Gonzaga University announces on July 21, 1948, that it will admit women for the first time.

  • By Jim Kershner
  • Posted 2/28/2007
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 8102

On July 21, 1948, Gonzaga University president Father Francis Corkery ends 61 years of male-only tradition at Spokane's Jesuit university by announcing what many had advocated for decades: That it become a co-educational university. In September 1948, 70 women register for the first time, causing some of the male students to grumble and others to exult. At first, women are required to live with relatives, but by 1951, the first women's dorm is provided. The percentage of women at Gonzaga increases steadily until today women constitute a majority.  

The idea of Gonzaga going co-ed had been bandied about since at least 1935, when a reporter for the campus Gonzaga Bulletin had conducted an unscientific poll of 50 students at the all-male university. One student said that he was worried that women "would be the smartest ones in class," while another said that "girls interfere with the clear thinking of a quarterback" (Schoenberg).  The results of the poll: 27 no, 23 yes.

But after World War II, the largely Jesuit faculty and administration had clearly come around to the idea, if for no other reason than that Catholic girls were going off in droves to non-Catholic colleges. In announcing the decision, Corkery said that Gonzaga aimed to be "as progressive" as the growing Northwest itself (Spokesman-Review).

In September, the 70 female pioneers had a mixed reception. Some male students circulated petitions asking that the women be kicked off campus. At least one student council member campaigned on a misogynist platform. However, many of the men no doubt agreed with one senior who admitted that "it changes the atmosphere and makes me feel at home" (Schoenberg).  As for the Jesuit fathers, they noticed that the spirit of religious devotion noticeably improved on campus.

Sources: Wilfred P. Schoenberg, S.J., Gonzaga University: Seventy-five Years, 1887-1962, (Spokane: Gonzaga University, 1963); "Enrollment Increases and Northwest's Progress Spur School's Move," Spokesman-Review, July 22, 1948.

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