Former University President Fr. Edward “Monk” Malloy remembers a time when Notre Dame used to bus in women from Catholic women’s colleges in the Chicagoland area to help create a more balanced social scene. A bus would be welcomed onto campus by male students who knew none of the women. After the awkward introduction, the students would go to a dance, Malloy recalled.
“That was not what you would call a prime opportunity for meeting people,” he said.
Malloy, who graduated from Notre Dame in 1963 before entering the seminary and eventually returning to the University as faculty in 1974, has witnessed almost all 50 years of coeducation at the University.
Sixty-three years ago, he experienced life as a basketball player at an all-male Notre Dame. Forty-eight years ago, he started teaching theology at a Notre Dame that had admitted its third undergraduate female class. Thirty-five years ago, he began his tenure as University president, during which he oversaw the University becoming about evenly split between male and female students. Three months ago, he delivered the homily at the “Golden is Thy Fame” Mass honoring the 50 years of coeducation at Notre Dame.
During Malloy’s time as a student, the presence of Saint Mary’s created a de facto coeducational scene. However, with typical enrollment at Saint Mary’s hovering around 1,400 to 1,600 students, this was not an adequate alternative to coeducation for Malloy.
“There weren’t enough women,” he said. “But I mean, it was the best we could do at the time. We didn’t even know any better.”
In 1969, Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame began talks to potentially merge the two schools. The deal eventually fell through in 1971. Malloy said he believes Notre Dame’s transition to coeducation was a result of the merger failing.
“My opinion is that both schools do well, despite the fact they didn’t come together,” Malloy, who was on the Saint Mary’s Board of Trustees for nine years, said.
When Notre Dame admitted its first undergraduate female class a year later in 1972, 325 women enrolled. The vast difference between male students and female students presented its fair share of social and administrative challenges, Malloy said. With single-sex housing, he said there was no choice but to gradually increase the number of women and reduce the number of men.
Whenever a men’s dorm was switched to a women’s dorm, the men would often protest. These protests were usually somewhat humorous, Malloy remembers, because the men knew they were not changing the administration’s mind.
Beyond the difficulty of pushing the male students out of the dorms in which they had developed traditions and a sense of loyalty, Malloy said classes often only had one female student.
“The classic wrong thing to ask one woman in a big class is ‘what do women think about this,’” he said.
Malloy said his female students never let the challenge hinder them from participating.
“They used to say that if a class was less than 50 percent women, they wouldn’t talk much. I never saw that, never,” he said. “Right from the time I started teaching, women were highly participative.”
The University also struggled to find female faculty members in some disciplines, who administrators hoped would help the female students navigate college.
Having women faculty members, especially in student affairs, was important so new female students could connect with adults on campus, Malloy explained. Incorporating women into all the colleges across the University proved difficult, Malloy said.
“That’s a recognition that as we move to be more coeducational, we were in a sense catching up with the world because they were way ahead of us,” he said.
As the University began to hire more female faculty and enroll more female students, women entered more prominent roles on campus. The amount of female deans and administrators and vice presidents grew. During Malloy’s time as president from 1987 to 2005, the male-to-female student ratio became about even. Visible student groups like the band and the Junior Parents’ Weekend planning committee followed.
Malloy credits the amount of Notre Dame women who have gone on to prominent roles in the public sphere after college with improving the reputation of the University.
“We’ve had women government leaders. We’ve had All-American athletes and national champions. We’ve had people go on to successful careers in almost every area you can think of,” he said. “So it isn’t just filling holes or trying to just be diverse in census categories. It’s also the people that we’ve attracted have been quite good at what they do.”
During his homily at the “Golden is Thy Fame” Mass, three of the six Notre Dame women Malloy highlighted for representing the University well were athletes. Two of the women he included were national champion and All-American basketball player Ruth Riley and her teammate and fellow All-American Niele Ivey, who now serves as the head coach of the women’s basketball team
“They got a lot of publicity, they represented Notre Dame very effectively,” Malloy said.
The final athlete Malloy highlighted was Haley Scott DeMaria. DeMaria was a member of the 1992 swim team, which suffered a tragic accident when the team bus flipped over during a snowstorm while returning from a meet at Northwestern. DeMaria survived but was paralyzed from the waist down.
Malloy credits his predecessor, Fr. Ted Hesburgh, who launched the transition to coeducation, for putting Notre Dame in the position where women such as Ivey, Riley and DeMaria could come and launch their careers and legacies.
“I think that Notre Dame is now able to educate women and men at the greatest Catholic university in the world,” he said. “I think that’s good for Notre Dame and it’s good for those who come here to study.”