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Centennial voices

Centennial voices

What is life like for a young woman at Marquette? The answer in the 1950s was a lot different from what it is today. Four alumnae and two students sat down during Alumni Reunion Weekend to discuss what has changed—and what hasn’t. There was lots of reminiscing, laughter and a few tears. Said one alumna, “The threads of Marquette have been important in my life, and I don’t stop to think about it enough.” Here are excerpts from the conversation.


Kate Agnew Trevey, Bus Ad ’04, former president of Marquette University Student Government; now Marquette’s coordinator for student organizations and leadership

Shazia Ali, junior, Helen Way Klingler College of Arts and Sciences

Moya Baylis, CJPA ’93, former Marquette basketball player; now president of the Ethnic Alumni Association and account executive for WISN-TV in Milwaukee

Abigail Koker, senior, College of Health Sciences

Margaret Nemitz Farrow, Arts ’56, honorary doctor of laws ’08; former Wisconsin lieutenant governor

Mary Dwyer Pembroke, Arts ’79, Law ’83; senior managing director for NexGen Capital Partners

Q : What does Marquette mean to you?
Mary My family has been coming to Marquette for a long time. A lot of men in my father’s extended family came here. My dad has a cousin, Sister Marie Denise Dwyer, OP, who was the first woman to graduate from Marquette with a mathematics degree in 1934. I’m the next woman in the family who came to Marquette. … I came to visit my brother, and people seemed so genuine. This just felt like home. In the ’70s, campus was not beautiful. But I was a sophomore when we won the NCAA championship. I see that the school spirit is still the same.

Margaret : You said campus was not beautiful in the ’70s. Nor in the ’50s! All the streets went through, so you literally ran between cars to get to the union. You were dodging floods of people going across to what’s Marquette Hall now. You just jaywalked across the whole street with a crowd 20 students wide. It was a very urban campus. No grass.

Mary : And I just pictured it as idyllic back then. Isn’t that funny?

Margaret :  I think the first grass put in was around the St. Joan of Arc Chapel. I was in the first dorm—I’m sure you all know that there were no dorms for women. Women had to buy their own dorm, and alumnae had to put up money to buy Alumnae House. And it was not easy for women. … Everyone knew not to take theology classes with certain Jesuits because they weren’t going to be as kind to you as they were to the males. … Everything grows and maybe is stronger because of what it goes through and what it experiences. … The other thing you should know about the ’50s is that we could not leave the dorms in slacks—unless you were going to a sporting event. You had to wear a skirt on campus.

Mary Including in cold weather?

Margaret : You bet! Walking down Wisconsin Avenue, we wore long coats and high boots! (Laughs) The only ones who could wear slacks outside the dorm were the girls in Lisette Lodge, which was out on Kilbourn, west of 35th Street.

Moya : Obviously being a student of color at Marquette was
a very interesting phenomenon. I was 16 when I graduated from high school, and I was actually set to go to UWM. They offered me a scholarship to play basketball. … Then I got a call from Marquette. I came to campus, and loved it—it’s Division I, we fly, we travel, it’s great. My freshman-year coach was Sister Maria Pares. At that time she was one of three nuns to ever coach a Division I basketball team, so she was featured on Jay Leno, and you’re thinking “Wow, this is cool.” But she was so tough. I mean, she was tough!

Margaret : What order?

Mary : She couldn’t have been a Dominican!

Moya : The thing about being here so young was I had to grow up here—Marquette was like my second home. The athletics department literally raised me. … It really was difficult for my teammates because I was one of the first African-American women that Marquette recruited. And so for many of my teammates, they had never, ever, EVER had an experience with a black woman with a Jheri curl, with braids, rap music, so I was kind of that trendsetter for them. A lot of students of color here at that time did not enjoy their experience. As for me, I had a ball, never had a problem, loved it. Even if I did have a problem, I loved it because it was an experience, and I needed to go through that.

Q : How is it for young women at Marquette today?
Abby: You guys made it easy, I think. You did all this work.
I feel comfortable pretty much in any situation. I’m normally talkative in class. I don’t feel shy about raising my hand. I’m actually president of a student organization this year. I feel no pressure. I feel completely competent. You were saying before women could only wear skirts except to sporting events—I go to class and five out of 10 girls are wearing sweatpants. I can wear whatever I want. I don’t feel inhibited in what I can say. I feel like you guys have done a very good job in making Marquette an open place for women. So thank you for blazing the trail for me.

Moya : The message that I hope that you guys, Abby and Shazia, take from this is understanding the importance of what we do as women. You know, a lot of people talk about the fact that we’re women, and if you’re a mom, how strong you are, but if you can carry your own and compete, that sends a message and it is so important for young girls to see that. And for Margaret and for Mary and for all of us who are in this room, you guys set the tone and said, “OK, this is what we did and the reflections that we have.” You just fall right in place. It’s not like there’s a manual on how to be a woman at Marquette.

Mary : I have something to say that will show you how much things really have changed over the past 30 years. I was a poli sci major, and before graduation, I went in to say goodbye to an administrator. He said, “What are you going to do now?” And I said: “I’m going to take a year off. I’m going to go back home, and I’m going to work to save some money for graduate school.” And he said, “Well, have you thought about going to Katharine Gibbs?” That was a secretarial school.

Margaret Did you throw something at him?

Mary : You know, I usually have a response for everything, and I had no response for that. It shocked me. I was offended. I thought, “What are you saying about the education I just got from you?” That someone I really had great regard for would think that that’s what a girl should go do before she got married was shocking to me. And that was 1979!

