Manhattan College’s decision to begin admitting women to undergraduate programs in the fall of 1973 was the product of years of discussion and research. It was not on a whim that MC opened its doors to women in 1973.
The Cooperative Agreement
The college had a long established cooperative program with the all-female College of Mount Saint Vincent. The cooperative program was established in 1964 and allowed the female students from Mount Saint Vincent to take classes at Manhattan and the male students of Manhattan to take classes at Mount Saint Vincent.
“The precursor to coeducation was the cooperative agreement with the college Mount St Vincent. They were always our sister school in a sense,” Amy Surak, the Manhattan College Archivist, said. “We had teas and dances, we had social events. We always interacted with one another. In fact many of our alum met their wives at events between the two institutions.”
Surak, who is in the process of editing her draft of the history of the college, also noted the way the cooperative agreement began to sew the seeds of coeducation.
“In 1964 it made very logical sense to come together so that we could offer the students of Mount Saint Vincent, which offered primarily nursing and education, we could offer them engineering classes and business classes. Curriculum which was very male dominated and male centric at the time,” Surak said.
“Not only were they gathering socially to dance and engage in lectures, but then we started to have men and women in the classroom together.”
Finances and Enrollment Begins the Conversatio
At this time, Manhattan began facing financial struggles and low enrollment. As Surak writes in her unpublished history of the college: “Manhattan College began the 1970s facing contracting enrollments, limited resources and escalating educational costs.” Many solutions were proposed to lessen the financial strain of the college, and in the political and social climate of the 1970s, coeducation was among the most discussed and widely supported by students and faculty.
The support for coeducation was not shared with the board of trustees and administration of the college at the time. As Surak writes: “When coeducation was raised to the board of trustees initially in May 1971 by Brother Gregory, the board dismissed the consideration since the cooperative program was so educationally promising and economically prudent.”
While the cooperative agreement with Mount Saint Vincent brought female students into the Manhattan College classrooms it “hindered its progress” toward coeducation, according to Surak.
Surak also points to the relationship between the Brothers and the Sisters who ran Manhattan and Mount Saint Vincent respectively.
“The brothers and the sisters loved and respected each other. They always had this great working relationship. So when this idea of coeducation came up, the idea was maybe we shouldn’t do this because they didn’t want to upset the sisters in any way,” Surak said.
By 1972 the new Manhattan College Community Senate conducted a study to look at the social and economic benefits of coeducation at MC. Surak writes that “In November 1972…the Senate approved by a vote of 45-2, with 1 abstaining, the recommendation of the Committee on Coeducation that Manhattan should go coed and maintain the cooperative program.”
Arts and Sciences does not go Coed
In December of 1973, The Jasper Journal, one of the two newspapers on campus that year, published an interview with Brother Gregory, the president of the college. The Jasper Journal asked Brother Gregory for the projections of women who would be applying to Manhattan, particularly the numbers for the School of Arts and Sciences. Brother Gregory could not give the numbers. ““No unfortunately I don’t,” the interview reads. “It seems to me that the Arts and Sciences curriculum would tend to attract more women than the ones that were open to them this year.”
Interestingly as the year went on, the college decided not to admit women to the School of Arts and Sciences for its first year of coeducation. The decision stemmed from Manhattan’s involvement in the cooperative program with Mount Saint Vincent and a wish to maintain a good relationship by only opening up female enrollment in programs whose curriculum was not available at Mount Saint Vincent.
As Surak writes: “this caused some grumbling among the student-body and faculty who interpreted the move as subjugating the desires of Manhattan to the needs of the Mount.”
This sudden change was widely discussed on campus and reported on in The Quadrangle. On February 14, 1973 The Quadrangle reported that the senate would likely discuss coeducation at their next meeting and referred to a “rumor” that it would only be the schools of engineering and business that went coed. Then, on February 27, 1973 The Quadrangle reported: “The senate is expected to discuss the issue of coeducation again, since Brother Stephen Sullivan’s recent statement of coeducation has thrown the matter into a state of confusion.” The statement refers to the decision to not open the School of Arts and Sciences to female applicants in the first year of coeducation.
Accompanying the article is a cartoon that perhaps shows the discontent of the student body with the change to the decision. It appears to depict Brother Stephen Sullivan rejecting a cake with a woman that reads “Arts + Science.” The Quadrangle also noted that this decision was a major blow to the power of the Senate.
Discussion of Women’s Issues on Campus
This was not the only instance of The Quadrangle reporting on women’s issues at this time. In fact, the year leading up to the college’s first year of coeducation includes articles and editorials that cover a wide ranging spectrum of issues.
In March, among articles that noted the increase of tuition at Manhattan, the Quadrangle also published a letter to the editor that attacked the statements of one Manhattan Student in his reference to students of Mount Saint Vincent as “mounties” writing that it “carries a feeling of inferiority, which of course in this case is sexual inferiority.”
In the letter, the student also calls The Quadrangle a “sexist orientated rag.” They conclude by writing: “It could possibly be time for the students of Mount St. Vinvent to evaluate the manner which they are being treated and the students of Manhattan College to evaluate some of their sexist ways.”
Clearly there was some question of the ability of Manhattan to accept women into the college. At the same time second wave feminism and public attention to women’s rights issues were creating new discussions.
One of these issues was abortion and The Quadrangle was publishing a series of editorials called “The Abortion Issue: A View.” The Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade undoubtedly prompted the editorial. The editorial also incited response from the Manhattan Community with one letter to the editor from a female reader disagreeing with the editorials remarks on the morality of the abortion issue.
In October of 1973, Dr. William Reilly published an editorial in The Quadrangle entitled: “On Buttoning Women’s Lips.” In the article Reilly discusses the equality of women particularly in education. He wrote: “it is clear that justice demands total equity here, including the long-denied ‘equal pay for equal work principle’.”
He goes on to write: “the malignant nonsense that ‘women have a right over their own bodies’ becomes palpable.” There was clearly some questions still left to be answered about what the place of female students would be at MC, as the varying viewpoints reported in the campus news sources in 1973 reveal.
In a staff editorial published in 1973 states: “having taken over one hundred years to go co-ed in four of her five schools, how long will it now take Manhattan to go co-ed in the School of Arts and Sciences?” The editorial suggests that Brother Batt who was in charge of admissions was uninterested in admitting female students, and concludes: “THE QUAD extends its sincerest sympathy to those co-eds caught in yet another Admissions folly.”
Coeducation Arrives at MC
In the fall of 1973 Manhattan College officially admitted women to the college, though they were not admitted to the School of Arts and Sciences until the following year in 1974, when the College of Mount Saint Vincent also went coed.
Surak writes: “The 1973-1974 academic year marked the first time that women were officially allowed to enroll at Manhattan College. Out of a total of around three thousand fulltime undergraduates, forty-three fulltime undergraduate women matriculated at the institusion.”
The year leading up to coeducation was marked by discussions about the practicality of the decisions, the power of the Community Senate and the Board of Trustees, and the way the decision affected the cooperative agreement with the College of Mount Saint Vincent.
“One of the most impactful and far-reaching changes during this period was the introduction of coeducation,” Surak writes, “which brought an end to that part of Manhattan’s identity that exclusively branded the institution as a ‘maker of men’.”