Saint Louis University

Women's History at SLU

Breaking Open the Time Capsule: A Historical Perspective of the Women at SLU

In October 2013, Mary Bruemmer, Tonie FitzGibbon, and Sister Mary Flick, CSJ, gathered together to share a historical perspective of women at SLU. First, Mary Bruemmer, who has been with the University for more than 60 years, reviewed the role women have played at SLU since the beginning of the 20th century, when the first female students were admitted to study law.

Then, Tonie FitzGibbon, a female faculty member in the School of Law, reviewed her acceptance by male faculty and students, and the accommodations she made to "fit in." FitzGibbon has been a professor at the law school since 1987 and graduated from the School of Law in 1984.

Lastly, Sister Mary Flick, CSJ, former associate director of Campus Ministry, revealed her dreams for the SLU Women of Tomorrow. Below, you'll find the video from their discussion.


1908 First women are admitted to the University at the Institute of Law.
1910 News Headline: “ Law School Drops Co-eds Who Blush at Lecture”

Five women receive LL.B. degrees from the School of Law: Bertha M. Bruening, Adele M. Doyle, Mary A. Maguire, Rose O’Boyle, and Anna M. Ross. In 1913, three women received the LL.M. degree from the School of Law. There followed a period when no women enrolled.


Off-campus courses are taught by Jesuit faculty at local academies, convents and motherhouses, to serve women religious in the area who were trying to qualify for teaching positions.

  • In 1920, Sister Mary Louise Wise, S.L., was the first woman to receive a master’s degree, in English.   
  • Also in 1920, Mother Gertrude Caraher, R.S.C.J., was the first woman to receive an A.B.; Sister Eustacia Elder, S.L., was the first woman to receive a B.S. 
  • In the same year, the School of Commerce and Finance graduated its first women: Bertha Bruening (LL.B. 1911) and Helen A. Rabitt received a Bachelor of Commercial Science, and Angela F. Van Iseghem earned a Certificate of Commercial Science.

Extension classes are moved to campus, and women religious begin to join the student body. Miss Elma Poole is named University Registrar, with full-time faculty ranking. First woman faculty member is hired: Inez Specking, Department of English.


The School of Education opens to serve the needs of women who wanted to attend the University but who were not eligible to enroll in the College of Arts and Sciences.


Corporate College arrangement is negotiated to allow female students at Maryville, Webster, and Fontbonne Colleges to receive degrees through Saint Louis University.

1928 School of Nursing is founded.
  • School of Allied Health Professions (Division of Health and Hospital Services) is established.  
  • The first woman to be awarded a Ph.D. at Saint Louis University is Mother Marie Kernaghen, R.S.C.J. -- in Physics

Rev. William J. McGucken, S.J., Regent of the School of Education, and author of two books on Higher Education, suggests the importance of the position of Dean of Women for Jesuit schools.

1937 School of Education is renamed School of Education and Social Sciences, broadening the curriculum.
  • Rev. Edward Rooney, S.J. of the National Catholic Education Association, suggests the position of Dean of Women be established at all Jesuit colleges and universities.     
  • The Faculty Women’s Club is established by Mrs. Leo R. Kennedy, wife of the Dean of the School of Education, to provide mutual support for wives of faculty members and female faculty.
1942 University College replaces the School of Education and Social Sciences.
1943 Nancy McNeir Ring (AS ’28; GR ’29) is named the University’s first Dean of Women.
  • The University Speakers Bureau lists 75 men and three women.   
  • Gamma Pi Epsilon (Jesuit Honor Society for Women) is chartered at Saint Louis University. 
  • Mrs. Edward J. Walsh receives the Fleur de Lis Medal for her many benefactions.
  • Paul C. Reinert, S.J. is named President of the University, beginning a new era in the history of the University. It is a period of significant changes for women.    
  • Women are admitted to the College of Arts and Sciences. University College (“citadel of pulchritude”) is closed. 
  • Three women are admitted to the School of Medicine.    
  • Champlin Hall (formerly the Lucerne Hotel across from DuBourg Hall,) becomes the first “residence hall” for women. It is named for Jane Champlin, WAFS (AS ’37) the first alumna to die in service in World War II.
  • Mary Frances Nawrocki, (AS ’45) is the first woman to graduate from the School of Medicine.     
  • Eileen Searls, J.D., is named Librarian, School of Law Library, and member of the faculty.
  • Marguerite Hall opens as first residence hall built for women students. The hall is named for Queen Marguerite, wife of King St. Louis IX. Champlin Hall closes as a residence and becomes offices for Development and Alumni Services, the ROTC and the bookstore.    
  • Mary Bruemmer, (AS ’42) is employed as the Director of Marguerite Hall. 
  • Doris O’Donnell, secretary to Rev. Francis O’Reilly, S.J., and later named Executive Director of Alumni Services and Special Events, begins her 32 year career at the University.

