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  • Founders and Builders

    April 22, 2015

    MAIN FRONT 1905 MICH AVE VIEW(Photo above from Trinity Archives:  Michigan Avenue was just a dirt road in 1905,
    and Main Hall was not yet finished)

    Founders Day 2015

    The great women who founded Trinity started with big visions, confronted great doubts, and managed to buy land and build Main Hall with very little money.  Those Sisters of Notre Dame were truly heroic figures not only in Trinity’s history but in the history of women’s education.  They believed with great fervor that women had a right to a higher education equal to that of men in 1897.   The Catholic University of America was just ten years old at that time, and women were denied admission to Catholic University.  Cardinal Gibbons, the great leader of the Church’s social justice movement, thanked the SNDs for relieving the Church of the “embarrassment” of denying women admission to Catholic U., and supported the work of the SNDs to establish Trinity.   But not all priests were so enamored, and some tried to stop the project, claiming it was part of the heresy known as “Americanism” which was simply a preference for modern life back then.  Eventually, the controversy reached Pope Leo XIII and after some consideration he decided not to stop Trinity’s founding — not exactly a ringing endorsement, but in those days, a great victory for the nuns and for all future generations of Trinity students!

    aerial c 1922(Aerial view c. 1922 — Notre Dame Chapel building just starting on left)

    Establishing Trinity was not just a lovely academic concept — buildings had to be planned and erected, money raised and students recruited.  The SNDs in 1897 faced all of the same management issues we face today — but they wore habits and were somewhat cloistered and did not have the large and loyal body of alumnae and friends that Trinity can count on today for support.   But the idea of a Catholic college for women in Washington captivated the imagination of many in the political and social world of that day, so the SNDs were able to organize the first building project to raise Main Hall, a massive building assembled over more than a decade with the oversight of Architect Edwin Durang who planned other massive Catholic buildings on the east coast.

    aerial early 1930s(Trinity in the early 1930s — no Franklin Street yet, Lincoln Road was a mud path bisecting the property behind Alumnae Hall; up Michigan Avenue, the Shrine did not exist yet)

    In 1922, the SNDs retained the architects Maginnis & Walsh of Boston to create the magnificent Notre Dame Chapel, dedicated in 1924.   In 1927, Maginnis & Walsh also created Alumnae Hall, the first separate dining hall and dormitory for students — a place of great luxury in that day!  Alumnae Hal symbolized Trinity’s maturity as a women’s college that believed that young women could live in their own suites with less oversight than in the great corridors of Main.

    In the photo above, it’s also important to note Trinity’s relative isolation in a location that was then considered to be more countryside than city.   The SNDs had to petition Congress to get Michigan Avenue cut through from North Capitol Street up to 4th Street.   In those days, Lincoln Road was a dirt path that ran straight through  to Harewood Road; Trinity bought the property on the other side of Lincoln Road and then in the late 1930’s got the city to agree to close Lincoln Road and, instead, to build Franklin Street which did not exist until 1939.

    aerial c 1940s science done(Trinity in the 1940’s)

    In 1940, with World War II looming and the need for more scientists, the SNDs decided to move ahead with the long-planned Science Building, a project that moved ahead with speed so that Trinity Women could have more laboratories for learning and study, and then they were able to graduate into work with government laboratories and research agencies.

    aerial c 1965 showing kerby from back side of campus(Trinity in the 1960’s)

    By the 1960’s, Trinity’s growth was straining all of the older buildings on campus — the Baby Boomers had arrived and Trinity’s enrollment grew rapidly.  Cuvilly Hall came along in 1958. With the great Sister Margaret Claydon, SND as President starting in 1959, Trinity added the “Music and Art” wing of Main Hall, the Library, and Kerby Hall.   The campus was complete — but Sister Margaret had even bigger dreams to add a sports center, to renovate or replace the Science Building what was out of date in the age of the space race, to add more modern housing.  Unfortunately, the wave of coeducation that swept across higher education in the late 1960’s put those plans on hold as Trinity’s enrollment declined and the vision for a bigger future dimmed.

