Saint Mary’s women at Mendoza – before it was official
Author: Susan Scherer Calandra (SMC ’72)
It was the Fall of 1970. Notre Dame was still all male. Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame were planning to merge (a plan that was abandoned in November 1971). Fr. Hesburgh had already opened up Notre Dame’s classes to the girls at Saint Mary’s. My classmate, Mary Jane, and I wanted to pursue Business degrees.
When the Principles of Accounting professor asked the “Babe” in the third row what she thought of the accounting theory we were discussing, I didn’t question who he was addressing. Mary Jane and I were the only “babes” in the class. “Did he really call me Babe?” The longest “a” I had ever heard. I could not believe it could take that long to utter the word. I swallowed hard and calmly answered his question. Little did I know, this was great training for the dozen years I later toiled at Price Waterhouse as one of the few pioneering women in public accounting.
Students were rebelling — not unlike today — the Vietnam War, Civil Rights, the ERA…. And we young women at Saint Mary’s were no exception. We were not going to stand for curfews or dress codes AND we definitely were not happy with the requirement for typing and shorthand in the Economics and Business major! We wanted a real business education. So we ventured “across the street.” What an adventure it was! I am proud to say that we ultimately proved that typing and shorthand were unnecessary for women to get ahead in business (although they have come in handy).
I continue to reflect upon my experience of being one of the only women in a sea of men in accounting, economics and finance classes at Notre Dame. I think often of that day the Professor asked my opinion in class. Today his sexist faux pas would be a national story! I did not raise a feminist flag then, and I do not hold it against him now. I just answered his question and we moved on. That’s the way it was. In his own way, he was inviting me into the discussion.
I realize now just how disruptive our presence was in those hallowed halls of Hayes-Healy. I am proud of our small, but pivotal, role in teaching the Notre Dame faculty the importance of diversity and different perspectives in a well-rounded education. We showed them that women did belong in their classrooms and even in the Dean’s Office. I am proud to call former Dean Carolyn Woo a friend. Her faith-filled leadership and tireless work for the common good played a major role in developing the hearts and minds of future leaders. She inspires me.
I am incredibly grateful to Fr. Ted for opening Notre Dame’s doors to young women and equally grateful for the encouraging and supportive environment at Saint Mary’s. As a naïve 20 year old from Peoria, I was pushed out of my comfort zone and challenged. We developed valuable skills: perseverance, self-reliance and the courage to pursue our dreams.
My father, John Scherer (BS Commerce; ND ’43), would say “it’s not the same as it was.” He would be correct. The University of Notre Dame and its Mendoza College of Business are much better places today. Graduates— and I include Saint Mary’s graduates as well — are better leaders because of the foundation we were given. We are purpose-driven leaders, working to grow the good in business.
Susan (Scherer) Calandra graduated from Saint Mary’s in 1972 with a degree in Economics and Business. She lives in Foster City, CA with her husband Phil (ND FIN ’72) and son John. After Price Waterhouse and Marriott Corporation, she devoted her career to higher education finance, working 25 years for Stanford University as Controller and Senior Associate Vice President for Finance. After retiring in 2019, she became a Fellow in Stanford’s Distinguished Careers Institute. She continues to advocate for higher education, having served as a Trustee of Saint Mary’s College for eleven years and currently as a Trustee of the University of San Francisco.