What is the History of Women at Marquette?

By Dr. Amy Cooper Cary

As Dr. Tom Jablonsky has written in his piece on the History of Marquette, in 1909 Rev. James McCabe, S.J., was the first Marquette administrator to admit women to the university. With plans in place to open a summer school, McCabe allowed women religious to enroll as well, granting them the education necessary to staff parochial schools throughout the state. His bold action in enrolling women – establishing Marquette as the first Catholic institution of higher education to admit both men and women – has been followed by over a century of bold actions on the part of men and women to further the mission of the university.

So, who are the Women who are the Pillars at Marquette?

Mathilda Steinbrecher

Mathilda Steinbrecher became the first “adviser” or dean of women in the fall of 1923, two years after university leaders created a position of dean of men. Steinbrecher was a new graduate of Marquette who had previously served in a similar advisory role at what would later become the Milwaukee Area Technical College. In addition to creating the position for an adviser to women, the university further recognized and responded to the needs of women on campus by renovating a building – renamed Drexel Lodge - to serve as their “official headquarters.” While supervising matters of women’s discipline, health, and recreation, Steinbrecher also served as a full-time instructor at the College of Dentistry, assisting in courses in bacteriology, histology and pathology. She resigned in the fall of 1925 due to the demands of the two positions. While her time as dean of women was short, Steinbrecher initiated programs with long-lasting implications for women, helping to organize both the Marquette University Alumnae Association and the women’s honorary society, Gamma Pi Epsilon.

Sister M. Berenice Beck, O.S.F.

As director of St. Joseph’s Hospital Training School for Nurses, Sister M. Berenice Beck, O.S.F., worked to integrate the school into Marquette University. In 1936, it became a constituent college; professional nursing courses were offered at St. Joseph’s Hall or St. Joseph’s Hospital, while academic courses were taught on the Marquette campus. Beck, one of the first women to obtain a doctorate degree in nursing, became the first female academic dean at the university, a position she held from 1936 until 1942. The affiliation with Marquette established the nursing program amongst the first ten nationwide in either colleges or universities. While Beck served as dean, the program initiated special courses for graduate nurses, established a program for public health nursing, founded a graduate program in nursing, and received its earliest accreditations. As Madeline Wake indicates in Marquette Nursing: History & Reflections, Beck left in May 1942 to “become active in national defense nursing education,” serving as “an adviser for the United States Public Health Service in the development of nursing programs, which included being a part-time nurse consultant to the United States Cadet Nurse Corps.”

The Association of Marquette University Women

Formed in 1938 under the leadership of Mabel McElligott, the Association of Marquette University Women (AMUW) has a long history of important contributions to the life of the university. One of its earliest priorities was to improve housing for women, who in the 1930s lived in second-rate rooming houses surrounding campus. Members of the AMUW secured funding, renovated an apartment building, and opened it in the fall of 1938 as Alumnae House, the first women’s residence hall at Marquette. The AMUW continued to purchase and remodel residences in the quarter century that followed and initiated the construction of O’Donnell Hall, which was built on land the organization purchased on its own. To secure federal loans for the construction of the new residence, the AMUW deeded all its property to Marquette but continued raising the funds to pay for the hall, which opened in the fall of 1952. In the 1970s, the AMUW raised money to provide all the lighting, seats, curtains and furnishings for the Helfaer Theatre.

 Established in 1963, the Women’s Chair of Humanistic Studies commemorates the contributions of the AMUW, bringing a distinguished woman scholar to campus to teach, lecture, and interact with students. The AMUW has funded student scholarships, including the AMUW Scholarship and the Ignatian Leadership Award, to promote female excellence in the classroom and community, and awards scholarships each year to Theatre Arts majors. In 2004, AMUW initiated a Faculty Achievement Award to honor a female faculty member who has excelled in research, teaching and service to Marquette and the community and who has mentored students and other faculty.

