In the 2015-2016 academic year, the Boston College student body was composed of 53% female students and 47% male students. Though this statistic demonstrates that women have made great strides in gaining access to higher education, the presence of women in all schools at BC is a relatively recent occurrence.
From the inception of Boston College in the South End in 1863 until 1970, the classes in the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Business Administration were only open to men, as the university had yet to become coeducational.
Starting in 1947, though, two schools at BC broke the traditional mold of male-only educational settings. First, the School of Nursing opened on January 27, 1947, with the first class enrolling women starting in September.
Archbishop Richard Cushing championed the creation of the School of Nursing, especially after he noticed that no other Catholic institution in Boston offered a similar facility. The women studying in this school only took their science classes on the Chestnut Hill campus, though. For their other courses, the women traveled to 126 Newbury Street in Boston, where the headquarters of the School of Nursing was located. Finally in 1960, the School of Nursing was granted a new building on the main campus, which was named after Cardinal Cushing.
In 1952, another school opened that afforded more opportunities to women professionally: the School of Education. Though BC did have a department of education within the College of Arts and Sciences, it proved inadequate with the constantly elevating certification requirements for Massachusetts public school teachers. In his book History of Boston College, Father Charles Donovan, S.J. narrates how he believed that a school of education at BC would be successful because of the local need and the success that other Catholic colleges had found with educational schools.
Donovan’s proposal was ultimately granted, and in the fall of 1952, 176 freshmen entered as students in the School of Education. Of these 176 students, 110 of them were women, according to the History of Boston College. Though the Schools of Education and Nursing were now coeducational, the administration of Boston College had yet to lift the restrictions on the College of the Arts and Sciences and the College of Business Administration.
According to Professor James O’Toole of the Boston College History Department, there was a petition drive in the late 1960s with the express purpose of making BC fully coeducational. This campaign was organized and signed by mostly women, though it was met with little to no resistance on the part of the male population of Boston College. Coeducation had become increasingly common throughout the 1960s, so public opinion no longer considered it as much of a novelty as it had in years prior.
“In early 1970, the University Senate voted to make the College of the Arts and Sciences and the College of Business Administration coeducational," says O'Toole. "The Boston College Class of 1974 would become the first coeducational class in the university’s history.”
Hence, in the fall of 1970, the freshmen class included men and women in all disciplines for the first time at BC. Almost 110 years after the university’s founding, women were afforded the same educational opportunities as men.
Though it is easy to criticize BC’s slow reactions to coeducation before 1970, the truth is that BC was neither ahead nor behind the times in becoming coeducational.
“Other Catholic colleges followed similar patterns throughout this time,” Professor O’Toole said, “Georgetown became coeducational in 1969 and Holy Cross did so in 1972.”
Though it is still mystifying today why coeducation was not university policy until 1970, current female BC students may take a small pleasure in knowing that once women were allowed to register under any course of study, the percentage of women enrolled at BC increased steadily until its level today.