The decade that changed the world started with a major change at Marymount. Sister Berchmans Walsh, RSHM, was reassigned, and Sister Majella Berg, RSHM, became Marymount’s third president, a position she would hold for 33 years.
Sister Mary Elizabeth Rathgeb, then known as Mother Jean Antoine, arrived at Marymount in the early ’60s, to serve as registrar and director of Admissions. She notes that the students of that time came from a broader geographic range, including California, Florida, and Texas, as well as the mid-Atlantic and New England states. There were even some students from South American countries. This was the beginning of one of Marymount’s greatest strengths – the diversity of its student body
Jane McDonough Tuck ’67 remembers a campus full of enthusiastic, funloving students. She also notes that campus life was more structured than it is today: “Attendance at dinner was mandatory, and we had to dress in skirts or dresses. Each Thursday after dinner, there was a required Convocation where we would go to the chapel in caps and gowns and listen to a homily by a visiting priest.”
Tuck adds that the dress code also applied for classes, and most students adhered to the fashion of the day, wearing Villager skirts, blouses with Peter Pan collars, and circle pins.
Campus life in the ’60s involved more than 20 student organizations. Jane Tuck remembers, “There were two student singing groups of note: the Charms were an a cappella group who recorded two albums, and the Cold Cuts played banjo and guitar and dressed up in overalls. Both groups regularly performed on and off campus, to everyone’s delight.”
She adds, “Sports also played a large role in student life. What few people realize is that we had a great athletics program, with teams in field hockey, volleyball, basketball, tennis, and swimming. One Marymount swimmer from that era, Kathy Lawlor ’68, nearly made the Olympics!”
Despite the all-female student body, Tuck recalls an active social scene: “We enjoyed going to mixers at Georgetown University, and other local all-male institutions. Just like today, it was always fun to go to Georgetown!”
As the ’60s progressed, the college’s curriculum became increasingly rigorous, with an emphasis on preparing for careers in fields like fashion design, fashion merchandising, elementary education, and nursing. Sister Michaeline O’Dwyer, RSHM, a current Marymount Trustee, remembers being impressed by the breadth of the science curriculum when she arrived on campus in 1963.
Sister Michaeline taught biology, anatomy and physiology, clinical chemistry, and microbiology. She says, “Our students were smart girls, and their course of study was ahead of its time. Dr. William Dolan, a respected Arlington physician, was on the faculty, and he arranged for our classes to observe surgeries, births, and autopsies.” These innovations paid off. Marymount’s two-year Nursing program, launched in 1966, quickly gained a reputation as the best in the area.
But some of the most memorable and important lessons of that time came from the college’s ethical stand on the issues of the day. Shortly after the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1963, Sister Majella Berg became active in supporting its implementation and began recruiting African-American students to attend Marymount. And, as an involved member of the greater DC community, the college continued to reach out to its neighbors.
Dr. Linda McMahon, currently chair of the Department of History and Politics, joined Marymount’s faculty in 1965. She began to work closely with Sister Majella, and within a few short years was appointed dean of students.
Dr. McMahon recalls, “Sister Majella established Project Discovery in 1968. This was a summer program for junior-high students who were at risk of dropping out; it combined athletics and academics. This not only gave the kids something to do, it also brought minority children to campus and showed them that college was possible for them. We were way ahead of others in this effort.”