The Women’s Council is established by Father Reinert to acquaint community women with the University. Mrs. Joseph Werner is named the first Chairman of the Council.

1959 Women make up 33 percent of the University’s enrollment.
  • Harriet Frost Fordyce, daughter of Civil War General Daniel Frost, who previously had given her ancestral estate to be used as a student retreat house, provides funds for the purchase of Mill Creek property, enabling expansion to the east side of Grand Avenue. The first building constructed was a new home for the College of Arts and Sciences. Mrs. Fordyce was honored with the Fleur de Lis Award. 
  • Melbourne Hotel, purchased for use as a women’s residence hall, is remodeled and named Rogers Hall, for William Banks Rogers, S.J., 18th President of the University, 1900-1908. In 1973 the University sells the building to the Jesuit Community for the Jesuit residence. 
  • AAUW (American Association of University Women) approves the University for membership. The application process and visitation took three years.
  • Barbara Elaine Reddin becomes first woman student to enroll at Parks College.   
  • The Women’s Sodality sponsors Women’s Week, “The Strength of the Weaker Sex,” with speakers, career night, fashion show, variety show, art exhibit, Mass, and dinner.
  • Nancy McNeir Ring retires as Dean of Women. Mary Bruemmer succeeds her. 
  • Busch Memorial Student Center opens with new offices for Deans of Students, Men, and Women.   
  • Eunice Shriver is first woman named to the new University Lay Board of Trustees.

Sister Elizabeth Kolmer, A.S.C., Ph.D.(AS’ 6l, GR’ 65) becomes the first woman named chairman of a department in the College of Arts and Sciences, when she is named Chair of American Studies.

  • The Women’s Center opens in Husslein Hall, next to Marguerite Hall on West Pine Boulevard. Sister Julia Mahoney, R.S.M., is appointed Director. Lectures, discussions & programs are offered.     
  • Women’s History courses are introduced into the curriculum of the College of Arts and Sciences.


  • Betsy Carroll is the first woman student to complete an Associates Degree from Parks College of Aeronautical Technology. She returned to receive her bachelor’s degree and to teach at Parks.
  • Equity for Women, especially in Athletics, is mandated by Title IX and has an impact on campus.     
  • Mary A. Bruemmer (AS’ 42; GR ’60) becomes Dean of Student Affairs. The title of Dean of Women is eliminated.
  • Women in the Arts Festival is held on campus, sponsored by the Women’s Center. 
  • Enabling Document is approved for the Saint Louis University Commission on the Status of Women (later The Women’s Commission.) Martha Ellert, Ph.D., is the first President.
  • Women’s Center is closed and staff dismissed. Their library is moved to the Counseling Center, later integrated into Pius XII Memorial Library.     
  • Marianne Miller Childress, Ph.D., (AS ‘46) is first woman to be named chairman of the Department of Philosophy. 
  • Mary Anne Bremner is elected first woman President of Student Government Association.

Vivian Nieuwsma is named Administrative Assistant in the Affirmative Action Office.

  • Conference on Women is held on campus, sponsored by the Women’s Program Council of the Higher Education Center. 
  • Susie Jones is named coach of men’s and women’s swim teams and Director of Women’s Athletics.

  • Woman of the Year Award is initiated by Women’s Resources Coordinating Council, honoring Mary Bruemmer, Dean of Student Affairs.     
  • In 1978, it is presented to Sister Teresa Noth, S.S.M., (NU’52) Dean of the School of Nursing. 
  • In 1979, the Award is adopted by the Women’s Commission, and it becomes their signature event.

“Women on Women Symposium” is organized by Sister Joan Range, A.S.C. (AS ’59), Department of Theological Studies, and other faculty members.

  • Women’s Studies Program is established, with women faculty members taking the leadership.    
  • Kathleen Kingston (GR ’90) is named Director of new Simon Recreation Center, which she helped plan. 
  • Joan Hrubetz, RN, Ph.D. (NU ’60, GR ’75), is first laywoman Dean of the School of Nursing. 
  • Frances Horvath, M.D. (M ’67) is named Dean of the School of Allied Health Professions.
1983 Women’s Commission begins second decade and initiates a newsletter.
  • Women’s Commission writes a letter to the administration urging appointment of a woman Academic Vice President.     
  • A petition regarding the pregnancy leave policy is circulated on campus.     
  • A Task Force on the Need for a Child Care Center is appointed by the University President. 

Lawrence Biondi, S.J., becomes President of the University and indicates intention to appoint women to administrative posts.

  • Alice Bourke Hayes, Ph.D., is named Executive Vice President and Provost. 
  • Kathy Kelleher Hagedorn, (AS ’73, GR ’75) becomes Vice President for Human Resources. 
  • Ruth Marquis is the new Affirmative Action Officer.   
  • Karen Davis, J.D., is named Vice President and General Counsel.