    2014 satellite view(Trinity’s Campus 2014, Google Earth View)

    In 2000, 35 years after Kerby Hall opened in 1965, Trinity finally broke ground again for the Trinity Center for Women and Girls in Sports.  The new athletic complex symbolized Trinity’s renaissance in the 21st Century, and gave Trinity more capacity for large group programming and events.  But building Trinity’s future required more than a gym and playing field; to be fully ready for the 21st Century and beyond, Trinity also had to create new academic facilities, modern classrooms, state-of-the-art science laboratories and labs for new programs in Nursing and healthcare.

    satellite photo march 2015 second view(March 2015 Satellite Photo)

    On May 31, 2014, Trinity broke ground for the new Trinity Academic Center, a project that became possible thanks to the great generosity of many alumnae and donors who have contributed millions to make this new academic building possible.  The Academic Center will be ready for classes in Fall 2016.

    site plan for blog(Site Plan for New Academic Center Completed)

    Today, on Founders Day 2015, we will celebrate the “Topping Out” of the new academic center, the time when the steel framework is completed before the facade starts going up.  By the summer, the roof and walls will be on the building and the work will begin on the interiors.

    4515 1_edited-1 (Medium)


    As we celebrate today, let’s remember our Founders, the great women who had this marvelous idea for Trinity.  Without their courage and fortitude, we would not have this great university today.   We remember and give thanks to the SNDs and all of the alumnae and benefactors who helped to build Trinity through its great first century.   Today we are building for the second century and beyond, paying tribute to our Founders in the best way possible, by making sure that Trinity’s mission still thrives for generations to come.

    Thanks to our Founders!!

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    Remembering Dr. Floretta McKenzie

    April 7, 2015

    McKenzie_Floretta_wm(photo credit)

    Floretta McKenzie was remarkably consistent.  Whether leading the D.C. Public Schools or sitting on corporate boards or being a wise friend to a young person just getting into school leadership, her hallmarks were great patience, kind but firm correction when needed, deep pragmatism, high ethics, and an ability to spread joy and good humor even in difficult moments.  I miss my friend Flo, from whom I learned a great deal simply by observing her move through the corridors of power and influence in the educational, political and corporate sectors she inhabited.

    When Dr. Floretta Dukes McKenzie died on March 23, the city and nation lost a truly great leader and educator.  But many of us who knew her also lost a terrific friend and wise counselor.  While we can read about and remember her public life and achievements in the many articles that have appeared about her, I like to remember her as being the friend and colleague who sat next to me and whispered in my ear on the several boards we shared.  We were board members together on the venerable local company known as the Acacia Mutual Life Insurance Company, later merged with Ameritas Life in Lincoln, Nebraska.   We also served together briefly on the board of the D.C. College Success Foundation before she retired.  She was sought-after for many other boards and served on many, including Pepco and Howard University’s board, and she was the first African American elected to the Marriott Corporation board.

    For many years, we were the only two women on the life insurance company board, a terrific group of business leaders intensely focused on industry issues.  When I first joined the board, I had to learn how to be a good corporate board member, and Flo taught me much about what was really going on, when and how to agree or disagree, and when to hold my tongue — a look, a gentle pat on my arm would remind me to sit back rather than leap into one bonfire or another.  She could speak with eloquence and conviction about issues of diversity and gender equity and social justice, and when she did I could tell that the other directors in the room were paying very close attention to her.  She could also speak with equal eloquence on issues of corporate governance and financial responsibility, and she was so respected for her acumen that for a period of time she was our lead director.

    Her passion for the education of the children of the District of Columbia never waned.  I actually first met Dr. McKenzie when she became the D.C. Superintendent of Schools in 1981.  At that time, I was the project director for the Street Law Program at Georgetown Law Center, and I had occasion to meet with her to discuss the program.  She was open, supportive and genuinely interested in innovative approaches to improving student outcomes.  Like her predecessor the great Vincent Reed, she was eager to find solutions to the many problems that plagued the school system, and she was always a champion for hope in achieving greatness in D.C. education.  Before Chancellor Kaya Henderson’s remarkable tenure, it’s safe to say that Dr. McKenzie was the last truly successful superintendent in D.C.

