Two words that changed Catholic higher education
by Joni Moths Mueller
This is fact: In 1908, men and women were not educated together in the foundational bachelor of arts degree program at any Catholic university in the world. In 1909, Marquette shook up that world — permanently.
Thousands of women created the Centennial Celebration of Women at Marquette. Through sheer persistence, a profound sisterhood and the willingness to laugh in the face of obstacles to their progress, women studied, lived and learned here and, in the process changed the university for the better.
This is the story about 100 years, the women who lived it and a Jesuit who dug in his heels to launch it.
Father McCabe’s decision
Dire news reached President James McCabe, S.J., in 1909. Religious sisters, who were the primary teachers in Catholic elementary and high schools, needed advanced education to keep pace with Wisconsin’s teacher certification requirements. As Marquette prepared to open the first summer session in Catholic higher education, Father McCabe authorized the enrollment of religious and lay women in the undergraduate bachelor of arts program, the quintessential degree at a Jesuit institution. His action introduced coeducation to Jesuit — and Catholic — higher education.
Some members of the local Jesuit community objected, and Rev. Rudolph J. Meyer, S.J., who was Father McCabe’s religious superior, would not give permission for the enrollment of women. Father McCabe sought a ruling from the Father General of the Society of Jesus. While he awaited a decision, women continued to walk through Marquette's doors. Finally, in 1912, a letter arrived from Rome with the Father General’s approval, confirming Father McCabe’s courageous decision.