Notre Dame’s Alumnae before 1972

On June 11, 1917, Notre Dame added a new demographic to its alumni base – women.  According to Scholastic, the first two women to earn degrees from Notre Dame did not go unnoticed.  During commencement, it was reported that “[t]here was an enthusiastic outburst of applause in Washington Hall when the names of Sister Francis Jerome and Sister Lucretia (Holy Cross Sisters of St. Mary’s College) were read out as recipients of the M.A. [Greek] and M.Sc. [Chemistry] degrees [respectively]” [Scholastic, September 29, 1917, page 6].  The graduation of these two women at Notre Dame was not a one-off occurrence, but rather marked the beginning of a historic tradition of coeducation at Notre Dame.  Except for the 1919 commencement, women have graduated from Notre Dame every year since 1917.

Article regarding Commencement, 1917 [Scholastic, September 29, 1917, page 6]
Further research is needed to know when Sister Francis Jerome and Sister Lucretia began their studies at Notre Dame to earn these degrees, whether any of their time was in the classroom alongside their male counterparts, or if it was mostly independent study.  In 1918, Notre Dame established the summer school program, which was the gateway for women to study at Notre Dame.

Students and faculty of the Music Department Summer School Program, July 1919. They are posed outside, in front of Rockefeller Hall and the St. Edward statue.

The history of coeducation at Notre Dame is a fascinating and complex one.  The view of Notre Dame as an all-male bastion often leaves out the story of Notre Dame’s female students who were here before their more traditional female counterparts moved in for the fall semester of 1972.  A cursory overview of the commencement programs done in the 1980s gives us a glimpse of these pre-1972 women:  324 bachelor degrees, 4128 masters degrees, 184 PhDs, and 2 law degrees.  However, these numbers only tell part of the story.

Summer School Students, including nuns, priests, brothers, and lay men and women, posed on the steps of Bond Hall, 1929.  Photo by H.C. Elmore.

Going back through the commencement programs today, we gathered more personal information on these women to help humanize them.  Many women studied at Notre Dame but did not complete their degrees.  They, unfortunately, won’t be on this list, which was created to give a flavor of who these women were.  It is for informational purposes only, not to be used as the sole source of serious research.  Please contact the Registrar to verify student information.

At the time of this posting, we still have a ways to go to complete this list, but the data gathered thus far is quite interesting.  Perhaps there are more laywomen in the mix than what people assumed.  Sisters from Saint Mary’s comprise only a fraction of the other orders represented.  Notre Dame’s female graduates follows the diversity of the general student population, with women represented from across the country and internationally, including Nova Scotia and the Philippines.  The number of multiple degrees the women earned is a bit surprising, as was discovering two triple-Domers thus far:  Sister Mary Aloysi Kerner (BA 1922; MA 1923; PhD 1930) and Sister Mary Jerome Shaughnessy (MA 1926; BA 1930; M.Mus. 1935).

Three sisters looking at books on campus with the Main Building in the background, c1950.

Hopefully these lists will help to shine more light on Notre Dame’s pioneer alumnae, as they are an important part of the Notre Dame family and history.  There are many other resources available to do further research on these women, such as University RecordsNotre Dame publications, and the alumnae directories.


Rupert Mills

Only four Notre Dame student athletes have earned monograms in four different sports – Alfred Bergman (Class of 1914), Rupert Mills (1915), Johnny Lujack (1948), and George Ratterman (1949).  Mills earned monograms in baseball, basketball, track, and football.  Along with his athletic ability, Mills was president of the Senior Law Class and appeared in several theatrical productions at Notre Dame, along with his roommate Ray Eichenlaub.

Baseball Game Scene - Player Rupert Mills at bat, c1915.
Baseball Game Scene – Player Rupert Mills at bat, c1915.

