Hall was opened to laywomen in 1975. At this point, women made up about 20% of the student body. No more hall changes were made until 1981, when two new women's residence halls were added-Pasquerilla East and Pasquerilla West. Women then made up about 25 percent of the student body. After that, the numbers of women and new or converted residence halls would steadily increase.

A Better Place

In the interview Father Hesburgh gave for Thanking Father Ted in February 2007, he reflected, "Notre Dame is a much better place than it once was. It was always a great place. I think it was a great place because it was under the name and patronage of a woman. We couldn't have a better patroness or be named after a better person." He also said, "I think we are a much healthier place today. We are certainly a more intellectual place today. We are certainly a more cultural place today. And I have to say we are a better place today because about 50 percent of our students today are women."

Father Hesburgh concluded:

[T]o all of the daughters of Notre Dame, I would like to say I can't tell you how proud I am of the fact that you all bear Notre Dame degrees. By your lives and your goodness, you have changed the world in many ways. There is no telling how much more you can change the world. But, I can tell you how much the world needs changing. It is getting to be a pretty coarse, ugly kind of place. It needs the kind of refinement that only women can bring to human life. I have to thank you for the enormous loyalty you've shown to Notre Dame. It was no mistake to bring you into the family and to make you full-fledged members, half the population. You've given Notre Dame a whole new meaning in the life of women and marriage and family and education, business, and law.

List of Women's Firsts at Notre Dame

Year First
1885 First woman to be awarded the Laetare Medal: Eliza Allen Star
1917 First women to receive graduate degrees from Notre Dame: Sister Mary Frances Jerome (MA) and Sister Mary Lucretia (MS), both Sisters of the Holy Cross
1918 Notre Dame conferred its first honorary degree on a woman: Ellen Ryan Jolly
1922 First women to receive undergraduate degrees from Notre Dame:
Sister Mary Aloysi Kiener (Sisters of Notre Dame, Cleveland, Ohio)
Sister Margaret Mary (Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine, Lakewood, Ohio)
Sister Mary Josephine (Ursuline Sisters of Brown County, Ohio)
Sister Mary Veronique (Sisters of the Holy Cross, Notre Dame, Indiana)
Antoinette Semortier (South Bend, Indiana)
1932 Graduate school officially open to women
1965 First female full-time faculty assistant professor in the general program: Sister Suzanne Kelly, OSB
First lay female professor (would also be the first woman to earn tenure): Dr. Josephine Massingberd Ford
1966 First woman principal commencement speaker: Barbara Ward
1970 First female Law School graduate: Grace Olivarez
1971 First female undergraduate admitted (of coed cohort): Mary Ann Proctor
First female Vice President: Sister M. Alma Peter
First female on Board of Trustees: Rosemary Parks
1972 First woman to receive a bachelor's degree in Business Administration: Mary Eileen Davey
1973 First female graduating class (of coed cohort)
First female dean of the College of Arts and Letters: Sister Isabel Charles
1974 First female valedictorian: Marianne O'Connor
1975 First female editor of the Dome: Susan Darin
1976 First woman chair of a capital campaign: Ernestine Morris Carmichael Raclin
First women's varsity sports: Fencing and Tennis
First female monogram winners:
Mary Behler (tennis)
Catherine Buzard (fencing)
Jane Lammers (tennis)
Christina Marciniak (fencing)
Kathleen Valdiserri (fencing)
1977 First female editor of the Observer: Martha Hogan (SMC)
1980 First female Marching Band drum major: Linda Batista (SMC)
1981 First ND female Marching Band drum major: Toni Faini
2001 First female student body president: Brooke Norton
2005 First female president of the Notre Dame Monogram Club: Julie Pierson Doyle
2006 First Irish guardswoman, Molly Kinder

The ND/SMC Relationship

Excerpt from Fr. Hesburgh's Oral History Interviews
Fr. Hesburgh talks about Notre Dame's relationship with Saint Mary's College


Well, when I came onto the scene, came to school at Notre Dame, it was a very ambivalent relationship. Guys would go over there on Sunday afternoon, the only time they were allowed, at two o'clock, could stay till four, sit in the big parlor, and at four a nun would come in and ring a bell and everybody had to go home. That was about it. And then there was often bad feeling back and forth. I don't know why. It was kind of a love-hate relationship, a lot of love, and-hate is too strong-but . . . Things were not really-they were too competitive. They weren't really, I didn't think, what they should have been. And I made a resolution as I started to get into administration, I was going to do everything possible to correct that. I went over and gave a retreat at Saint Mary's to the women. And I used to always favor anything that gave them a sense of welcome at Notre Dame.

