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“Daughters of Our Lady” exhibit presents the evolution of coeducation at Notre Dame

“Daughters of Our Lady: Finding a Place at Notre Dame,” an exhibit that travels through the history of women at Notre Dame, is currently on display at the Hesburgh Libraries.

The timeline takes the viewer through Sr. Mary Lucretia’s experience as the first woman to receive a degree in 1917 to the religious women on campus in the 1950s. Then, it travels to the Saint Mary’s exchange program that began in 1965 to the first cohort of undergraduate women in 1972 — and culminates in 2022, which marks 50 years of coeducation. 

The exhibit was curated by Elizabeth Hogan, Senior Archivist for Photographs and Graphic Materials. It tells the story of the evolution of coeducation and features newspaper clippings, correspondences, articles and other documents from the Notre Dame Archives that record the journey toward coeducation. 

Hogan explained that there were women who came before 1972 who were influential in making way for coeducation.

“Many people don’t know about the origins of coeducation, or maybe they have a vague sense of what was going on before 1972,” Hogan said. “1972 was not the start, it was important but it was not the start.”

1972 marked the first time that women were admitted to Notre Dame as undergraduate students. Hogan said that the switch to coeducation was a result of pressures from the federal government, other institutions and the establishing of Title IX. 

In 1972, there were only 350 female students enrolled at Notre Dame. The year after, there were 735 female students. Notre Dame slowly began to add more female students in the years that followed, but they were limited by the resources available.

“Notre Dame didn’t have the facilities to accommodate all the women and didn’t have the capability to automatically double its size, because that would require more classrooms, more faculty and more administrators,” Hogan said.

Hogan also mentioned that Catholic education has historically been separate by gender.

“It’s not that Holy Cross as a congregation hadn’t educated women, they had just been educated in a different space separate from men,” she said. “Coeducation was a merging of the two.”

The exhibit features pioneering women who have helped shape Notre Dame over the years, including Sr. Suzanne Kelly and Josephine Massyngbaerde Ford, who were the first women on the faculty, and Graciela Olivares, the first female law school graduate. Hogan explained that determining who completed each “first” was difficult because it wasn’t always documented.

“A lot of the firsts actually happened before the first that was recorded,” she said. 

Hogan said the goal of the exhibit is to show how women’s experiences have changed and how women have influenced Notre Dame.

“I tried to not make the exhibit about too many people because there have been a lot of other publications celebrating coeducation and marketing communications talking about a lot of the firsts,” Hogan said. 

Hogan emphasized that the exhibit is only a piece of the history of coeducation and that there is more information and stories to be told about the history of women at Notre Dame.

“This is a very small space and there is a lot more about co-education, so if anyone wants to come and do research they are more than welcome,” Hogan said. 

The exhibit is on display in the Special Collections exhibit space in Hesburgh Library until Dec. 16. On Nov. 4 from 3-4 p.m., there will be a curator-led open house — all are welcome to attend. 

Contact Caroline Collins at ccolli23@nd.edu

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