Celebrating women’s history month


By Sara Clifton

In 1882, tuition to St. Ambrose Seminary/Academy in Davenport was only $3 a month.
If you’ve paid tuition recently, you know things have changed. But, tuition isn’t the only thing that has been altered.
For many years, only male students were allowed on campus. Today, women represent a majority on St. Ambrose University’s (SAU) campus.
In honor of women’s history month, SAU celebrates the history and success of an idea that changed the face of the university. Forty-four years ago, co-educational classes began at SAU as the women’s movement was sweeping the nation.
It was 1968, and St. Ambrose College officially became a co-educational establishment.
“It was an exciting time,” said Edward Rogalski, former president of SAU and dean of students at the time. “It was a trend that was coming across the nation at the time, during the late 1960s and early 1970s. SAC (St. Ambrose College) would have been following in the footsteps of Notre Dame and other universities.”
Although it marked a turning point in the future of women at Ambrose, there had been women on the campus prior to the change. The first female student was allowed to stay on campus, in 1933, with the college domestic staff.
Then Marycrest College in Dav­enport opened in the late 1930s for women, but eventually became coed. That college closed decades later..
In 1952, female students from Mercy Hospital Nursing Program partnered with St. Ambrose College. “They were called ‘Mercy Nursies,’” Rogalski said, “and their degrees were conferred by SAC.”
Mercy Nursies lived in the hospital, which is now Genesis West. There were also groups of religious women who were permitted to take summer classes on the St. Ambrose campus.
“The group I recall best were the Dominican Sisters from Springfield, Ill.,” Rogalski said. “I believe most, if not all, were teachers and were here to obtain a degree and/or maintain their teaching certificates.”
The hardest part of the change may have been the accommodations needed for women. Female students would have to commute for the first year until South Hall, now Cosgrove, opened in 1969.
Restrooms, among other facilities, had to also be accounted for on campus. There was also a pool on campus at the time. A dressing room was needed there, as well.
SAU communication professor Ken Colwell, a freshman in the fall of 1969, said nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary with women on the campus.
Colwell, an avid photographer, helped the new class of women create a bulletin board. He took a head-and-shoulders photo of each of the women. They later put the photos together on a large bulletin board.
“I’m sure it was a major part of them coming together as a community,” Colwell said. “As a minority on the campus at the time, I’m sure they wanted to get to know one another.”
As times changed, the campus adapted. The sense of community may be the same today, but some of the rules have changed.
“Men were not allowed to go up into the dorm rooms of Cosgrove,” Colwell said. “You had to have the person at the front desk call and ask for the person to come down.”
The years immediately following the co-educational switch reflected the changing times as well. The board of directors elected Margaret Tiedemann, the first female board member, in 1971.
“She was an outstanding community leader,” Rogalski said.
He also said she was a great friend to the college and was able to support the university financially. Tiedemann Hall is named for her.
Sister Joan Lescinski, the 13th president of SAU, became its first woman president in 2007.
The women on the campus are no longer a minority. In fall 2011, SAU had 1,627 female and 1,125 male undergraduate students. As for graduate students, there were 525 females and 290 males.
“The numbers speak for themselves,” Rogalski said. “It indicates the change was more than successful.”

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