Bronco News

TRADITION SHATTERED

by Gerri Beasley ’65 |
bronco-news
There’s an app for that: It’s March ’61, and
Martha Patricia O’Malley is the first woman to apply
for admission.

Fifty years ago, in the fall of 1961, the University of Santa Clara admitted women as undergraduate students for the first time. Quietly forging the way ahead of them were student nurses, in training at O’Connor Hospital and taking classes on the Mission Campus in the late 1950s. My older sister, Vera, was one of them. That she studied here also gave me courage when the good and forwardthinking Jesuits, led by President Patrick Donohoe, S.J., announced they would admit the tradition-shattering freshman class of 1961. 

This class would include 70 freshmen coeds, several sophomore and junior coeds, and one lone senior transfer student, Mary Somers Edmunds ’62, who became the first woman to earn a bachelor’s degree from Santa Clara. And there were 1,500 male students. 

I was delighted to have the chance to be one of these women. Most lived in an apartment complex rechristened the Villa Maria and made part of campus. Because my parents couldn’t afford that, I lived at home. The first day of class, the bus from Mountain View to Santa Clara seemed to take an eternity. On campus, I and the rest of the women faced the hazing all freshman did, including having to wear red-and-white beanies. We were also on the receiving end of some especially obnoxious behavior that first year. There were actually boys who threw food at us in the cafeteria. 

Registration
First undergraduate women register at Santa
Clara, Sept. 11, 1961. Patrick Twomey '64 aids
three freshmen, left to right, Linda Biber '65,
Kathleen Regan '65, and Mary Sue Jertson '65.
Photo courtesy of the San Francisco Public Library.
Some professors had a niece or cousin in class. Some had never taught a female before. Most were not accustomed to perfect penmanship, illuminated reports—or tears from a student when there was disagreement over a grade. Some were reluctant to call on a coed to answer a question or solve a problem; I learned that firsthand. I used to spell my first name with a “y,” and one day one of the Jesuits saw my name on his attendance sheet and said, “Gerry Ferrara, would you tell us the first cause of being?” I stood up. And he said, “Oh, not you. Thought you were a guy.” So I changed the spelling of my name to Gerri. 

Other professors were won over quickly by young women who were eager to learn and forceful in their convictions; and some of the professors recognized the historic change for what it was. To be one of those women, you had to be someone who wanted to be a pioneer. You may have been encouraged by your grandfather who went here, or a great-uncle. But most women were going to be strong from the beginning. And they probably became more assertive. 

Santa Clara made me a stronger person spiritually, academically, and socially. Certainly as I raised four children and saw their educational and other opportunities, I could encourage them to press into areas that other people hadn’t gone before. In my professional career, too, I had no qualms about walking into a room filled with male doctors and telling them to put out their cigarettes and pay attention so we could get to work planning the next medical conference. 

In 1962, the number of women enrolled at Santa Clara grew to 400. And other Jesuit, Catholic all-male schools began to become more inclusive as well—of women and many other groups. But for us, only once we were out of Santa Clara did we truly realize what we were doing, and how things were changing for women in society. 

SCU Women

Those of us who were lucky enough to have been among the first women on campus celebrate all of you who are now among the best that Santa Clara has prepared for the world. We have honored and will continue the mission of the Jesuits: to be competent, conscientious, and compassionate women, mindful of the rich history and tradition of our great University. Being engaged as alumnae has also been a privilege—and tremendously rewarding over the decades. 

I am honored to be the first of three generations of Bronco women, followed by our daughter, Betsy ’87, and our granddaughter, Megan McIntosh ’10. All of us—including my husband, Bill ’62, and our son Bart ’90—hope that the tradition will continue.

Gerri Beasley '65Go Broncos!

Gerri Beasley '65
Gerri Beasley ’65

Immediate Past President of the
National Alumni Association


Exclusive
Visit the Alumni Association's Tradition Shattered website for a timeline of women at SCU, stories, archival photos, and more!

Watch a video or see a slideshow of women at Santa Clara.

Share your memories at the bottom of the page or in class notes!


 

Villa Maria
The first women's dorm, Villa Maria.


It takes a villa

 

There was a welcoming group of sophomore boys that met us at our apartments, the Villa Maria. They carried in our bags, and that was the only time they were allowed into that facility. The apartments at the very back were very popular, since the RA was in the front. There was a lot of sneaking in or out of the screen windows, because of curfew.

More seriously, what the Jesuits taught me is the freedom to explore and to be there for others; that’s why I went into teaching. There were times, with some of the male students behaving badly, when Fr. Lou Bannan would come talk to us and ask how we felt about it. Then he’d pretty much tell us: “Just ignore it, it’ll go away.” It did. He also told us, “You know, you won’t realize this until later, but you really are part of something very special.” And we were. Pat Pepin Dougherty ’65 mag-bug



Tennis, anyone?


We had to wear skirts or dresses at all times on campus. If we were going to play tennis, we needed to wear a trench coat over our tennis outfit on our way to the courts. We could take off the trench coat, play tennis, and then be sure to put it back on before we left the tennis court—no matter how hot we were. There were no team sports for us at all. 

But we changed Santa Clara irrevocably. We learned, and we taught a lot—particularly the priests, who really had not had any experience dealing with women. Intellectually, we were a very bright group. That impressed a lot of the faculty. And I think that we improved Santa Clara. The whole culture and tenor of the University changed because women were here. Gaby McKannay Miller ’65 mag-bug

1 Comment
  1. Caroline '09
    October 11, 2011 at 9:33 am

    This is amazing!! The have admittedly taken for granted the courage and conviction with which you and so many other women paved the way for our generation not so very long ago. Thank you for your shining example!