Fr. Hesburgh shaking hands with a young student

While the University of Notre Dame Women’s Initiative was officially created in 2015, their work was actually started in 1972 – by a gentleman. Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C. became the fifteenth President of the University in 1952 and is best known for his commitment to Our Lady, tireless work bettering Notre Dame over thirty-five years, numerous presidential appointments and marching with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement.

Notre Dame’s daughters, however, most fondly remember Fr. Hesburgh for his decision to admit female undergraduate students in 1972. Fr. Hesburgh knew that the inclusion of women on campus was part of the duty of a Catholic – or universal – institution.  With women taking prominent places in business, education, politics and beyond, Fr. Hesburgh knew it was critical that men and women start their work together at the University of Notre Dame. He believed that women also deserved a Catholic education – especially at a University dedicated to Our Lady – and the number of women’s Catholic colleges was too few at the time. Fr. Hesburgh’s decision would ultimately lead to a larger applicant pool and subsequently raise standards for admission. His acute foresight helped to establish an even bigger name for Notre Dame as a leading university.

Since 1972, Notre Dame has admitted thousands of female students who continue to make the University flourish. In 2015, a group of these women came together as part of the Women’s Initiative to honor Fr. Hesburgh for the gift of a Notre Dame education.