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They shaped the things to come
By Kim (Lopas) Sullivan ’95

Three of St. Norbert’s first female students recalled their college experience during this spring’s panel discussion “We Were the Change”

Cathy Jacobs ’56
Cathy Jacobs ’56
During her days at St. Norbert, Cathy Jacobs ’56 took some ribbing from classmates about her fashionably late morning arrivals. “I must say it became a joke if I was on time for the (8:30 a.m.) class,” she says.

She wasn’t simply oversleeping. As one of the first female students to enroll after the college opened its doors to women in 1952, Jacobs was not allowed to live on campus. Instead, she often drove a carpool, picking up four to six female peers en route to that early class. One or other of the group was always late in being ready.

“Thank heavens [that professor] was one of the ones that found us refreshing,” Jacobs says.

Not all the faculty did, she adds. “Some were passive, some tolerated us and one clearly did not like us.”
Jeanne Pischke '57
Jeanne Pischke ’57

She related her story during a spring Killeen Chair Lecture Series panel discussion entitled “We Were the Change.” Jacobs and fellow panelists Jeanne Pischke ’57 and Arvilla Rank ’58 spoke of the difficulties they encountered on an overwhelmingly male campus, as well as the encouragement they received.

Current female students dominated the audience. Terra Alvarez ’10, a student panel member, says, “I perceived that (these three women) did not focus on their presence on campus as creating radical change or paving the way for women of future generations, but rather that their individual experiences shaped each of them in a unique way, allowing them to make a real impact on the world after graduating.”
Arvilla Rank ’58
Arvilla Rank ’58

That they did. Each went on to a successful career – Jacobs as a teacher, Pischke as a teacher and principal, and Rank in accounting and as an advocate for the deaf.

But getting there took courage in the early ’50s, when some questioned the women’s motives for being on campus. Pischke remembers men saying, “She’s only here to get her M.R.S. degree.”

Jacobs recalls that some of her male classmates were upset that once women arrived, the men had to adhere to a dress code – no more T-shirts in class. “At our 50th class reunion, one of the males was still complaining about that,” she says.

This is not to say that all men were against them. Some male students were fond of having women in their classes and wished only that there were more of them. Also, Rank found her male professors helpful in overcoming two barriers as a student – she was a woman and she was deaf. At the time there were no interpreters and she did not sign, so communication was limited. She drew the discussion’s biggest laugh in saying, “I was maybe the only student here who read the textbooks!”

Her studiousness paid off. During her senior year, she scored the highest of any student up to that time on a national accounting exam, an accomplishment mentioned at her graduation.

During the panel discussion, former St. Norbert athletic director Larry Van Alstine ’57 acknowledged that the women’s achievements went beyond the academic. His comment struck audience member Anna Czarnik-Neimeyer ’11, who noted:

“He said he had never been able to understand (the women’s) experiences from their perspectives, and how after hearing their stories, he recognized what an accomplishment it was for each of them to attend and graduate as one of the first women on campus. He stated how proud he was of them, and I agree.”

Summer 2010 Magazine

Web extraLook here for web-only content that expands on topics presented in the current St. Norbert College Magazine (PDF).

Text ExtraThe education of a freshman president
Reflections by President Tom Kunkel in Trusteeship magazine.

VideoJohn M. Perkins speaks
The civil rights statesman interviewed on campus.

VideoPaul Tagliabue opens Sport and Society conference
The former NFL commissioner delivers his keynote address.

GalleryCommencement 2010
A gallery of images from “a ridiculously fine day” in May.

GalleryGwen Ifill’s Commencement address
The journalist and newscaster spoke to the Class of 2010.

VideoOn the road
Images and reflections from a sabbatical journey undertaken
by Brian Pirman (Art).

Text ExtraThe Yogurt Man Cometh
A chapter to enjoy from this travelogue in Turkey, recounted by author Kevin Revolinski ’90.

GalleryThe faculty in action
Professors as educators: teaching, advising, demonstrating, mentoring and working with students.

Story ideas? Your ideas for future magazine stories are most welcome. Write to the editor with any suggestions or comments.

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