The Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati is made up of powerful women dedicated to the service of others, but they also take time to educate themselves on what it means to be not just a strong woman, but a strong person.

Mount St. Joseph News


The Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati is made up of powerful women dedicated to the service of others, but they also take time to educate themselves on what it means to be not just a strong woman, but a strong person. Such was the case when Sister of Charity Victoria Marie Forde spearheaded the Women’s Studies program at the then-called College of Mount St. Joseph in an effort to help women realize their value at a time of surfacing second-wave feminism.


When Forde began teaching at the College of Mount St. Joseph in 1973, she was filled with hope and beamed with opportunity. One of her first and most demanding tasks was to think of a core curriculum for the women’s college alongside fellow Sister of Charity Martha Glockner, philosophy; Fran Harmon, history; and Mary Ann Haubner, mathematics. The result was establishing a Women’s Studies program through the lens of multiple disciplines, and each of them were thrilled to be a part of something so pertinent to the time. As Forde once wrote, “Each of us was enthusiastic about all we could bring to such a program.”


Though Harmon was the first to offer a class that was overtly geared towards women’s studies, this did not ease the transition. Their proposal was initially met with scrutiny and heated responses, as some argued that an all-women’s college should innately contain acceptable information about women’s studies. This was one of the many instances in the program that stirred controversy, which was made all the more apparent when female students came to learn about the topic.


The students that enrolled did so with the intention of learning how women could achieve equality, and the program was primarily made up of married women who had never completed college. Husbands of these students were angry, fueled by their beliefs that they should have remained housewives. Divorces occurred as a result, but the women would not be disheartened. Forde said in the Spring 2019 edition of Mount News that her goal was “[t]o help students understand the truth about the unjust inequality of women and men in almost every area. To have them graduate with increased self-confidence and self-respect, new perspective on life and learning, and women’s impact on law, government, ministry and the arts.”


The classes were generally taught in teams to look at women’s studies through the areas of expertise of the professors. For example, Forde taught alongside Harmon for a course called “Woman as Person”, where they used a feminist perspective to study literature and history of women, respectively. Their work, however, was having a grander impact on the college than either of them could have anticipated.


To celebrate the new area of study, the College of Mount St. Joseph hosted an event called “Women Today” in February of 1973, which featured a series of plenary talks over the course of the weekend about the role of women in sports, the work place, and as people. The opening address was given by the former president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), Wilma Scott Heide. To counter her points, they invited anti-feminist J.J. Jarboe in an open discussion to the convention. Heide had the utmost faith in the new field study, as she stated the following in The Cincinnati Enquirer in 1973: “Women’s lib[eration] means men’s lib[eration] and that of our children. The family, to be viable in today’s society, needs for children to thrive in lib[eration]’s richness and diversity.”


The program steadily increased attendance from the beginning. The introductory course in 1976, “Woman as Person”, had a class size of 20 people. This attendance convinced the staff at the college to make an additional certificate for the study, which would be the precursor to the minor and eventual major. When the college became co-educational, the first man, Steve Frietch, entered the Women’s Studies program in 1989. This made the program noteworthy in the Cincinnati area, especially since it was one of the only programs concerned with feminism that was successful. In 1992, Forde noted that more professors were trying to integrate the ideas of women’s studies into their classes.


The Women’s Studies program had finally gained enough steam for it to be considered a major in 1990, when it was unanimously voted upon, making Forde the director of the program until she retired in 1992. Judith Sauerbrey succeeded her before stepping down in 2000. To commemorate the years of learning that resulted from this program, members of the staff and students and the College of Mount St. Joseph Friends of Women’s Studies gathered in a prayerful ritual in 2000 at a former student’s home. As part of their farewell to the program, their ritual involved dropping pebbles into a pond to see the ripples of the water that reflected their work in Women’s Studies. The prayer ended with the following quote: “…we thank [God] for all that has been, all that now is, and all that will continue from our dedication to the betterment of women and also men in our time and place.”


Though the study may have ended, the graduates with this degree were highly successful. Louise Hess, who graduated in 1991 with honors, was even awarded the Distinguished Student Award and Harrington Leadership Award at graduation. They also went on to pursue great careers. Mary Jo Dangel became the assistant editor at St. Anthony Messenger and wrote articles on women’s rights because of the inspiring Women in Literature courses that she took. “Sharing stories related to the literature that we read in class brought out our own stories,” Dangel says. “We felt free to share in this safe space that we created.”


While women’s studies no longer exists as a program itself, it is ingrained into the curriculum of Mount St. Joseph University. Social issues are challenged through courses such as Common Ground, which explores the common good and equal treatment for all people, regardless of gender. Classes are offered today which highlight the accomplishments of women, such as Professor Drew Shannon’s various women in literature courses that explore how women are portrayed in literature by both male and female authors.


“By the time I received my graduate training in the late 1990s, Women’s Studies had radically altered university curricula,” says Shannon, “Thus, it’s always been inconceivable to me to craft a course which doesn’t strive for equity between male and female authors”.


The study of women is one that cannot be overlooked because it laid the groundwork for many similar programs throughout the area and the integration of a gender-balanced curriculum at Mount St. Joseph University. Forde left her mark on the university and her students alike by embracing the value that all people share. To this day, some of the Womens’ Studies graduates have monthly meetings with Forde to discuss how the program empowered them.