Joining Forces

Excerpt from Fr. Hesburgh's Oral History Interviews
Fr. Hesburgh talks about the merger that almost was


We thought, honestly, the best way to solve the problem of getting more women into our orbit was to join forces with them.

There was much discussion back and forth about this, and everybody was in favor of it. If you had taken a vote in 1952 about whether or not Notre Dame should be coeducational, 95 percent of the students would have said, "No, we like it male the way it is." In the early 1960s, I would guess it would probably go-only 60 percent would say no. And by the time we were into the Co-Ex, there were just no questions, and it was going up very fast, beyond 95 percent, in fact, probably close to 100 percent, if you can get it in any human body. And it was obviously the time when we should go coeducational, either directly or through the Saint Mary's route. Now because of our long association, over 125 years with Saint Mary's, we felt that we really should try first to do it with them, not in kind of distinction from them. Our idea was very simple and quite straightforward. I'd say if I could put it in the most simple terms, as we began to talk merger after some experience with Co-Ex, it was that we would have one faculty, we would have one extended campus, we would admit all women to Saint Mary's, or through Saint Mary's, if you wanted to put it that way. All degrees would be Notre Dame degrees, but in the case of women they would have underneath The University of Notre Dame, "Saint Mary's College grants the degree," et cetera. We would have a common board of trustees. We would have a common endowment, common budget, common everything, really. We would do everything we could to integrate the two campuses.

More on the Breakup

Excerpt from Fr. Hesburgh's Oral History Interviews
Fr. Hesburgh talks about Notre Dame's relationship with Saint Mary's College


While we thought we were talking about the same thing, we were really talking about two different realities. They wanted to preserve their particular way of living and operating and not be interfered with by all these men running around. And we, on the other hand, were looking at a coeducational type thing that would integrate us completely and totally. The word kept coming up, "We're going to lose our identity," and I guess the only answer to that is that when you merge two things something gets lost. Something greater emerges, but something does get lost. And I don't think any question about it, that Saint Mary's as an independent college would have been lost. And I'm not all that sorry that the merger didn't work, in retrospect. I think there is now, contrary to what was being thought of then, there is a place for all-women's schools. And I think there are women who can get into Saint Mary's and enjoy Saint Mary's and have all the advantages of Notre Dame, from a distance. And maybe in the long run that's a better experience for them than being at Notre Dame as a woman in what has long been an all-male school and now is a predominately male school until you throw in Saint Mary's. That balances the thing out fairly well now.

Notre Dame Goes Coed

Excerpt from Fr. Hesburgh's Oral History Interviews
Fr. Hesburgh talks about the transition to coeducation


Anything else you'd like to say about coeducation?

No. I think we left off the most important thing, that at the end of this whole discussion we decided to go coeducational. We started it quietly. We dropped men for the women we accepted, up to 1500. So we had 1500 less men and 1500 women added into the total body. Then we decided that was too few, and after discussion with Saint Mary's we went up to 2,000 women. We're completing that this year, I believe. To do that we had to get new residence halls, Pasquerilla, and that was a marvelous thing that that came along at precisely that time or we couldn't have done it. I don't believe in women living off campus at Notre Dame in any large numbers.

The other thing to say is, the effect of coeducation, I think, has been monumentally beneficial to Notre Dame. I've lived when it was an all-men's school for most of the time up until 1972. Then I've lived ten years there since. And I wouldn't trade the reality we have today for all those other years when it was all male.



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