Bronco Grrrls

Sixty years have passed since the SCU president decided to admit women as students. They were not greeted with many open arms.

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Many men were none too thrilled by the impending influx of “Bronkettes” on campus in the fall of 1961. “TRADITION SHATTERED” screamed the front page of The Santa Clara of the decision by University President Patrick Donohoe, S.J. to admit women to SCU after 110 years as an all-male institution. In celebrating the 60th anniversary of the first women enrolling here, we trace all the things they’ve since shattered—traditions and glass ceilings, alike.

“Men’s colleges have a flavor of distinction about them that is most difficult to achieve in a coeducational institution,” wrote The Santa Clara editorial board.

“There is no virtue in age, or tradition itself. There is no virtue in an exclusive school for men for that reason,” Fr. Donohoe told The Santa Clara reporters, defending his decision to admit women against outcry and concern that they would disrupt Jesuit tradition.

Shuttlecock.by Salman Hossain Saif Via Unsplash

Just 100 women enrolled at Santa Clara in 1961, compared to 1,114 men. Recreation was decidedly not co-ed: An old Women’s Recreation Association poster advertised a girls-only sports night, complete with badminton, synchronized swimming, basketball, and tumbling mats.

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Bronco women’s basketball played their first season in 1963, and won their first trophy in ’64. Other women’s teams, including golf, cross country, and tennis, have made multiple appearances at NCAA finals and West Coast Conference Championships. Women’s soccer, in particular, has dominated, with 11 Final Four appearances and two National Championship titles.

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Mary Somers Edmund ’62 was the first woman to graduate from SCU as a senior transfer student and psychology major. Later, she recalled how a group of male students offered her a dollar each—totaling $250—to not walk on stage with them at graduation. Edmund declined the offer. “I worked too hard for this,” she remembers saying.

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SCU offered its first women’s studies courses in 1973. It became an official, stand-alone major in 2005. Now called the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies, its courses interrogate identity, power, and privilege, and graduates go on to careers in government, law, health care, business, and technology.

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Women moving into the all-female Park Lanai dorm were given a long list of rules: quiet hours after 11 p.m.; beds made by 10 a.m. on weekdays.; no men allowed in student rooms or the building’s pool. Sun bathing and the “playing of games” were prohibited on campus gardens, and the dress code forbade Bermuda shorts and slacks.
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Long before female students were admitted to Santa Clara, the Catala Club started in 1930 as a group of women volunteers who assisted the Jesuits with the needs of the Mission Church. The womens’ service organization has since evolved and is now dedicated to providing scholarships to undergraduate students.

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Long-distance runner Lena Chow MBA ’83 tackles a different kind of marathon—caretaking for loved ones with Alzheimer’s—in her new podcast.