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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!!