Celebrating 50 Years of Fisher Females
In September 1971, 65 women made history as the first females to enroll at St. John Fisher College. Among those were 30 first-year students, dubbed “freshettes” by then president, Rev. Charles Lavery.
Following a unanimous vote by the Board of Trustees the previous January, Fisher embraced the growing trend among high school students who favored a coeducational college experience by enrolling women into the College.
(Left to right: Marilyn Woytash ’75, Antoinette Giordano Cooper ’75, Michele Micalizzi McCarthy ’75, Gloria Pucci LoVecchio ’75, Judy Magro Goonan ’75, and Jacqueline Peterson ’75)
In 2021, Fisher’s first “freshettes” celebrate the 50th anniversary of their time at the College, and reflect on being among the pioneer females to attend the “college on the hill.”
“I absolutely felt a sense of pride being in the first class of females to attend Fisher,” recalled Judy Goonan (nee Magro). “I remember the special welcome we received on the first day, and know that the other women that I met were as honored, happy, and excited to be there as I was.”
Orientation for the Class of 1975 included a president’s reception, meetings with upperclassmen who served as student advisors, a trip to Corbett’s Glen with Nazareth students, and entertainment, including live music, a cookout, and field day event. While women did not live on campus that first year, they were able to spend part of Orientation weekend in Murray Hall, according to Fisher’s student newspaper, The Pioneer.
Goonan, who studied mathematics and psychology at Fisher, said it felt natural and comfortable to be there from day one, and developing camaraderie with her classmates – male and female – came easily.
“I was a Math major, and a group of us would get together for hours in the afternoons in the cafeteria in Kearney Hall to work collectively,” she said. “Although I was the only female in the group, my classmates treated me equally as one of the team and as a friend. From a social perspective, females were always welcome at campus social events and at the local hangouts.”
Fisher’s first females had support in the form of Laura Cramer, who was appointed dean of women in addition to serving in her role as the College registrar. Cramer, who lived nearby, assisted the women in acclimating to campus, and often hosted socials for students at her home. When international student Odile Benezech arrived at Fisher from France to find her housing not yet settled, Cramer opened her home to the incoming first-year student. They remain family friends today.
“I didn’t get involved in their academic life, but it was just everything else, how they lived, and what they were doing,” she said.
The following year, as The Pioneer noted, Fisher’s coeds “more than doubled their ranks, giving them enough power to seize one of the campus residence halls.” The campus population included 175 women, 55 of whom moved into Murray Hall, becoming the first female on-campus residents in Fisher history.
Michelle McCarthy (nee Micalizzi) was among the women who lived in Murray Hall. At every level, she said her Fisher education was life-changing, particularly at a moment when the women’s, civil rights, and anti-war movements were causing major shifts in American culture.
“All of those things were informing the culture on campus, and it was an exciting time,” says McCarthy. “Some of my greatest memories are the faculty who were very politically aware, and that content came into our classes.”
McCarthy points to the military draft, which was still in place at the time, as an example of the kind of social engagement experienced at Fisher in the 1970s. She said that, as a woman, she didn’t have to worry about military service or the draft, but her male peers at Fisher were not so fortunate. McCarthy said that her professors introduced and encouraged conversations regarding the draft, prompting students to ask the morally and ethically important questions of the time.
“That’s what education should be—learning how to take your place in the world and make it better than you found it,” she said.
Board of Trustees unanimously votes to admit women for matriculation in the fall semester.
Mary Jean Garland, an Eastridge High School senior, is the first woman admitted.
First coed freshman Orientation begins.
Sixty-five women - 30 first-year and 35 transfers - take their first classes as Fisher students.
Carol Worth becomes the first female graduate of St. John Fisher College.
First female residents - a total of 55 - move into Murray Hall.
Basketball and volleyball introduced as the first women’s intercollegiate sports at Fisher.
What's your Fisher herstory?
Share your memories and recollections of the history of women at Fisher. What was it like being a pioneer as one of the first women to enroll? Who influenced you as a Fisher student? What quirky stories do you have as Fisher transitioned from all-male to coed?
Visit www.sjfc.edu/alumni to share your experiences and enrich the College Archives.