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Observer Editorial: Play like a woman today — recognizing women in tri-campus history

| Friday, March 25, 2022

The Sisters of the Holy Cross opened the door for the tri-campus to welcome women in 1844 with the founding of Saint Mary’s College. Holy Cross followed suit and began enrolling women in 1968, and after Saint Mary’s chose to remain independent of the University in 1970, Notre Dame became coeducational in 1972. 

From the incoming class of women in the fall of 1972 to the very first female leprechaun, The Observer Editorial Board recognizes the accomplishments of women in tri-campus history, especially as Notre Dame marks the 50th anniversary of women on campus. 

Diane Bourke ‘76 and the entire first class of women at Notre Dame paved a path for success at the University in an environment that was not always easy. Their diplomas were not the first awarded to a woman, though. Mary Bliley ‘72, a Saint Mary’s student, began taking classes at the University under the assumption that the schools would merge. When the merger fell through, she fought for and won the right to still earn a Notre Dame diploma, as Saint Mary’s did not offer the major she completed.

Muffet McGraw coached Notre Dame women’s basketball for 33 seasons, including nine Final Four and seven national title appearances. The Irish won their first title with McGraw in 2001 — with a roster featuring current head coach Niele Ivey — and the second in 2018. Over her tenure, McGraw used her platform to advocate for gender equality. At Notre Dame’s 2019 Final Four appearance, McGraw said, “​​We don’t have enough female role models. We don’t have enough visible women leaders.” 

McGraw continues to be the fierce advocate she was throughout her career as a “female role model” in many ways, including teaching a sports leadership course in the Mendoza College of Business. To honor her work, the University plans to erect a statue of McGraw outside Purcell Pavilion. McGraw will be the first woman to have a statue on campus. 

Class of 2013 graduate Skylar Diggins-Smith played under McGraw. We celebrate her individual success and her position as one of many highly skilled female student athletes from Notre Dame. For the Irish, Diggins-Smith was the only player of any gender to amass 2,000 points, 500 rebounds, 500 assists and 300 steals. In her professional career, she joined other WNBA players fighting for equal rights, especially rights in player salaries and benefits. Discussing her fight and success, Diggins-Smith addressed young women with ambitions: “Never, never, never just ‘shut up and work’, or dribble.’”

Katie Conboy earned her doctoral degree in English literature from Notre Dame in 1986, co-edited the book “Writing on the Body: Female Embodiment and Feminist Theory” and is the author of various articles on feminist theory. Conboy was also an award-winning professor and currently serves as the 14th president of Saint Mary’s.

Amy Coney Barrett graduated from Notre Dame Law School (NDLS) in 1997 before working as a law professor for many years. She was appointed as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in 2017 and remained a faculty member at NDLS during her tenure. In October 2020, she was confirmed as an associate justice on the Supreme Court — joining only four other women to have sat on the highest court in the country. 

Condoleezza Rice, Notre Dame class of 1975, was the 66th Secretary of State from 2005 to 2009 and 20th National Security Advisor from 2001 to 2005. She was the first female African-American secretary of state and the first woman to serve as National Security Advisor. She is currently the director of the Hoover Institution, a public policy and research institution promoting personal and economic liberty, at Stanford University. 

Notre Dame class of 1998 graduate Nikole Hannah-Jones won the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 2020 — the highest award in journalism — with her publication of the 1619 Project in 2019. The project launched a national conversation about the origins and legacy of slavery. Hannah-Jones began working as a staff writer at the New York Times in 2015 and has extensively covered racial injustice and inequality.

Hannah Storm, class of 1983, is a journalist and ESPN SportsCenter anchor. She was part of the first ever all-women NFL broadcast team. Storm established the Hannah Storm Foundation to raise awareness, fund treatment and provide educational information for vascular malformation. Throughout her career, she created documentaries on women’s relationships with sports, including “Unmatched” and “Nine for IX.” She also wrote two books, notably one entitled ​​“Go Girl!: Raising Healthy, Confident and Successful Daughters through Sports.”

Lynette Wukie, an alumna of Pasquerilla West Hall — the first women’s dorm on campus —  stepped up in fall 2019 as Notre Dame’s first female leprechaun and a symbol to young women that they belong at Notre Dame. Since Wukie graduated, junior Sophie Bouldoukian has carried on in the role

Marti Hogan, Saint Mary’s class of 1978, was elected as The Observer’s first female Editor-in-Chief (EIC) in 1977. On being EIC, she wrote, “We knew that The Observer would tell a richer story with a staff of men and women working together.” We also celebrate all of the succeeding female EICs and thank them for their remarkable leadership and journalism.

These women embody strength and perseverance, setting unique examples in various disciplines. We’d also like to recognize the women who make up today’s Irish, Belles and Saints, as well as all the women in the faculty, staff and administration who empower us as students to step out of our comfort zones and seize opportunities to make a difference.  

There are opportunities to continue this recognition on campus as Notre Dame celebrates Women’s Empowerment Week to close out Women’s History Month. The month will culminate in a Sunday brunch that features a panel of influential women who contributed to the rich history of Notre Dame. In addition, since 2022 marks the 50th anniversary of women on campus, the University is holding a “Golden is Thy Flame” celebration. To do its part, the Meruelo Family Center for Career Development will hostCareer Conversations with Trailblazing Women of Notre DameFriday afternoon. There, a panel of “inspiring female graduates” will “share stories, wisdom, and advice from their varied and accomplished careers.” 

Let’s come together to recognize and learn from influential women in our tri-campus history so we might walk together and further their legacies.

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