    Trinity recognized Dr. McKenzie’s leadership in education with the award of an honorary degree in 1982.  I know that she cherished that recognition in the ways that she would remind me of her Trinity “honorary alumna” status from time to time, and she took particular interest in the ways in which Trinity engaged with the students and teachers of the D.C. Public Schools.  I also knew that I could always seek her good advice on how to navigate the local political landscape — she always knew so much more than what she would say in public!

    Flo McKenzie’s legacy is the model she created for the steady, committed, discrete school leader who focused on the right things — teaching and learning — and avoids the pitfalls of politics.  Her example should be a case study in school leadership programs for how to lead with integrity, durability and respect.

    Farewell, Flo!  We will remember you each day as we strive to improve education for the sake of the children in D.C.



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    Women Make History Every Day At Trinity!

    March 19, 2015

    LEADER JUSTICE TRINITY STUDENTS 3 18 2015 (Medium)(Photos by Ann Pauley:  Trinity students and faculty with Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan (blue jacket) and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi ’62 in Statuary Hall of the U.S. Capitol at event honoring women on the Supreme Court as part of Women’s History Month, March 18, 2015)

    The photo says it all:  WHY women’s colleges matter, WHY Trinity sisterhood is powerful, HOW the “Old Girls’ Network” connects women across generations and positions to lift as we climb, to foster leadership and courage in each succeeding generation.   Trinity Alumna Nancy Pelosi, Class of 1962, the Democratic Leader in the House of Representatives and first and only woman to be Speaker of the house always takes care of her Trinity Sisters.  To mark Women’s History Month, Leader Pelosi threw a party to honor the women justices on the Supreme Court:  Justice Elena Kagan (blue jacket, above), Justice Sonya Sotomayor (photo below, with Trinity students Anna Roland and Hareth Andrade) and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  Leader Pelosi invited Trinity students to be part of the event — a great example of a role model, a powerful woman reaching out to help other women set their sights on high achievement.

    LEADER JUSTICE STUDENTS (Medium)Fostering leadership ability, self-confidence and the intellectual prowess to be outstanding leaders in the community and across many professions is the historic and still-urgent mission of Trinity and other women’s colleges.  Trinity leaders in all communities and walks of life have been hugely successful for 118 years — and Trinity aims to keep that ball rolling for at least another century or more!  Looking at our students seizing the moment at the podium in Statuary Hall, below, I have no doubt that they will succeed, and so will Trinity!



    Women’s colleges have been in the news recently because of the sad announcement from Sweet Briar College in Virginia that the trustees of that venerable women’s college have decided to close after this academic year.  That’s very sad for Sweet Briar, but not at all indicative of the future for Trinity or other historic women’s colleges that are thriving.  Trinity took steps years ago to diversify programming, creating the university model, and refocusing our historic mission on the women who could benefit most from this powerful mission.  Trinity’s women’s college (the College of Arts & Sciences) has more than tripled in size since I became president in 1989, from 300 students then to nearly 1100 today.   The entire institution has more than doubled in size with the addition of many graduate and professional programs.  We’re building that beautiful new academic center next because we’ve outgrown our old buildings and truly need 21st Century learning environments, especially for the sciences and health professions.

    Facts are important, but often overlooked in the current popular discussion of women’s colleges.  One college closes, and the pundits say it spells doom for all.  Not true!! Of the 40+ women’s colleges operating today nearly 65% have actually grown in the last 10 years, defying the naysayers who say this sector is declining.  Of the original 230 women’s colleges in 1960, about 90 closed or merged — most of them very small Catholic women’s colleges that not only had large populations of religious sisters as students, but also who relied on the free labor (“contributed services”) of the nuns on the staff.   The economic model for the Catholic institutions was always unusual.  When the Church went through progressive changes as a result of Vatican II in the 1960’s, many sisters left their orders, leaving the schools without the free labor.  This affected not only the Catholic women’s colleges, but also the Catholic schools in cities — the Church could not afford to replace the nuns with paid staff in all of those schools.  Trinity is one of the Catholic institutions that weathered the economic downturn and rebuilt its financial model without reliance on contributed services.  Trinity experienced some very lean years but, in the end, the model we built in the 1990’s is strong and durable.  Our balance sheet now exceeds $100 million in worth, and we operate in the black.

