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ND’s first women make book donation

Madeline Buckley | Monday, September 7, 2009

As part of one of the first coeducational classes at Notre Dame, Ann Therese Palmer quickly learned to blend in with the men.

Being a woman at a university that had been reserved for men since its founding in 1842 wasn’t always comfortable.

A member of the class of 1973, after the University went coed in 1972 under the leadership of University President Emeritus Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, Palmer said women were a minority on campus – and they stood out because of it.

“It was a real shock to go into the [Hammes Notre Dame] Bookstore today and see all of the Notre Dame clothing in hot pink,” Palmer said. “Women wouldn’t have been caught dead in pink or chick clothing. You’d be setting yourself up to be the punch line of a joke.”

But the women rallied.

“One of my best friends was a government major. She had a required class on the fourth floor of the Dome in the spring semester … The professor said he’d taught at ND for 25 years, never taught a woman and wasn’t starting now. He threw her out of the class,” Palmer said.

She ended up in the Dean’s office, who sent her back to the class. She was a human ping-pong ball for about a week, until she called her brother, who was at Tulane, for advice. He said she needed to stick it out and get the top score on the first quiz and shut him up, which is exactly what she did.

Along with a group of Notre Dame alumnae who wanted to give back to Notre Dame, Palmer, president of the Thanking Fr. Ted Foundation, collected letters from women graduates of Notre Dame and edited them into a book: “Thanking Father Ted: Thirty-Five Years of Notre Dame Coeducation.”

The Foundation, made up of Notre Dame alumnae, decided to donate about 1,000 books to the women of the class of 2013 as well as give the proceeds from book sales to the University in order to fund a scholarship for a female to attend Notre Dame.

“To date, through individual donations and the sales of our book, we’ve collected more than $150,000 to fund a scholarship for an undergraduate student,” she said. “The Development Office recently told us the scholarship will be awarded for the first time next year to an undergraduate student.”

The books will be distributed to the women through their residence halls.

Secretary of the Thanking Fr. Ted Foundation Sheila O’Brien, a member of the class of 1977, said the book is a good way for current Notre Dame women to hear stories about past Notre Dame women.

“Giving back to Notre Dame is something we really wanted to do,” she said. “Giving the book to the first years, it’s fun to tell the story of women at Notre Dame. Women need to hear the stories of other women.”

Palmer said she also believes it’s important for current Notre Dame women to hear the stories of the women who preceded them at Notre Dame.

“We realized a few years ago that women on campus today have no idea what it was like to be a coed pioneer. Today, it’s a given that women are accepted on campus, accepted as equals in the classroom, in extra-curriculars, in sports,” she said. “But, each of these givens has been the result of women groundbreakers. They weren’t handed to us on a silver platter.”

Palmer said she owes her degree to Hesburgh and said he took a lot of criticism for instituting the change to coeducation.

“He was a night owl, would start around noon and work through until the early hours. If you needed to talk to him, you always knew you could find him in his office around 1 a.m.,” she said. “It was very comforting because he always knew what to say to make us feel good and make us feel we could succeed, no matter what the obstacles we were facing.”

Along with being educational, O’Brien said the book is just a fun read.

“There’s a lot of Notre Dame women graduates now and hearing the story is good for all of us and retelling the story and thinking of Notre Dame’s history is good for all of our hearts,” she said. “We’re all part of a great legacy.”