After graduating in 1915, Mills signed an iron-clad contract to play professional baseball for the Newark Feds in the Federal Baseball League.  When the team disbanded after the 1915 season, Mills was intent on getting his piece of the $3000 contract.  Pat Powers, President of the ball club, was also under pressure from other players who had contracts.  He tried to buy Mills’ contract in April of 1916 at $500 and to place Mills on a minor league team.  Mills refused the compromise “and then Powers is reported to have said that if Mills wouldn’t be ‘reasonable’ and insist upon the fulfillment of his contract, Mills would have to report each day at the deserted Federal league park… each day at 10am, remain until noon, get back at 2pm and linger until 6pm.  That’s what Mills will have to do seven days a week, over a stretch of twenty-two weeks, rain or shine.  And Powers figures that the loneliness of the job will soon make Mills ‘open to reason'” [Scholastic, April 29, 1916, page 488, quoting an unnamed Newark newspaper].

[photoshelter-img i_id=”I0000ZU_irgYqEWs” buy=”1″ caption=”Men’s Basketball Team, 1913.  Rupert Mills is seated at the far left” width=”576″ height=”401″]

Mills called Powers’ bluff, showing up at the field every day to play “solitaire baseball”:

“I’ve played 12 games since the season started,” said Rupe, “and won ’em all. What’s more, working alone has whipped me into great trim.  It’s kinda hard to slam ’em out, beat the ball down to first and then have to call myself out.  The first thing I know I’ll be chasing myself to the club-house and Pat Powers is liable to fine me $1o.  When I get through in this league I ought to be a valuable utility player.

“If I don’t lead the league in everything but errors it won’t be my fault.  So far I have knocked the cover off the ball every time.  Everything is a hit because Rupe Mills is official scorer.  I simply can’t fail to hit safely, because I do my own pitching.

“The other day I wrenched my ankle while sliding and I had to put myself in to run for me.  I have a dickens of a time trying to pull a double steal.  Everything else is a set-up.

“I do mostly pitching in the morning to get wise to my curves for the afternoon game. So far this year I haven’t been in any extra inning games.”

[Scholastic, May 20, 1916, page 533, quoting the Toledo News Bee].

Football Player Rupert Mills, full-length portrait in uniform and monogram sweater, c1913.
Football Player Rupert Mills, full-length portrait in uniform and monogram sweater, c1913.

Later that summer, after many a game of solitaire baseball, Mills and Powers eventually settled their differences.  Mills went on to play for a farm club associated with the Detroit Lions and for the Denver Bears.  His baseball career sputtered out and he enlisted in the Army during World War I.  After being discharged, Mills decided to concentrate on a career in law.

Roommates Rupert Mills and Ray Eichenlaub in costume for the senior play "What's Next?," April 1914
Roommates Rupert Mills and Ray Eichenlaub in costume for the senior play What’s Next?, April 1914

Professionally, Mills held political positions including State Senator of New Jersey and Under Sheriff of Essex County.  However, he did remain athletically active in local baseball and polo clubs.  Mills was also a representative of Notre Dame in the East, sending reports of potential athletic recruits to his old teammate, Athletic Director Knute Rockne.

On July 20, 1929, Mills was visiting with political friends at Lake Hopatcong when he convinced a reluctant Louis Freeman to explore the lake in a canoe.  Freeman was not a good swimmer, which turned fatal for Mills.  The boat capsized 100 feet out and Freeman panicked, although he was wearing a life vest.  Mills rescued Freeman, towing him back to shore with the help of an oar.  About twenty feet from shore, Mills apparently suffered a heart attack and sank below the water.

Rupe was only 35 years old and his death was a shock to the Notre Dame and New Jersey communities.  Notre Dame Alumnus reported that “twenty thousand persons lined the blocks around St. Augustine’s Church.  The funeral procession was one of the largest and most impressive ever seen in the county” [September 1929, page 22].  The New York Herald Tribune reported, “Troop A of the 102nd Cavalry, of which Mr. Mills had been captain since the World War, led the procession from the home to the church. … Behind the regiment came the mourners and behind them marched World War veterans in uniforms, members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion and the Essex Troop.  A police platoon under the command of Police Commissioner McGregor and a contingent of 200 firemen completed the procession” [July 25, 1929, page 2].



