1971: The Mount Goes Co-Ed
by James Rada, Jr.
Although Mount St. Mary’s University was named for a woman, she wouldn’t have been able to attend the college until 1971. It was only in its 164th year that the college decided to admit female students.
Some females from nearby St. Joseph’s College had been attending a limited number of classes at the Mount beginning in 1970. The two colleges had entered into a cooperative agreement that allowed students from either school to take a class at the other school if it wasn’t offered at their home college. The schools even provided transportation between the two campuses to aid the students. During the 1970-71 school year, 119 men from the Mount attended one or more classes at St. Joseph’s, and 100 women from St. Joseph’s attended one or more classes at the Mount.
While the agreement seemed to address the educational reasons for the Mount going co-educational, it didn’t address the cultural or financial issues.
St. Joseph’s College announced that it would close in 1973. This caused concern at Mount St. Mary’s, which had also seen its enrollment dropping. The school had 1,100 students during the 1970-71 school year.
“We are, of course, saddened by the Saint Joseph announcement but we do not feel that the wave of bleak prophecy which has pervaded our own campus is justified. Our situations are in no way similar even though we face the same serious problems of most of the nation’s private colleges,” Mount President John J. Dillon Jr. said during a speech.
In June of 1971, it was announced that the Mount would begin admitting women as non-resident students beginning with the 1971-72 school year. They would be admitted as resident students the following year.
To ensure that students from St. Joseph’s College wouldn’t be delayed in their graduation because of the transition, the Mount also waived some of the curriculum requirements at the Mount for students who needed it, according to the Emmitsburg Chronicle.
While admitting female students helped the women of St. Joseph’s College, it also helped the Mount, which had been seeing fewer applications.
“I feel that the tragedy at Saint Joseph can make us a stronger college if we all work in that direction,” Dillon said. “Mount St. Mary’s is, after all, your college.”
The Mount student body celebrated the decision. David Fielder wrote in the Mountain Echo, “This year, however, we have witnessed the emergence of the Mount into the twentieth century with the administration’s radical new policy concerning co-education. We actually have female names listed in the registrar’s office, and, come next year, Mounties may even find men and women living near each other within the campus grounds. Thus one might conclude that we’ve been granted the other half of what it takes to have a student body.”
While the males were certainly happy to see women on campus, the Mountain Echo pointed out that it was a good academic decision for the school. According to the newspaper, in 1969, 40 colleges and universities had gone co-ed. It was a move being made to attract high-caliber students, of which, 81 percent said in a Princeton University survey that they wanted co-educational schools.
However, not everyone was happy. Women who were losing their college with the closure of St. Joseph’s College lead the way with this group. One woman wrote a letter against the move in The Valley Echo called “Better Dead than Co-Ed.”
The overlapping between the admittance of female students and the closing of Mount St. Mary’s allowed for a gradual transition. Today, women make up the majority of the student body (55 percent) at the Mount.