Kate : Well, in 2003, I was elected president of Marquette
University Student Government. I was only the fifth woman
to be president of the coed student government. Through my junior year, I never thought twice about the fact thatI couldn’t do something because I was a woman. And then when I was elected, the headline in the Marquette Tribune was “MUSG shows its feminine side.” And it was this whole article on how I will lead differently because I am a woman.

Mary : Who wrote that, a man or a woman?

Kate : A female.

Margaret : That’s even worse.

Kate : (Wipes away tears) I still get a little emotional thinking about it because that was the first time I had thought about my gender differentiating myself in ability and how grateful I was that it wasn’t until 21 or 22 that I experienced that. Now I work with our women’s leadership conference program and try to empower a lot of our student leaders. As Abby said, female students have so many opportunities on our campus. The majority of our student organization presidents are female. But when you get into what we would call our more prestigious roles, like student government president—the number of women who aren’t running for those positions is amazing to me.

Margaret : What I found interesting listening to both of you is that you’re both glass-half-full kind of people, and I think that’s why you both have been successful. There was a self-assuredness there that helped you grow through challenges you had. You can’t go through life with a chip on your shoulder. If you do it’s going to be knocked off so many times you’re not going to be sure where it fell the last time. … I had the exact same experience. I loved government and was very involved with the League of Women Voters and fair housing ordinances. Then we moved from Milwaukee to Elm Grove, Wis. I began going to village board meetings and then threw my hat in the ring. A three-year resident! A woman! My word! … When I won the village presidency, I had the nerve to call the local paper and say, “I hope your headline isn’t going to have woman in the title.” Because I was the first woman village president. There was dead silence, and the editor said, “Why?” And we talked a little longer. And the headline came out “Farrow wins village presidency.”

Kate : That’s so interesting. When the first female student government president won in 1972, the Milwaukee Journal did the same thing. Her quote in the paper, my quote in the paper and what you just said now were the same. I did not run because I would do this differently. I did it because I believed in it, and I thought I could do this.

Mary : And you do it differently because you’re an individual.

Kate : Exactly. But it’s so much easier to put us in categories of gender or race or ethnicity or culture.

Mary :  I don’t know about you, but I didn’t realize that
Marquette was the first Catholic university to go coed until I read the back of this last issue of Marquette Magazine.

Margaret :  And I just read that women are more than 50 percent of the student body now, which I find very interesting.

Shazia :  Hearing your stories and realizing how much I can pull from and relate to them is just amazing. The challenges for women have changed over the past 100 years—first going coed, then racial diversity and now religious diversity. One of the reasons I was worried about coming to Marquette was because it’s a Catholic university, and I’m not Catholic. I’m Muslim. I thought to myself, “Wow, what is that going to be like?” I didn’t know anything about Christianity, and I also thought, “I’m going to have to take theology classes, and I’m going to fail.” But when I got here, I decided right away that I didn’t want that “chip on my shoulder” mentioned earlier. I knew I was going to be a little different, and that was OK because I could handle it. I wanted to show people who I was and who Muslims were.

Coming off 9/11, being Muslim was different. You always got asked questions such as: “You wear a hijab. Are you suppressed?” But I’m not suppressed. It’s a personal choice, and it’s a freedom of choice. As part of the Muslim Student Association and Marquette University Student Government, one of my main goals is to teach people about who we are, either through events or simply by being myself. I feel like that change in understanding is still coming. Last year we had an open discussion with the Muslim Student Association and Empowerment, the feminist group on campus, where so many students came. Throughout the year so many students come to events like our Ramadan dinners.

Abby :  It’s delicious.

Shazia : We also have “Hijab for a Day,” where we invite other people to partake in the experience of wearing hijab and then talk about it. All this helps increase understanding. Campus Ministry has always been there for us, as well. Not only are we reaching out, but so many different people are reaching out to us and making sure that our stories are told. So campus might not appear diverse when you simply look around, but when you go beneath that first layer, you have people who are so willing to learn about other cultures, and there’s an openness that I don’t think you get at a public university. I can talk to you about who I am, my religion, being a woman and all the things that come with it. That’s one of the reasons that I love Marquette.

Abby : It’s exciting and interesting to hear about all of this and it makes me feel so lucky to have this environment around me.

Moya : We recognize the importance of what happened 100 years ago, and we can appreciate all women went through because I’m sure it wasn’t easy. ... I think for Abby and Shazia, the difference is that you’re involved. You represent you, and you’re not willing to back down from representing you. That’s probably what we learn from these 100 years of women—it’s just to be you.


Comment by Desiree Valentine at Oct 10 2009 05:45 pm
Cool feature!
Comment by Mary McMahon at Oct 13 2009 08:32 am
I attended MU in late 60's, being the first female in my family to attend college. The Dominican nuns at my high school encouraged me to attend college and it was the best choice I could have made. MU was a welcoming environment then when only 33% of the student body was female; and in my alumni involvement today, I still feel welcome and connected. Go MU!
Comment by Terry Tobin at Oct 22 2009 12:10 pm
I was an undergrad in the late 50's and lived in the period when things were restrictive, but small changes were evident (now that I look back). I am now in my 41st year as faculty so I have totally watched the evolution. Women today have so many opportunities and I am thrilled to be part of their academic lives and explorations. I have watched wonderful women discover themselves and move on to exciting careers that didn't even exist when I was their age. And no, they are not inhibited. They are self-confident, adventuresome and looking to serve. Service to others is intrinsic to their lives. That was a background during my college life. It has been and continues to be exciting to be able to witness these changes and be part of the history of women at Marquette.
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