In honor of Women’s History Month let’s take a quick look back in time to those early days when women first joined the ranks of students at USF.
It was in 1927 when the first female students enrolled at the University of San Francisco, then called St. Ignatius College. These “co-eds” took classes in what was known as the evening college or evening school, distinct from the ‘regular’ program of study available in the ‘day school’ at the College.
The news that women were enrolled in evening courses was met with a feature article in The Ignatian, the College’s newspaper. The article, entitled “Ancient Standards Endangered as Lecture Halls are Turned over to Co-eds” mentions that 175 women were enrolled in night courses that year. The reporter bemoaned the arrival of female students, writing:
“Do not be surprised if some morning you enter your favorite class room and find it adorned with curtains and a rose on the prof’s desk”
“Imagine a female St. Ignatius rooting section, I ask you, just imagine. Or, Oh will it come to this a yell leader of the other sex.”
(spoiler alert…USF did eventually have female “yell leaders” to hype the crowds at athletic events, but not until Priscilla Scotlan was a student at USF in the 1960s)
The female students of 1927 were not content to stay quietly in their seats. In addition to their classroom studies, they were leaders in student government, joined clubs, and participated in campus life as permitted. Ruth Halpin was a member of the Law and Commerce Executive Committee, Anne Shumway was a Freshman Law Officer, and Anne Sullivan served in the Arts and Sciences student government. In the November 7, 1927 issue of The Ignatian, Helen Roche reported on the evening school student election and the selection of Margaret McAuliffe and Laura O’Farrell to leadership roles.
“The inevitable has come to pass. St. Ignatius now has woman suffrage.”
By Spring 1928, the new female students seemed to be welcomed with excitement by at least one group on campus — the College Players. The arrival of women on campus meant that the College Players could now feature a ‘Mixed Cast’ of male and female students in their dramatic productions. “A striking innovation in St. Ignatius dramatics will feature the venture, as the feminine roles in the play will be portrayed by women. Hitherto the standard plays produced at St. Ignatius have been rewritten and revised to eliminate the necessity for actresses.” The Ignatian, March 2, 1928.
The 1929 Ignatian yearbook features photos of a variety of female College Players, including Beatrice Bier, Esther Cameron, Madeline Cameron, Helen Daley, Iris Dorso, Gabrielle Greefkens, Phyllis Haley, Ruth Halpin, Helen Hogan, La Prele Lindsay, Henrietta Lombardi, Dorothy London, Mary McQuaid, Frederica Nestor, Kathleen Sherman, La Rue Marquis, and Mary McCarthy.
Although the arrival of women in the evening courses at St. Ignatius College did spark some debate about whether the “day school” could or should admit female students, women continued to be excluded from the “regular” undergraduate program of USF until the 1960s.
“What’s this??? Co-education in day school?!”
It wasn’t until 1964 that the university officially became fully co-educational, welcoming women to all programs of study.
If you’re interested in reading more about the history of women at USF, check out these sources:
- Ziajka, Alan. Diversity at the University of San Francisco: Select Historical Points. University of San Francisco, 2017. PDF available at the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine
- Carmona, Janet. USF Women Making History. Gleeson Gleanings, March 17, 2015. Blog post available at Gleeson Gleanings
- Ziajka, Alan. Legacy & Promise: 150 Years of Jesuit Education at the University of San Francisco. San Francisco: University of San Francisco, Association of Jesuit University Presses, 2005. Print book available at Gleeson Library
- Ziajka, Alan, and Robert Elias. University of San Francisco. Arcadia Publishing, 2015. Print book available at Gleeson Library
Gleeson Library’s Special Collections and University Archives holds copies of early student newspapers, yearbooks, and other campus publications that are available for research and viewing at the library. Digitized copies of some of those publications are available in our Digital Collections, including early copies of campus yearbooks and the student newspaper. The pictures and stories in the post above are from the USF Student Newspaper Collection and the USF Yearbooks Collection.