PATH:  Rupert Mills
UATH 16/78-79
Baseball Anecdotes by Daniel Okrent
GMIL 1/11
GTJS 7/28
GNDS 28/24
GKLI 1/12

Universal Notre Dame Night

Alumni Association president John Neeson inaugurated Universal Notre Dame (UND) Night as a means for alumni to connect with their alma mater without having to travel to campus for Alumni Reunion.  The first UND Night was held on April 24, 1924, and more than forty Alumni Clubs gathered in their respective cities.  As part of the night’s entertainment, the Clubs tuned into a radio broadcast with speeches by University President Rev. Matthew Walsh, President of the Board of Trustees Albert Erskine, and Football Coach Knute Rockne.  Fr. Walsh spoke about “the university’s plan for expansion, the unyielding observance of the traditions, the spirit of the present day student and the alumni influence in retaining that spirit in after years.”  Rockne talked about the importance of athletics and the high standards for student athletes at Notre Dame [Alumnus, May 1924, page 243].

Universal Notre Dame Night Banquet held by the Alumni Club of New York City at the Hotel McAplin, 1932/0418
Universal Notre Dame Night Banquet held by the Alumni Club of New York City at the Hotel McAplin, 1932/0418

UND night was a smashing success and it quickly became a signature event for the Alumni Association.  For many years, the celebrations utilized radio broadcasts to connect anyone within reach of the radio signal to Notre Dame.  Other times the Alumni Association distributed films for the Clubs to watch.  Universal Night was also an opportunity for Alumni Clubs to hold elections, honor members, and connect with fellow alums living in the same geographic area.

Program from the Universal Notre Dame Night, 1928/0423
Program from the Universal Notre Dame Night, 1928/0423

The Alumni Clubs still celebrate Universal Notre Dame Night today, but it is no longer technically “universal” in that the events are not held on the same night.  Alumni Club schedule dates that are convenient for them.  UND celebrations still are a way for alumni to connect with the University as Notre Dame administrator, faculty, and staff are invited as keynote speakers.  UND Night remains an important annual event for Alumni Clubs worldwide.

Universal Notre Dame Night event in Washington Hall, broadcast by WGN radio, 1951
Universal Notre Dame Night event in Washington Hall, broadcast by WGN radio, 1951


PNDP 70-Un-01
GNDL 26/10
GPHR 45/1377

Joseph Casasanta

“When four rows of Glee Club singers chant a Notre Dame song; when columns of blue-uniformed bandsmen play and march to Notre Dame music — then we forget the ubiquitous campus grinds and gripers, and we hike along, down the line, cheering her name, and glad that Irish Backs are marching” [Scholastic, 03/14/1930, page 689]

Born into a musical family, Joseph Casasanta naturally became involved with the music organizations as a student at Notre Dame, holding leadership positions in the Glee Club and the Marching Band.  Before he graduated in 1923, Casasanta joined the faculty in teaching piano and as an assistant director of the University Band.  While music had long been taught at Notre Dame, there were no programs leading to a Bachelor of Music degree until the 1920s.  It is believed that Casasanta was the first student to earn such a degree at Notre Dame.

Portrait of Marching Band Director Joseph Casasanta, c1933

After graduation, Casasanta remained at Notre Dame, moving up to director of the Music Department until 1942.  He also led the University Band, the Glee Club, and the Orchestra; and he founded Notre Dame’s Linnets and the South Bend Symphony.  Casasanta’s most enduring legacy came from the songs that he wrote for Notre Dame, many of which have been in the repertoire of the Glee Club and the Marching Band since their debuts.

Inspired by the cadence of the football team, Casasanta and his brother-in-law and Notre Dame Architect Vincent Fagan wrote Hike, Notre Dame in 1923.  Scholastic reported that “About a year ago many of us felt the need of a new college song – ‘The Victory March,’ it was thought, was in danger of becoming too trite.  Our constant desire to sing our appreciation of Notre Dame demanded another melody.  As a result ‘The Hike Song’ was composed” [Scholastic, October 1923, page 102].

Alumni Michael and John Shea wrote the Victory March in 1908 to fill the void of a stirring Notre Dame fight song.  They felt their contribution was “amateurish” and they hoped that future students would build upon their initiative to create something even better.  Rev. Michael Shea recalled that “Ten years after my ordination, I heard the ‘Victory March’ for the first time while on a visit to Notre Dame.  How it came to its present exalted condition, I do not know.  The coming of Mr. Casasanta was evidently the realization of our hopes, and to him I express my hearty appreciation of a good work admirably done for the best University in the land” [Scholastic, 07/30/1930, page 529].  Casasanta’s arrangement of the Victory March is the basis for what the Marching Band and Glee Club still perform today.

