In the current edition of Washington Monthly, Kevin Carey tells the fascinating story of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur that founded Trinity College (now University) in Washington, D.C. Opened in 1900, Trinity was intended to serve women who could not attend all-male Catholic colleges and universities. They were barred not because they lacked promise, qualifications or resources, but because they were women. As a result, Trinity recruited and educated some of the best and brightest Catholic women in the United States. Representative Nancy Pelosi, the erstwhile Speaker of the House of Representatives and now House Minority Leader, is perhaps Trinity’s most-mentioned alumna. But the article surveys a truly remarkable array of former students who have risen to leadership in academia, medicine, government, business, and the religious life. In fact, Carey observes, only Princeton University has more alumnae on the Forbes Magazine list of 100 most powerful women in the world.
The history of Trinity is closely linked to that of the Sisters of Notre Dame, who first fought to open the school in the face of ecclesiastical and civic resistance and later demanded the highest standards of excellence from the women they educated. Sister Margaret Claydon, named president of Trinity in 1959 at the young age of 36, occupies a prominent place in the history of the school. At a news conference after her appointment, Claydon noted, “The modern world needs more people – including girls – who think for themselves.” She continued, “We’re not in the business of training committee women or bridge players.” As time and Carey’s article have shown, this was not just a slogan – it was the truth. Trinity has formed generations of students with the same character of the very sisters who founded the school: passionate, dedicated, savvy, and tough. And though Trinity has faced challenges in recent decades, including the dwindling number of Notre Dame sisters, the school continues to do the work for which it was begun: forming young women for leadership.
Timothy O'Brien, SJ