Eleanor Darnall Carroll
Susan Decatur, the widow of naval hero Stephen Decatur, lived in a cottage where the White-Gravenor building now stands. In addition to a number of mementos left to the university collection, Mrs. Decatur made several significant cash grants to the university in return for a life annuity. She then lived long enough to be one of the few people to actually make a decent living out of the university.
There were many other women whose hard work and support did much to build this place, from the women who ran the laundry that stood near the present site of Harbin, to the women whose donations built Dahlgren chapel, the two Ryan buildings, and much of the east campus. Also, we should remember that the Visitation Academy girls made the banner that marked the adoption of Blue and Gray as the official school colors, but still, they were not admitted as students. The Jesuits held the line.
Until recently, it was thought that the first women officially enrolled at Georgetown were the students of the nursing school, but a research request caused us to discover two women enrolled in the Medical School in the 1880-81 school year. Jeannette Sumner and Annie Rice transferred to the Women's Medical College of Philadelphia after that year, completed their medical education and established the first dispensary in Washington serving the needs of poor women and children; yet we have no idea how they came to be admitted or why they transferred. Still, they were definitely the first women to be enrolled at Georgetown.
Women have officially studied at Georgetown continuously since the founding of the Nursing school in 1904. In 1919, special arrangements were made to offer classes at Georgetown Visitation for nuns wishing to improve their education. During the 1930's women were admitted to the Hygienist program at the Dental School, and were admitted to regular graduate programs during the second world war. By 1952, women were admitted to all schools but the college, though on a very limited basis. By that time, there were 409 women on campus out of a total enrollment of just over 5000. The women of Georgetown have always been a very talented group. For example, the late Rita Lenihan, who was in the first group of women admitted to the graduate school, later commanded the women's naval forces; Mary Jo Bane, SFS '63, the first woman editor of the Foreign Service School Courier, is on leave from a Harvard Professorship to serve as Assistant Secretary for Children and Families in the Department of Health and Human Services; and Christine Niedermeier, C'73, L'77, the first woman to deliver the Cohongurotan oration, is running for Mayor (actually, the Connecticut title is "First Selectman") of Fairfield, Connecticut.
The first tentative recognition of the need for women's extracurricular activities came in 1952 with the establishment of the women's athletic association. Initially, the association was limited to nursing students, and the main activity was intramural basketball. Later field hockey, swimming, tennis, badminton, bowling and horseback riding were added, and local intercollegiate competition began in basketball and field hockey. In 1956, nurses Skippy White and Carol Bloise won spots on the men's sailing team and were the first Georgetown women to win varsity letters. Soon women were leaders in all aspects of student activities, and it remained only to breach the hallowed walls of the college. This was accomplished with only minor discomfiture in 1969. By 1976, Georgetown was more than 50% female, with 2642 women undergraduates enrolled. Though we may assume the battle of the sexes will remain a feature of human nature, and the full meaning of equality has yet to be realized, happily, equal educational opportunity is no longer a subject for debate at Georgetown.
Jon Reynolds, University Archivist