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President's Office | Letter Re: Women’s Equality, Voting Rights & Constitution Day

Focus on Women’s Equality

TO: The Trinity Community
FR: President Patricia McGuire

Later this week, on Friday, August 26, the United States will observe the 85th Anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote in this nation. 85 years is not a very long time. Think of this: in the lifetime of women we know—our mothers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers—women were disenfranchised even in this great nation that symbolizes freedom around the world. Even after 1920, pernicious discrimination among certain states continued to thwart the ability of African American women and men to vote, even with the protection of the 19th Amendment for women and the 15th Amendment prohibiting race discrimination in voting (enacted in 1870). Congress had to pass another law, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, to force the southern states to end their shameful practices that barred Black women and men from exercising their right to vote. Even after that law and its continuous re-authorization, pockets of resistance persist in certain places.

Recently, Congress mandated that all colleges and universities receiving federal student aid must observe “Constitution Day” on September 17, or in the week preceding September 17 if that day falls on a Saturday (as it does this year). Trinity will observe Constitution Day in the preceding week, and in other events this fall, by focusing on Women’s Equality and Voting Rights. Assistant Dean Tonya Bell will provide a detailed schedule of the various events. I encourage all faculty and students to participate actively in this endeavor.

This observance is in keeping with Trinity’s long tradition of activism in promoting the education and advancement of women.

Two decades before women received the right to vote, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur were already actively promoting women’s equality in education, founding Trinity at a time when many people still believed that a higher education for women was a bad idea, likely to harm families, disordered in the natural scheme of life, even a religious heresy. Along with a courageous and determined national network of other women educators and activists, the Sisters of Notre Dame defied the opposition, and Trinity greeted her first students in November, 1900. Those early students went on to become pioneers in many professions, blazing trails for future generations—the new students we greet today are the latest in this long, proud tradition. The decades of achievements of Trinity’s graduates proved the early critics wrong; not only did Trinity women succeed greatly in their collegiate studies, they also went on to become renowned leaders in a vast range of public and private endeavors. Trinity Alumna Nancy Pelosi ’62, the highest ranking woman ever in the U.S. Congress in her role as Democratic Leader, is the most recent example of high-achieving Trinity graduates. Our 2005 Commencement speaker, Barbara Bailey Kennelly ’58, preceded Congresswoman Pelosi as the highest-ranking woman in Congress when she served as Democratic Whip during her final term as a Congresswoman from Connecticut. Governor Kathleen Gilligan Sebelius ’70 of Kansas is one of only twelve women who ever served as elected governors in this nation. Nancy, Barbara and Kathleen are but three of thousands of Trinity graduates who have proven repeatedly the worth and power of a Trinity education.

Trinity today continues to focus on women’s education and advancement even as we have grown in new ways, welcoming men as well as women into our Schools of Professional Studies and Education, and sharing this great mission with all people who believe that no human being should be barred from high achievement simply because of gender, race, religion, language, national origin, disability or other personal characteristics. We believe deeply in the Gospel teachings on social justice, the driving force in the mission of the Sisters of Notre Dame and the core values in Trinity’s educational mission.

As we begin our new academic year, I challenge all members of the Trinity community to renew and enlarge your knowledge and understanding of the essential rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and our legal system. Moreover, as good scholars must do, I urge you to examine the continuing challenge to ensure that those rights are accessible and achievable for all people. Finally, translating learning into action, I urge you to discuss ways in which you can be activists to protect those rights for all people.

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



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