Senator Mitch McConnell warned Senator Elizabeth Warren. The Majority Leader warned the Senator from Massachusetts that if she persisted in reading a 1986 letter written by the late Mrs. Coretta Scott King, the widow of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., then Senator McConnell would call upon the entire Senate to silence Senator Warren. Senator Warren kept reading the letter. #ShePersisted and Senator McConnell then used the Senate rules to get a party-line vote to silence Senator Warren.
What was so evil in Mrs. King’s letter that the gentle ears of U.S. Senators could not possibly hear the message from 1986? Mrs. King registered her opposition to the nomination of then-US Attorney in Alabama Jefferson B. Sessions to a federal judgeship. Mr. Sessions, wrote Mrs. King, “…has used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens…” and the letter goes on to provide testimony on Mr. Sessions’ abuses of power to thwart civil rights and voting rights. Why did Senator McConnell object to the reading of this 30-yera-old letter on the Senate floor? Because Sessions was a U.S. Senator and old Senate rules prohibit Senators from accusing each other of bad conduct. Why was Senator Warren reading this letter out in public? Because Senator Sessions was President Trump’s nominee (now confirmed) to be the Attorney General of the United States. So, in fact, Senator Warren was not merely criticizing a fellow senator but was making a principled and urgent statement in opposition to the confirmation of the nation’s top officer responsible for the stewardship of civil rights and liberties.
McConnell gave as his paternalistic excuse for silencing Senator Warren the immediately famous phrase, “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” Immediately, Twitter reacted with the hashtag #ShePersisted and women around the world began to add their stories of being silenced.
(Sr. Julia McGroarty, SND, Trinity Founder)
One of the greatest examples of women’s persistence is Sr. Julia McGroarty, SND, founder of Trinity. We will observe her 190th birthday on February 13. Sr. Julia was 70 years old in 1897 when she and Sr. Mary Euphrasia Taylor began the work of establishing Trinity College. They had the support of Cardinal James Gibbons and Dr. Phillip Garrigan, head of then-new Catholic University. In fact, those men had asked the Sisters of Notre Dame to establish Trinity to relieve Catholic University of the “embarrassment of refusing women admission.”
Julia and Euphrasia worked fast, from March through August 1897 they secured articles of incorporation, raised money, surveyed sites and negotiated to buy land from what was then part of Glenwood Cemetery. But suddenly, opposition arose from some conservative male clerics who claimed that the whole idea of higher education for women was a heresy. The opposition to the founding of Trinity went all the way to the Vatican, and the courageous duo — Sr. Julia McGroarty and Sr. Mary Euphrasia Taylor — would not be silenced. They wrote letters and visited Church officials in person, and eventually they won the approval of the Pope and hierarchy. Trinity was founded on August 20, 1897, and the rest is history!
Imagine how many thousands of lives have been influenced for so much good because those brave women persisted, because they would not allow the men to silence them. Julia and Euphrasia took their cue from the founder of the Sisters of Notre Dame St. Julie Billiart who was similarly courageous in refusing to remain silent. When the bishop in Amiens, France, ordered her to be less aggressive in building schools for girls orphaned in the French Revolution, she took her group of sisters and moved to Namur, Belgium to continue her work.
We are here today at Trinity because Julie, Julia, Euphrasia and so many others would not be silenced, because they persisted. Today, we seek to educate our students to be similar women of courage, to persist in spite of opposition, to know that it takes courage to do what is right, to speak out against injustice, to serve others. We pay tribute to our brave founders through our own persistence and willingness to speak truth to power. Let us never relent.
We are Trinity Women — We Persist!