The first classes at Marymount Junior College called themselves the Pioneers, writing in their yearbook that “the tradition and future of a college depend on the spirit of its first students…and it is our ambition that we, and all who come after us, will attain the ideals and aims of our Marymount.”
This was the goal not only of those early students, but also of the school’s faculty, especially the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary. Together, they established a heritage that still thrives today.
The RSHM who taught at Marymount in the 1950s were highly educated women, most with graduate degrees, and the liberal arts curriculum that they developed was quite rigorous for its time. Sister Colette Mahoney, RSHM, former president of Marymount Manhattan College, arrived in Arlington in 1953 and resided at the college while pursuing doctoral studies at Catholic University. In 1957, she was assigned to Marymount and became chair of the college’s Science Department.
Sister Colette remembers the caliber of the program, as well as a heavy teaching workload. She says, “Our science program was quite advanced; students in the Medical Secretarial track had to take anatomy, physics, biology, pathology, and medical ethics.”
She adds, “Marymount had a very close relationship with the local medical community at that time, and the doctors wanted our students to have this comprehensive curriculum. The program that began as training for highly skilled medical secretaries led to the development of Marymount’s two-year Nursing program.”
In addition to teaching, the Sisters also acted as dorm mothers. Sister Colette notes, “I was in charge of the freshmen, and I remember them as being terrific.We lived on the halls and really got to know the students. Maureen Reagan, daughter of Jane Wyman and Ronald Reagan, was there during my tenure. She was a wonderful person, but left after one year. Her mother had told her she only had to stay until she was 18, and Maureen had made up her mind that she wanted to do other things. But she told me as she left, ‘Don’t worry, Mother, I’ll still say my Rosary.’”
Nora Collins Leibold, class of 1953, did stay for the full program, and she too sings the praises of the curriculum, as well as the bonds of friendship that she formed with her classmates and teachers in just two short years. Leibold says, “I got a solid grounding in the liberal arts, which was a great springboard for my further academic studies. I eventually earned a bachelor’s degree, two master’s degrees, and a doctorate.”
She also recalls that being near the nation’s capital was a big draw and really added to the educational experience. Leibold says, “Washington was a small town in those days, a place where someone always knew someone. Through connections, two of my friends were able to attend some of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s hearings that questioned the loyalty and allegiance of many well-known public figures in the early 1950s. Whatever you think of the politics, I mainly remember my friend’s mother calling and being aghast that she had seen her on TV! I also have memories of attending an Inaugural Ball in 1952 at the Old Field House at Georgetown University.”
And Leibold remembers that the rules for Marymount students were quite strict in the first decade of the school’s existence, but she believes that that was “perfectly natural, because most of the students had come from Catholic girls high schools.” While attendance at Mass was required, Leibold chuckles, “weekly Confession was optional. But most of the girls went, because the priests from Missionhurst were mostly from other countries and weren’t that fluent in English!”
Looking back, Nora Leibold is filled with fond memories of good times with her classmates, some of whom made it back to Marymount for their 50th reunion in 2003. She proudly says, “Much of what Marymount University is today is rooted in the accomplishments of those early years.”