    For the larger group of historic women’s colleges, of the original 230, about 140 remain, with about 40 of those maintaining women’s colleges and the others being fully coeducational.  However, even those that are fully coed are about 70% female.  The mission to educate women remains central for all of these historic schools.  Additionally, sustaining a strong central mission in women’s education does not need to be hostile to men, and as we do at Trinity, many of the 40+ women’s colleges today enroll men in some programs.   The focus on equity and justice that is inherent in the women’s college mission proclaims values that also work for male students who understand and respect this mission.

    I’ve had more to say about these issues recently in a blog I wrote on the Huffington Post, Disrupting the Daisy Chain: What Modern Women’s Colleges Really Do  and also a recent interview with Molly Greenberg in an online magazine called DCInno “The Sweet Briar Story Could have been Trinity’s”

    We’re also building a web page with resources about women’s colleges and institutional innovation

    What does Trinity’s mission as a women’s college mean to you?  Make a comment by clicking below or send me an email and I will publish your thoughts…

    1107.carey_article(White House Photo of “The Trinity Sisters” in the Washington Monthly)

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    “Selma is Now”

    March 7, 2015

    selma 1(Trinity students this week on the Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, during Alternative Spring Break)

    Updated:  Watch and Read President Obama’s Speech at the Pettus Bridge, March 7, 2015

    “Selma is Now.”  On the eve of the 50th Anniversary of the violent confrontation between civil rights marchers and police at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, President Barack Obama offered a pointed reflection on the state of civil rights today.  The nation’s first African American president knows full well the progress and regression of this nation’s ongoing struggle with equality and justice, civil and human rights.  In an excellent commentary for Slate, Jamelle Bouie sums up the many points of retrenchment on civil rights since the pinnacle of the movement in the 1960’s, most notably, the Supreme Court’s 2013 retreat on voting rights, the galvanizing issue for the marchers in 1965 and still a flash point for justice and equality in this nation.

    For most of the 20th Century, in too many southern states black citizens faced impossible barriers to the most fundamental right of citizenship, the right to vote.  In the State of Alabama, notorious for horrific acts of violence and intimidation against African Americans, the resistance to voting rights continued into the 1960’s. The story of the Selma marches appear in many places, as well as this year’s movie Selma, so I will not recount the details here.

    selma 2(Trinity students this week in Selma)

    Robert Caro, the great biographer of President Lyndon Johnson who signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965, includes an excellent summary of the violence and conditions of oppression that blacks faced in the southern states, and particularly in Alabama in his volume Master of the Senate. He details Johnson’s long and slow conversion from mouthpiece for the Senate’s southern segregationists to the Senate Majority Leader pushing for civil rights legislation.  Controversy has swirled around the depiction of President Johnson in the movie Selma, but Caro’s detailed multi-volume biography offers telling details about Johnson’s shrewd political calculations that ultimately forced him to do the right thing, but often only after counting the votes.  Of course, to turn the rhetoric of the great Civil Rights demonstrations like the Selma marches into the reality of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, political shrewdness was as essential as passionate advocacy for Justice.  For Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the partnership with Lyndon Johnson provided precisely the kind of political muscle necessary to force Congress to take action to ensure long-denied voting rights.

    Such political shrewdness and muscle seems absent in today’s national legislative and judicial landscape, where highly partisan camps dig deeper trenches from which to lob their ugly and destructive maneuvers that undermine and thwart the original intention of the civil rights laws.  When national leaders on the bench of the Supreme Court or in the halls of Congress take actions or make speeches that question the continuing need for vigilance in civil and human rights, they give encouragement to those who still actively pursue policies and practices of racial hatred.