“When the Irish Backs Go Marching By,” by Joseph Casasanta, c1930

On Down the Line came in 1925 and the students quickly embraced it in the repertoire of collegiate songs and cheers at the football games and pep rallies.  The Glee Club also sang these songs at concerts, on radio broadcasts, and for recordings, which helped to solidify their national popularity.

Notre Dame, Our Mother, whose lyrics were written by University President Rev. Charles O’Donnell in March 1930, debuted at the premiere of The Spirit of Notre Dame on October 7, 1931, and was quickly adopted as the Alma Mater.  At the end of the halftime show of the last football game of the 1931 season, “the people in the stands [were] requested to stand at attention for the playing of ‘Notre Dame, Our Mother,’ in memory of the late Knute Rockne” [Scholastic, 11/20/1931, page 9], and thus, another tradition began.

When the Irish Backs Go Marching By debuted in 1930 at a time when the “Fighting Irish” moniker was still somewhat influx, as Scholastic noted with tongue-in-cheek:  “The dispute over ‘Irish’ as applied to our varsities seems to be at an end; the name of the song has commemorated in lyrical history the 1929 activities of those doughty Celtic side-steppers—Carideo, Schwartz, Elder, Brill, Gebert, and Mullins” [Scholastic, 03/14/1930, page 689].


Alumnus Magazine, December 1968-January 1969, page 42:
Obituary of Marching Band Director Joseph Casasanta, 1968.


Notre Dame honored Casasanta at the 1932 Commencement Exercises.  Deeply touched by the honor, Casasanta wrote his appreciation to University President Charles O’Donnell and said in part, “Whatever I have done, I owe all to Notre Dame.  She has always been and will always be the source of all my inspiration, love, and joy” [UPCO 1/77, June 15, 1932].  Casasanta passed away in December of 1968, but his music has become an indelible part of Notre Dame’s identity and has endured throughout generations.



UDIS 103/04
GDIS 2/17
UNDR 10/04
100 Years of the Notre Dame Victory March (1908-2008)


Sister Mary Aquinas, OSF

Notre Dame celebrates 40 years of coeducation this fall.  While the undergraduate women who arrived in 1972 were the first class to matriculate in the regular academic year, women had been earning bachelors’, masters’, and doctorate degrees since 1917 through the Summer School Program.  One of those women gained a bit of fame during World War II because she was an unlikely aviatrix and aeronautical expert.

Sister Mary Aquinas Kinskey, OSF, earned a bachelor’s degree from Catholic University in 1926.  She became a teacher and her interest in aviation stemmed from the enthusiasm for the subject from her students.  In order to best teach her students, she wished to learn as much about the subject as possible.  In 1942, she earned a Master of Science in Physics cum laude from the University of Notre Dame.  Her dissertation was entitled “Electron Projection Study of the Deposition of Thorium on Tantalum.”  Wanting hands-on aviation experience, Sister Mary Aquinas learned to fly in 1943.
“Washington, D.C. Sister Aquinas, ‘flying nun,’ applying a little glue to the model P-38 which hangs from the ceiling of her classroom at Catholic University. A veteran of fifteen years’ teaching experience, the Sister is giving a summer Civil Aeronautics Authority course for instruction,” June 1943.
Source: Library of Congress, FSA/OWI Collection

That summer, she taught aviation at Catholic University and was involved in training through the Civil Aeronautics Authority.  Below is an announcement regarding Sister Mary Aquinas’ activities published in Scholastic, October 1, 1943:

One of Notre Dame’s religious alumnae who is doing her part in the War effort is Sister Mary Aquinas, the “flying nun.” Sister Mary Aquinas, who received her master’s degree in physics from the University, is an educational adviser to the C.A.A. in Washington. Her aeronautics course at the Catholic University of America is one of the first, if not the first, sequence of such courses for Teacher Training in universities during the summer sessions. The Sister, who believes in practicing what she teaches, is a flier. She often takes her classes on inspection and demonstration tours through aircraft factories and airports. Her group of black-hooded nuns are a familiar sight in these places.

