Selected Women's Firsts at Notre Dame

In the 50 years since Fr. Hesburgh made the historic decision to admit undergraduate women, women have been successful and contributed in important ways in every field and discipline. But to truly understand how women have impacted the University, it's important to consider the integral part they've played since the earliest days of the University.

Without intending to be an exhaustive list, this timeline shows some selected women's "firsts" at Notre Dame.

  • 1843

    Father Sorin recruits four Holy Cross sisters from France to care for students as well as chickens and dairy cows: Sr. Mary of the Heart of Jesus; Sr. Mary of Bethlehem; Sr. Mary of Calvary; and Sr. Mary of Nazareth. These women are the first of many Holy Cross sisters who would be part of Notre Dame, serving as teachers and leaders as well as assisting with domestic tasks.

  • 1885
    An old black and white photo of a woman wearing a head covering.

    First woman to be awarded the Laetare Medal - Eliza Allen Starr

  • 1917

    First women to graduate - Sr. M. Lucretia (Kearns), C.S.C. (MS in Domestic Chemistry) and Sr. M. Francis Jerome (O'Laughlin), C.S.C. (MA in Greek)

  • 1922

    First women to receive undergraduate degrees from Notre Dame - Sr. M. Aloysi Kiener (Sisters of Notre Dame, Cleveland, Ohio); Sr. M. Mary (Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine, Lakewood, Ohio); Sr. M. Josephine (Ursuline Sisters of Brown County, Ohio); Sr. M. Veronique (Sisters of the Holy Cross, Notre Dame, Indiana); Antoinette Semortier (South Bend; Indiana)

  • 1923

    First women to receive PhDs from Notre Dame - Sr. M. Lucretia (Kearns), C.S.C., (MS 1917) and Sr. M. Eleanore (Brosnahan), C.S.C. (MA 1918). They are also the first Double Domers.

  • 1925

    First woman to earn a bachelor of science degree - Sr. Mary Leona

  • 1952

    First woman to earn a bachelor of science in commerce - Sr. Mary Laura Garstecki

  • 1965
    A group of students get on a bus.

    A co-exchange program begins with Saint Mary’s College that allows Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s students to take courses on either campus.

    First women to join full-time faculty as assistant professors - Josephine Massyngbaerde Ford and Sr. Suzanne Kelly, OSB

  • 1971
    A black and white portrait of a white woman with short dark hair.

    First woman appointed to the Board of Trustees - Rosemary Park

    Notre Dame decides to become a fully coeducational institution

    A marching band on a football field.

    First women in marching band - Elizabeth Jaeger, Lucy Cannata, Susan Schoenherr, Susan Swiatek, Mary Beth Brungardt (SMC), Jean Ann Kaufman (SMC), Gail Spretnjak (SMC), Rosemary Crock (SMC)

  • 1972

    First cohort of undergraduate women welcomed

    First women to serve as rectors - Ms. Kathleen Cekanski; Sr. Maria Garlock; Sr. Jean Lenz, OSF; Sr. Karen Ann Paul, SC; and Ms. Joanne Szafran

  • 1973
    A woman with circle glasses works at a desk covered with papers.

    First woman named dean of any college, dean of College of Arts and Letters - Isabel Charles

    First woman to receive a bachelor of science in engineering architecture degree - Mary Ann Proctor

  • 1974
    A black and white photo of a woman with dark hair in a white sweater in front of curtained window.

    First woman named valedictorian - Marianne O'Connor Price

    Candy Kelly.

    First woman commissioned in Navy ROTC - Candy Kelly

  • 1976
    An older woman portrait in front of a bookcase.

    First woman appointed to full professor, first woman named endowed professor and founder of Gender Studies Program in 1988 - Joan Aldous

    A group of women tennis players with their rackets.

    Tennis and fencing become the first women’s varsity sports

  • 1977
    Belinda White.

    First woman commissioned in Army ROTC - Belinda White

  • 1979

    First Notre Dame woman to serve as editor of the Observer - Rosemary Mills

  • 1981
    A woman in a white drum major outfit on the football field with the Irish Guard.

    First woman to serve as marching band drum major - Toni Faini

  • 1986

    First woman named a Rhodes Scholar - Teresa Doering

  • 1987

    Women's fencing wins first national championship

  • 1990
    A black and white portrait.

    First woman named vice president for student affairs - Patricia O'Hara

  • 1995

    Women's Soccer wins first national championship

  • 1996
    A black and white portrait of Kathleen Andrews.

    First woman elected as Fellow of the University - Kathleen Andrews

  • 1997
    A woman speaks to a man in an office.

    First woman named dean of the Mendoza College of Business - Carolyn Woo

  • 1998
    A portrait of a woman with short hair, smiling.

    First woman elected as president of the Alumni Association - Beth Toomey

  • 1999

    First woman named dean of the Law School - Patricia O'Hara

  • 2000
    A woman raises her hat alongside the rest of the Irish Guard on the football field in their kilts.

    First woman chosen for Irish Guard - Molly Kinder

  • 2001

    First woman elected student body president - Brooke Norton

    A female shoots a free throw.

    Women's Basketball wins first national championship

  • 2005

    First woman named as president of the Monogram Club - Julie Doyle

  • 2007

    First all-women ticket for student body president - Elizabeth Brown and Maris Braun

  • 2010
    A black female student in graduation cap and gown smiles at a graduation podium.

    Selected as the first Black valedictorian - Katie Washington

  • 2011
    A portrait of a woman.

    First woman appointed to Executive Director of the Alumni Association - Dolly Duffy

  • 2013
    Portrait of a white woman with blond hair and blue eyes in a black blazer..

    First woman named dean of the Graduate School - Laura Carlson

  • 2014

    First Notre Dame student-athlete to be honored as NCAA Woman of the Year - Elizabeth Tucker

  • 2015
    A portrait of a woman outside.

    First woman named dean of the College of Science - Mary Galvin

  • 2019
    Leprechaun mascot pumping up a crowd.

    First woman selected as leprechaun - Lynette Wukie

  • 2020
    A portrait of a woman with short salt and pepper hair smiling and looking to the side of the camera.

    First woman named provost - Marie Lynn Miranda

    A portrait of a Black woman, Niele Ivey, against a gray backdrop wearing a pink blouse.

    First Black woman appointed head coach - Niele Ivey

    A moody side portrait of a woman.

    First woman named dean of the College of Engineering - Patricia Culligan

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