    Coincidentally, just days before the 50th Anniversary of Selma’s “Bloody Sunday” in which police brutally beat voting rights demonstrators including John Lewis (now Congressman John Lewis), the U.S. Department of Justice issued a report on the deplorable conditions within the Ferguson, Missouri police force.  While the DOJ did not find enough evidence to charge former Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson with a federal crime in the death of Michael Brown, the Justice Department did find pervasive patterns and practices of racism, including obvious practices of racial profiling in detaining persons on the street, intimidating practices imposing fines and harassment over small civil violations, blatantly racist emails including several disgusting portrayals of President and Mrs. Obama, and other offensive conduct no U.S. citizen should ever tolerate in law enforcement.

    Strong political and moral leadership would demand swift and certain punishment for the Ferguson police force and for any other law enforcement agency engaged in repeated and blatant patterns of racial harassment, intimidation and discrimination.

    Today’s observation of the 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma should not be simply an occasion to remember, but rather, a moment to reaffirm this nation’s commitment to equality, justice and freedom for all people — regardless of race, bank account, religion, neighborhood, appearance, friends or lovers, abilities or accents, heritage or choice of political parties.  The bitter hatred, fractiousness and mindless partisanship that has come to characterize our national government must give way to genuine leadership that acts, always and only, in the best interests of “We, the People.”

    And “We, the People” need to remember that we are a self-governing community, that we choose those who will represent our needs and wishes, and that we must do that by exercising the precious right so many others gave so much to make possible for us:  the right to vote.

    Selma is now, and Selma is every single day.  Take nothing for granted, especially when it comes to the ability of a self-governing nation to ensure equal rights and justice for all.

    selma 3(Trinity students and Dean Meechie in Selma this week)

    This week, a group of Trinity students were in Selma for the Alternative Spring Break, along with Dean Meechie Bowie and Sr. Kristen Mathes, SND.  We are eager to hear their stories when they return next week!  Thanks for sending along the photos….

    See also:

    Interesting article explaining why Dr. King and others wore white leis during the 1965 Selma march

    See article in the National Catholic Reporter on the role of Catholics in the 1965 Selma march

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    Dream City: Still Dreaming

    February 28, 2015

    dream-city-cover-669x1024(check out the Dream City website!)

    Can the great city that is also the nation’s capital ever be allowed to grow up and become a true self-governing metropolis?  Or is Washington, D.C. condemned to live out its days in a kind of student-council-type half-life, a high school homeroom run by Hill nannies and Congressional bullies?

    Such questions often dominate my thinking about politics in our fair city, illustrated too well in the recent staring contest over the legalization of marijuana.  The majority of D.C.’s citizens voted in a referendum last November to legalize possession and use of small amounts of pot, triggering much Hysteria on the Hill including threats to arrest and jail members of the D.C. Council and the mayor if they even talked about legislation to implement the will of the people.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not wild about dope — and we still prohibit it at Trinity (as it is on other college campuses), along with alcohol, smoking regular tobacco, and overnight visitation (we are a serious school!) — but the most important issue at stake here is not really about marijuana at all, but about the citizenship rights of the people of the District of Columbia.

    Unfortunately, over the course of the last 40 years since the Home Rule Charter was enacted in 1974, giving D.C. a modicum of self-governance, the shenanigans of too many D.C. politicians have taunted and triggered the self-righteous twists of the Hill Nannies.  And no politician was better at pulling those triggers than the late Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry, Jr.

    Dream City tells the story of a great city repeatedly thwarted in its efforts to grow up.  Whether due to the fundamental racism of the overseers or the oft-outrageous misconduct of the local politicos, the repression of the potential of the District of Columbia is painfully clear.   While there are, and have been some exceptionally fine leaders in the city’s political corps over the years, in fact, the political debilitation of the city represses the opportunity to attract and keep some of the best and the brightest leaders.