“Washington, D.C. Sister Aquinas, ‘flying nun,’ exchanging trade secrets with an engineer at the Washington National Airport,” June 1943.
Source: Library of Congress, FSA/OWI Collection

In 1957, “the Air Force Association gave her a citation for her ‘outstanding contributions’ to the nation’s security and world peace” [“No Glamor Girl”].  As part of the honor, Sister Mary Aquinas had the opportunity to fly in a T-33 jet trainer and take the control for much of the flight, making her the first nun to fly a jet.

“Washington, D.C. Sister Aquinas teaching a lesson in practical radio operations to the Sisters attending her Civil Aeronautics Authority course for instructors at Catholic University,” June 1943.
The women with heart necklaces are Sisters of the Holy Cross.
Source: Library of Congress, FSA/OWI Collection

Sister Mary Aquinas was the subject of a 1956 television program The Pilot Her moniker as “The Flying Nun” leads many to believe she was the inspiration of the 1967-1970 television show starring Sally Field.  Furthering the thought there might be a connection, the television show was based on a The Fifteenth Pelican, a book by Tere Rios Versace, who also researched the life of Sister Mary Aquinas for an unpublished biography.  Versace’s papers can be found at the Wisconsin Historical Society Archives.



“The Fighting Irish at the Fronts,” By Jim Schaeffer, Scholastic, October 1, 1943, page 9

September 3, 1942 Commencement Program [PNDP 1300]

Sister Mary Aquinas, ‘The Flying Nun,’ Says Air-Minded Child Is a Happy Child,” by Margaret Kernodle, AP Features Writer, Lewiston Morning Tribune, Lewiston, Idaho, August 8, 1943

Navy Invites Nun to Pilot Jet,” Lodi News-Sentinel, Lodi, California, July 25, 1958

“‘No Glamor Girl,’ Flying Nun Says,” by Bob Considine, The Milwaukee Sentinel, September 8, 1957

Three Sisters, Three Stories, Touching Lives,” Silver Lake College New Directions, Fall/Winter 2008-2009

Sister Mary Aquinas Is Dead; Pilot Inspired TV ‘Flying Nun,'” The New York Times, October 23, 1985

The Wisconsin Historical Society

Photos of Sr. Mary Aquinas from the Library of Congress are in the public domain


Frank C. Walker

Frank C. Walker entered the Notre Dame Law School in 1906 and began an affiliation with the school which lasted throughout his life. He graduated in 1909 and later served on the University’s Board of Lay Trustees, worked for the Notre Dame Foundation, and was a member of the Notre Dame Club of New York. He was given an honorary degree in 1934 and the University’s Laetare Medal in 1948.

He supported Franklin D. Roosevelt’s campaigns for governor in 1928 and the presidency in 1932. During the 1932 campaign he served as Treasurer of the Democratic National Committee. President Roosevelt appointed him executive secretary of his President’s Executive Council in 1933, and he subsequently acted as executive director of the National Emergency Council.

Post Master General Frank C. Walker, Notre Dame Law School Class of 1909, and Miss Helen Richards of Hazelton, Pennsylvania (PA) work the USO-NCCS overseas Christmas Mailing Booth, National Catholic Community Service, Washington, D.C., c1943

In 1940 he was appointed to succeed Jim Farley as Postmaster General of the United States, in which position he served until 1945. In 1946 he was appointed by President Truman as alternate delegate to the first United Nations General Assembly session in London. He returned to his business interests in N.Y. as director of W. R. Grace & Co. and the Grace National Bank of New York.

The Papers of Frank C. Walker document his life from his early days in Butte, Montana to his tenure as Postmaster General during World War II. Walker’s career in national politics was the result of his long friendship with Franklin Roosevelt. Much of the collection consists of office files from his service in the Roosevelt administrations, first as head of the Executive Council and the National Emergency Council and then as Postmaster General. It was also at Roosevelt’s behest that Walker served as Democratic Party treasurer and chairman of the Democratic National Committee. It was loyalty to Roosevelt, rather than personal ambition, that kept Walker in public service.