Miriam Connellan

Established in 1959, the Faculty Award for Teaching Excellence honors Marquette professors for their “ability to inspire students to seek the ideals of the university and to cause them to grow in knowledge and scholarship.” Though women were eligible for the award, it wasn’t until 1970, in the award’s twelfth year, that a woman was first so honored. Assistant chair and associate professor of mathematics Miriam Connellan was recognized for making “the entire university community aware of what it means to be a teacher, and, even more, to be a teacher of teachers.” In addition to her work as a member of the faculty, Connellan fought for improved teacher education programs and higher standards of student performance within those programs, bringing NSF institutes for teachers of mathematics to Marquette to improve their teaching. Over 30 women have now been recognized with awards for teaching excellence and over 500 women currently serve on Marquette’s faculty. Like Connellan, they have inspired and influenced generations of students – men and women, alike.

Catherine “Tat” Shiely

Catherine "Tat" Shiely was a pioneer in building the women's athletics program at Marquette University. Hired in 1975 in response to the passage of Title IX, Shiely served as coordinator of the brand-new women’s athletics program at the university. In this position, she was given a broad range of responsibilities, including the development, coordination and administration of the participation of women in Marquette’s intercollegiate athletic program; the scheduling of women’s sports games; the hiring and supervision of coaches for additional women’s sports teams; the recommendation of policies and programs beneficial for women; and coordination with the admissions office in recruiting women. During her tenure at Marquette, she served as the first head coach of both the women's basketball and the women's volleyball teams and was the only female in the nation to serve as head coach of both sports simultaneously. While serving twenty-four seasons as head volleyball coach, Shiely also served as the senior women's athletic administrator (1985-1994) and held the post of NCAA compliance officer (1988-1994). Just as women’s intercollegiate athletics grew nationally, the women’s athletics program at Marquette took off under her leadership. Shiely was inducted into Marquette’s Intercollegiate Hall of Fame in 2004.

Board of Trustees - Joanne O’Malley Pier and Mary Ellen Stanek

In 1969, Marquette University President Rev. John P. Raynor, S.J., created a Board of Trustees that established a significant role for laymen in the operation of the university. Expanding the board from a membership of three Jesuits to eight Jesuits and twenty-one laymen was a notable departure from a tradition of leadership by a small group of Jesuits. In 1976, seven years after the creation of the board, JoAnne O’Malley Pier, Nursing ‘59 became the first woman elected to the group. Thirty years later, Mary Ellen Stanek, Arts ’78 became the first woman elected to chair Marquette’s Board of Trustees, serving as chair from 2006 to 2009. Women currently make up twenty-three percent of the board (seven out of thirty-one).

Sherri Coe-Perkins

Over time, women slowly assumed a variety of leadership positions within the university. It wasn’t until 1992, however, that Marquette had its first female vice-president, when Sherri Coe-Perkins was named vice president for student affairs. Her responsibilities included residence halls, student organizations and activities, athletics, the student judicial system, counseling, student health, student government, multi-cultural affairs and other student services. Coe-Perkins served in the role for five years. Women presently hold eight of the twenty-six top leadership positions (deans and vice-presidents) within the university.

Gender Equity Task Force

In response to concerns about gender equity on campus, Marquette University President Rev. Robert A. Wild, S.J., formed a Gender Equity Task Force in 1999 to examine areas of gender inequity among the faculty. In the fall of 1998, twenty-five percent of Marquette’s full-time faculty and six of the 114 faculty members holding Full Professor rank were women, ranking Marquette in the bottom three percent nationwide for women holding Full Professor rank. The Task Force, chaired by Professor Phoebe Williams (Law), highlighted in an Executive Summary to its January 2001 report a number of findings, including “gender has a significant and negative effect on initial salary and this effect carries through to current salary,” “women may be less likely to attain the rank of Associate Professor, even when accounting for pre-tenure productivity,” and “women are significantly less likely to receive administrative appointments, particularly to department Chair.” A lack of policies and procedures related to recruitment, mentoring, salary, reviews and promotion were also a focus of the report.

The university subsequently embarked on a process to adjust salaries to correct inequities and to standardize hiring and retention procedures across campus. As the 2013 Self-Study Report for the Higher Learning Commission reports, the provost personally examines “the salary of every full-time, regular, female faculty member in comparison with male faculty salaries.” The percentage of women among the number of total faculty has risen to 42 percent in 2012; women now make up 16 percent of full professors.

In the century since Father McCabe began admitting women, they have made countless contributions to Marquette University and have changed it in remarkable ways.