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From the Archives: Molly Kinder, the first woman on the Irish Guard

, , and | Monday, September 21, 2020

Diane Park | The Observer

Editor’s Note: This is the first story in a two-part series featuring Molly Kinder. The series will be continued on Wednesday, Sept. 23. The second story was published on Wednesday, September 23.

A Sept. 20, 2000 cartoon published in The Observer features five figures integral to the fight for diversity at Notre Dame. Standing between Frazier Thompson, the University’s first Black graduate, and Michael Brown, the first Black Leprechaun, is a smiling woman, wearing a kilt and a tall, feathered hat. This is Molly Kinder — the first woman on the Notre Dame Irish Guard. 

While Kinder’s story is one of triumph and progress, her experience was far from easy. This week’s edition of From the Archives revisits the “Irish guardswoman,” 20 years after she made history.

Observer archives, Sept. 20, 2000

Molly Kinder auditions, joins the Irish Guard

Sept. 1, 2000 | Colleen McCarthy | Researched by Renee Pierson 

In the fall of 2000, Notre Dame senior Molly Kinder became the first woman to become a member of the Irish Guard. She auditioned her junior year “kind of for kicks,” she told The Observer, but failed to make the group. Kinder auditioned again the following year and finally achieved a goal set at the start of her freshman year: becoming a part of the Irish Guard. In joining the ranks of one of the University’s most iconic traditions, Kinder ended the group’s 51-year all-male tradition.

Standing at 6-foot-3, Kinder met the height requirement that was said to have barred women from joining the Guard in previous years. Kinder put in months of hard work in preparation for her final audition in the months leading up to her senior year, even while studying abroad.

“I practiced marching a lot in the streets of Chile and I think the people thought I was insane,” Kinder said. “When I got home I practiced marching on the football field and just continued to prepare mentally and physically for the audition.” 

Observer archives, Sept. 1, 2000

In response to claims that the all-male tradition of the Irish Guard was broken for the sake of political correctness, Director of University Bands Kenneth Dye insisted that Kinder was accepted to the group simply because she met all of the qualifications — and even surpassed them.

“Molly met every requirement — height and otherwise,” said Dye. “We had the opportunity to watch Molly at all the practices and those who observed her audition were unanimous that her performance was excellent.” 

Kinder said she received a generally positive response after being selected, and felt accepted by the rest of the group. However, the members of the Guard declined to comment on her addition.

Kinder expressed great excitement leading up to her first football game as a part of the group, and emphasized her commitment to being “as full of an Irish Guard member as possible.” 

Notre Dame student disapproves of Kinder’s position

Aug. 31, 2000 | Anthony Farina | Researched by Elizabeth Carter

Kinder’s acceptance to the Irish Guard represented a historic moment in Notre Dame’s history. However, not all members of the Notre Dame community supported her presence on the Guard. In response to the news of Kinder’s selection, Anthony Farina (’99) wrote a Letter to the Editor to express his disappointment.

The letter opens with pointed criticism of Dye, the band director who allowed Kinder to join the Irish Guard. Farina questioned the motives behind Dye’s decision, implying that Kinder’s acceptance to the Irish Guard was due to a desire for political correctness rather than her own aptitude for the position. 

“These are hardly reasons to end a 50-year, time-honored tradition,” Farina argued.

Emphasizing the importance of tradition at Notre Dame, Farina continued to criticize Dye by accusing him of “forever defaming the image of the Irish Guard.” Declaring his lack of sympathy for both Kinder and Dye, Farina suggested that the two deserved any criticism they faced because “they willingly broke a tradition and put themselves in this position.”

“I do feel somewhat sorry for the other members of the Irish Guard,” Farina added, “because they will now find it difficult to continue their own traditions with a female among them and will likely receive unjustified scrutiny if they should exclude her from any activity.”

Farina further expressed his disapproval by adding that Dye’s decision caused him “feelings of anger and nausea.” Concluding with his wish that Dye would eventually regret his choice, Farina’s hostile letter exemplified the opposition Kinder faced as the first female member of Notre Dame’s Irish Guard.

Band’s Head Drum Major responds to disapproval of Kinder

September 1, 2000 | Jim McFarlin | Researched by Maggie Clark

But where there was criticism, there was also praise. Kinder’s addition was also a source of pride and an example of progress in the eyes of other members of the Notre Dame community. 

In particular, Jim McFarlin (‘01), the band’s head drum major at the time, called upon students to take pride in the Guard’s new addition. Writing in response to Anthony Farina’s article claiming that Molly Kinder was wrong in breaking tradition, McFarlin argued Farina misrepresented the Guard’s “traditions” — although a woman had never been in the Irish Guard, there was no rule preventing women from joining.

“The fact that a woman has never been in the Guard before is not a ‘time-honored tradition,’” McFarlin argued, “it is a matter of circumstance.”

Observer archives, Sept. 1, 2000

McFarlin noted that height and marching capabilities were the only qualifications necessary for the Irish Guard, and Kinder met those expectations.

“Anyone present at band auditions would have observed that Molly marched an outstanding audition,” McFarlin wrote. Like many other members of the campus community, he viewed Kinder’s position in the Irish Guard as a step in the right direction for Notre Dame. 

“I feel that Molly exemplifies the spirit of the Fighting Irish,” McFarlin wrote, “and I am proud to lead the band with Molly Kinder as a member of the Irish Guard.”

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