A full page from a Frank Walker scrapbook, c1933

Most of Walker’s papers are from the positions he held within the New Deal and the Democratic Party. The Roosevelt campaigns, the formulation of New Deal programs, the selection of Harry Truman as vice-president in 1944, and other political events of the 1930s and 1940s are all discussed in Walker’s Papers and have been of most interest to historians. But the collection also documents Walker’s early career as a lawyer in Butte, his work as general counsel and president of his family’s theatre business, and his personal interests in the University of Notre Dame and Catholic charities. These parts of his life are not represented by the extensive office files that document his days in public service, but it is clear from the Walker papers that his life included much more than politics and government service.

A good source for information on all aspects of Walker’s life are the memoirs he worked on during his retirement but never completed. The transcripts, drafts, and notes that he produced as part of the project fill in many of the gaps in his papers. This is particularly true of his college days, the time he spent as a trial lawyer in Butte, and his work with the Comerford theater business. His recollections of Roosevelt, New Deal programs and personalities, and the politics of the period offer a personal point of view that is missing from the more public office files he accumulated. The memoirs tell us much about Walker, who despite his many years in public life was still a very private man.

A full page from a Frank Walker scrapbook with newspaper clippings regarding his Laetare Medal, installation of Archbishop Spellman, and United States delegates at the UNO Assembly, c1939-1949

Frank C. Walker donated his papers to the Archives of the University of Notre Dame in 1948, although the entire collection was not transferred at that time. After his death in 1959 the Walker family gave additional material to complete the donation. Walker’s books, photographs, and record albums have been taken from his papers to form separate collections, each with its own finding aid. His books cover a wide variety of topics, although politics and the New Deal dominate. The photographs are largely from his tenure in government service, particularly with the Post Office; they include portraits of Walker with many of the political figures of the 1930s and 1940s. The record albums that came with the Walker Papers include a few of his speeches. In 1990 an oral history was conducted with Thomas J. Walker and Laura Walker Jenkins, Frank Walker’s son and daughter. The transcript and tapes from this interview are also available.

Alumni Reunion

Alumni have always been an important constituency of the Notre Dame family.  They often return home to their Alma Mater independently and as part of organized groups.  The first weekend in June has been designated as Alumni Reunion weekend, where Notre Dame welcomes back all her students, particularly those who celebrate their anniversaries on the fives and tens.

Alumni group (including many faculty members), c1880s. Includes Rev. Edward Sorin, Arthur Stace, William Ivers, Borzon (?), James (Jimmy) Edwards, Joseph Lyons, Thomas E. Walsh, Peter Cooney, Patrick Colovin, O’Connell, Kelly, Timothy Howard

The Society of the Associated Alumni first organized in 1868 and held many Reunions into the 1870s, but it faded near the turn of the century.  In 1908, University President Rev. John W. Cavanaugh, CSC, sent invitations to all Alumni to return to their Alma Mater for Commencement, and thus reinstating the tradition of the annual Alumni Reunion.

Scholastic Alumni Issue, vol. 42, page 19: Alumni Reunion group posed on Main Building front steps, June 17, 1908. Scholastic lists all the returnees on a following page.

Alumni ribbon featuring an engraving on the new Main Building, 06/20/1888

Notre Dame Alumnus Class of 1910 Ribbon

Activities for this year’s Reunion will be similar to those in the past — meeting up with old friends and professors and their families, attending Masses and Class banquets, and ambling about an ever-changing campus.

Alumni Reunion – A group of alumni at a refreshment station outside of Howard Hall, c1960s-1970s

Class of 1917 Scenes from Alumni Reunion, 1947

Alumni walking around campus near the Hesburgh Library, which is under construction and does not have the Word of Life mural, June 1963

Alumni Reunion – “Still Crazy after All These Years,” including Suzzie and Jack McCabe and Paul Fox, 1989

CLYS 4/05
OATH 28/
GMLS 7/01
GNDL 19/03
GNDL 34/33
GNDL 34/49
GPUB 11/59