    Harry Jaffe and Tom Sherwood, co-authors of Dream City, are two of the best journalists in this or any city.  Jaffe is the national editor of Washingtonian Magazine, and Sherwood is well known for his hard-hitting interviews on NBC-4 News.  Their collaboration on Dream City produced a remarkable account of the promise, potential and devastating setbacks across the last 40 years of Home Rule in D.C., the Dream City of fond hopes and painful realities.

    IMG_20150219_112246_846(Harry Jaffe and Tom Sherwood discuss Dream City while Professor Dowan McNair-Lee looks on)

    We were fortunate to be able to host Jaffe and Sherwood on February 19 for a great discussion of Dream City and the situation in D.C. today.   First Year Students in Dowan McNair-Lee’s class read Dream City as one of their assignments this spring, and that triggered our invitation to the authors who readily agreed to come.  Social Hall was packed!  The fate of D.C. is so much a part of Trinity student lives, and it’s a big part of Trinity’s life as well.

    Dream City should be required reading for every student and faculty member in all of the colleges and universities in the District of Columbia.   The authors pay careful attention to factual details of the law, the personalities, the relationships and the actions that are the inevitable web that expands and contracts across time to offer great opportunities and monumental disappointments for D.C.  Aspiring politicians in D.C.’s universities must absorb the essential lessons that this book imparts through the rise and fall and rise again of Marion Barry, a man whose gift for connecting with his constituents was as large as the appetites that repeatedly marginalized his potential for greatness.  The book offers great case studies of opportunities lost, such as the inability of Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly to keep the football team in town because of a tiff with the owner Jack Kent Cooke.  Too many of D.C.’s lost opportunities are about personal pique and pitiful pratfalls.

    In the discussion last week, Sherwood and Jaffe engaged a robust debate about whether and how the city can ever break free of its Congressional overlords, most of whom could not find their way to the Anacostia riverfront without a chauffeur.  One point of view says that the repeated elections of Barry, despite his felonious behaviors, demonstrated the poor judgment of the citizens of D.C.  An aggressive response to that perspective points out that Congress did not intervene to strip the citizens of Illinois of their rights when four out of seven governors went to jail; nobody talks about disenfranchising Virginia over the McDonnell scandal; and let’s not even talk about Congress, itself.

    I read Dream City when it was first published 20 years ago, and it really hit home.  As a law student in 1975-1977, immediately after the enactment of Home Rule, I worked with the first D.C. Council, and was excited by the potential for a whole new way of life and government in D.C.  I drafted legislation for the late Councilmember and Civil Rights Activist Julius Hobson.  I met and admired David C. Clarke, Polly Shackleton, John Wilson, and the young firebrand known as Marion Barry.

    Too soon, my excitement faded when I realized the extreme limitations that Congressional control imposed.   Today I live in Maryland because I want to vote for Senators and Congressional representatives, I want to live in a jurisdiction where citizenship is respected, where citizen voices truly matter, where Congress cannot interfere with local decisions made in self-governing freedom.

    Can the political future of D.C. be different?  I am grateful for, and optimistic about, the kind of leadership we see today in Mayor Muriel Bowser, and a number of more recent Councilmembers like David Grosso and Kenyan McDuffie, leaders for the long-term in our city.  But, in the end, so much depends on the willingness of Congress, itself, to respect the rights of the people of this jurisdiction.   On that topic, I remain pessimistic, especially given the current gestalt on the Hill that seems so utterly divorced from real life for most people.   Changing the future for D.C. does not mean that all the boys and girls here need to sit up straight and behave.  Changing the future for D.C. will only come when Congress is inhabited by true citizen leaders, people who have a large interest in creating a good and just society for all, not just protecting their own narrow interests and strange ideologies about government.    Until we get a majority of such true citizen leaders in Congress, full enfranchisement for D.C. is just plain dreaming.

    Your comments are welcome, add them by clicking the “comment” link below

    Follow me on Twitter @TrinityPrez

    Read my most recent op-ed on the documentary about campus sexual assault, “The Hunting Ground”

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    Patricia A. McGuire, President, Trinity, 125 Michigan Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20017
    Phone: 202.884.9050   Email:



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