  • Debbie Yow becomes first woman to be named Director of Athletics. 
  • Frances Benham, Ph.D., is named Director of Pius XII Library, first woman to hold the position. 
  • Peggy Baty, Ph.D., is named Dean of Parks College, a first for women. 
  • Mary Bruemmer receives the Fleur de Lis Award upon her retirement as Assistant to the Vice President for Development. She had retired as Dean of Student Affairs in 1985.

Sister Shirley Kolmer, A.S.C., (AS ’56) former chair of the Department of Mathematics, and three Sisters of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, Ruma, Illinois, are martyred in Liberia, Africa. A memorial endowment fund in her name was created by an anonymous donor for the Women’s Commission, to be used to encourage women to develop their potential.

1993 Women’s Commission observes its 20 th Anniversary, publishes History of the “Second Decade.”
1994 Shirley Dowdy, Ph.D., becomes first woman Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
  • Publication of “Jesuits and the Situation of Women in Church and Civil Society” follows the 34th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus in Rome; document is discussed on campus.   
  • Kathleen Bannister Brady, (AS ’76) is named Vice President for Facilities Services and Civic Affairs.
  • Patricia Monteleone, M.D., (M ’52) is named first woman Dean of the School of Medicine.   
  • Karen Webb, (PH ’84) is appointed Chief Medical Officer of SLUCare.    
  • The Mev Puleo Lectureship is established in memory of alumna Mary Evelyn Puleo (AS ’85).
  • Susan Tebb, Ph.D., becomes first woman Dean of the School of Social Service.  
  • Vicki Riek is named Director of the Office of Diversity and Affirmative Action. 
  • Mary Bruemmer receives the William Barnaby Faherty Alumni Service Award. 
  • Women students now make up 54 percent of the University's enrollment.
  • Sandra Hanneken Johnson, J.D., (AS ’73) is named University Provost.   
  • Josephine Bouhasin celebrates 50 years as manager of the University telephone service. (She retired in 2004.) 
  • Mary Fran Ernst (PS ’82) is elected national President of the American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators, a first for a woman. 
  • Norma Metheny, Ph.D., (GR ’79) School of Nursing researcher, receives the Nursing School’s first patent. 
  • Women’s Commission celebrates Silver Anniversary at dinner party honoring past presidents. 
  • Dissertation on the history of women at Saint Louis University is completed by Mary Elizabeth Hogan Ph.D., (GR’98). She is named Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
1999 Arts and Sciences Senior, Meg Gleason, wins a Rhodes Scholarship.
  • Kathy Humphrey is appointed Vice President for Student Development.     
  • Jennifer Ewald is named Director of new International Center. 
  • Eileen Searls, J.D., retires after 48 years as Director of the Omer Poos Library of the School of Law. 
  • Frances Horvath, M.D., retires as Dean of the School of Allied Health Professions

Julie Weissman, Ph.D., is appointed Assistant Provost and Director of the Office of Planning and Decision Resources.

  • Ruth Murray, Ph.D., Professor in the School of Nursing, is named a Fellow in the American Academy of Nursing.   
  • Deanna Durret, Arts and Sciences Junior, is awarded a prestigious Truman Scholarship. 
  • Eloise Buker, Ph.D., is appointed the first full-time Director of the Women’s Studies Program.
  • Ellen Harshman, Ph.D., (GR ’78, LW ‘92) is named Dean of the John Cook School of Business.   
  • Charlotte Royeen, Ph.D., becomes new Dean of the School of Allied Health Professions.
  • Ellen Watson, Ph.D., is named Vice President for Information Technology. 
  • Women’s Commission celebrates Three Decades with slide presentation and program. 
  • Women’s Studies becomes a major in the College of Arts and Sciences.
  • Cheryl Levick is named Director of Athletics.    
  • T. Christine Stevens, Ph.D., Professor of Mathematics, wins a prestigious award from the Mathematics Association of America. 
  • Dean Ellen Harshman is named one of St. Louis’ “Most Influential Business Leaders” by the St. Louis Business Journal. 
  • Kathy Day, MBA, (B&A ’72, ’78) becomes Director of the MBA Program in the Business School. 
  • Eleanore Stump, Ph.D., Professor of Philosophy, wins the prestigious $200,000 Baylor University Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teaching. Her department receives $25,000.  She will spend a semester teaching in residence at Baylor. 
  • Dr. Joan Hrubetz, Dean of the School of Nursing, retires after 22 years as dean. 
  • Schools of Nursing and Allied Health Professions are merged into the Edward and Margaret Doisy College of Health Sciences. 
  • Women’s Studies receives permission to develop a graduate certificate program. 
  • Women students now make up 57 percent of the total University enrollment.
Note:  The original “Selective Chronology” appeared in the Dissertation on the History of Women at Saint Louis University completed by Mary Elizabeth Hogan. It was updated in 2005 by Mary A. Bruemmer.


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