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Last class

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The women (and men) of Newton College '75

Members of the NC'75 flag football team. A photo of the team also appeared in the New York Times sports section. Photo courtesy of Burns Library

Members of the NC'75 flag football team. A photo of the team also appeared in the New York Times sports section. Photo courtesy of Burns Library

On June 4–5, the heart of Reunion Weekend, some 38 members of the last class to graduate from Newton College attended their 30th reunion, on the BC campus. The Class of '75 had witnessed the end of their college's nearly 30 years of dominion over what is now BC's Newton Campus, with the merger of that small women's institution of under 800 students run by the sisters of the Sacred Heart into the larger, Jesuit University, on June 30, 1975.

Members of the Class of '75 began the weekend at Alumni House with other Newton College reunion classes, seated at round tables and participating, over a light breakfast, in a moderated discussion of Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own and Ernest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast. Some 35 Newton alumnae attended the discusion, which has become an NC reunion tradition in recent years.

Throughout the weekend, there was much reminiscing among the NC '75 returnees: about the early-a.m. class called "Study of Western Culture"—SWC, pronounced Swick—that was a two-year requirement; about 25-cent T rides to downtown Boston for (by then, waning) antiwar protests; the initials "GBA," which young women wrote on weekend sign-out sheets on the chance someone should need to "locate" them in the Greater Boston Area; the NC team's first-place accolades at the Model U.N.; serene, candlelit Masses; and the grueling football (yes, American football) practices. For the record, the Class of 1975 won the annual senior (team name, Senior Citizens) versus sophomore (Mama's Smackers) flag football game 13–7, back in 1975. More than one alumna mentioned the photograph of the helmeted women in a team huddle featured in the sports section of the New York Times (caption: "Yackety-yak").

"It was a wonderful time in history to be at a women's college"—with opportunities for women growing rapidly in the workplace—and a fine time to come of age as a woman, said Joanne McCarthy Goggins, now director of stewardship and donor relations at Boston College. Kathleen Joyce Coffey, NC'75, JD'78, the class graduation speaker in 1975, credits Newton College with preparing women "to be contributors, not spectators." Coffey is now chief justice in the West Roxbury Municipal Courts. Among NC'75 alumnae are social workers, educators, physicians, artists, and businesswomen, many of whom testify to juggling careers with motherhood.

Jo Ann Hilliard Holland, the class president in 1975, was drawn to Newton having been educated in Sacred Heart grammar and high schools. "Like the Jesuits," she says, "the religious of the Sacred Heart were concerned with the community, the world at large, and the individual, the spiritual." The nuns were a guiding presence even in the Newton dorms where, Bonnie Walton Crosby remembers, the sisters taught bridge because it was a social grace. Dorothea Young Gilliam recalls the nuns as "dynamic" and the "coolest dressers," a sign of post–Vatican II self-empowerment.

One of the college's former teachers attended Reunion Weekend—Elizabeth White, RSCJ. An English professor, she was among the dozen or so faculty who made the move to BC in 1975, and she now serves on the Honors Program faculty. White attended the morning literary discussion, yellow stickie notes sprouting from her copies of the Woolf and Hemingway memoirs.


IN 1969, several years before insurmountable debt and diminishing applications put Newton College on the ropes, the school technically opened its doors to men, with its participation in the federal Law Enforcement Education Program. Nine Newton police officers, all World War II veterans, attended classes with the young women of NC'75. Their perspective on the Vietnam war protests made for interesting class discussion. Richard Duffy, now 78 years old, studied politics and criminal justice and vouches for the school's rigor. He says he tried to quit 12 times, but his wife always persuaded him to return.

Students' reactions to the announcement in March 1974 that Newton College would close ranged from sadness to devastation. Mary Ann Young Horne burst into tears when she heard the news while studying abroad in Madrid. But now it seems most recognize that the merger with Boston College was the best possible scenario. The alumnae are happy to be associated with the University and to be able to go back to "their" campus for reunions. (I only saw one reunion name tag with "Boston" crossed out and scribbled over with "Newton.")

In 1975, Boston College offered the Newton College students BC degrees. Of the 207 members of the graduating class, most, including the police officers, accepted; 54 women elected to appear on the commencement program that year as receiving their degrees from Newton.

In a parting letter in the May/June 1975 Newton Newsnotes, then Newton President James J. Whalen wrote, "NC as a place and a time for women will not end. . . . It will continue to live as long as those of us who have profited here are willing to share with others the ideals and ideas we discovered here." Attending the Newton reunions this year was BC Professor Judith Wilt. She was there, she said, to tell the alumnae what she was doing with "your professorship." Wilt holds the Newton College Alumnae Chair in Western Culture at Boston College, established by Newton alumnae, and the endowed chair's funds help to sponsor visiting writers, such as last year's Barbara Ehrenreich and next year's Adrienne Rich.

Wilt takes every opportunity to mention her Newton College sponsorship. "It is important," she says, "to keep this name and this idea in front of all the people at BC."

Jessica Murphy


Jessica Murphy is a writer based in the Boston area.

 


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