Marymount College was established by Mother Marie Joseph Butler, a woman of tremendous vision and courage. Born Johanna Butler in County Kilkenny, Ireland, she entered the order of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary and served in the congregation's schools in Portugal before coming to the United States.
Founding the School
On December 8, 1907, Mother Butler and a few other nuns came to Tarrytown with the intention of establishing a boarding and day school for girls. Mother Butler's cousin, a successful entrepreneur named James Butler, had helped her locate the site for the school, the Reynard Estate, and provided the funds for the purchase of the property. Mother Butler named the new school Marymount in honor of the Blessed Virgin and in memory of Mary Anne O'Rourke Butler, James Butler's late wife. The school opened in February 1908 with six students.
Mother Butler had dreams of expanding the new school and, within a few years, a four-story annex to the main building was added. Mother Butler established a complete high school curriculum and offered the option of two additional years of study beyond the high school program.
Mother Butler and Mother Gerard Phelan were eager to establish a four-year college awarding baccalaureate degrees. The two educators looked for more property adjacent to the school and by 1918, they were able to purchase the Hermann Estate just "up the hill" from Marymount. There were three buildings on the property at that time: the original Butler Hall, Sacre Coeur, a beloved dormitory until it was razed in the 1970s, and St. John's, another dormitory which was on the site of the later St. John's-Ursula dormitories. The move to the college took place in October 1918 and a provisional college charter was granted the following year.
The college charter became permanent in 1924, the first year that Marymount granted baccalaureate degrees. Students in the 1920's enjoyed many extra-curricular clubs and participated in different sports, including field hockey and riding, in addition to their academic work. The yearbook, the Elan, and the literary magazine, Oriflamme, were started during this time and the tradition of the May Queen festivities began. With the purchase of a residence in Paris, Marymount was able to offer its students the opportunity to study abroad, becoming one of the first American colleges to do so. In 1926, Mother Butler was elected General Superior of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary and Mother Gerard Phelan, her closest associate, succeeded her as president of Marymount in 1927.
Marymount continued to expand during the 1930s, despite the worldwide economic depression. The Science Building was completed in 1934, (the present) Butler Hall in 1936 and Gerard Hall two years later.
The 1930s also saw the founding of the Cormont, the student newspaper, and the inauguration of the Gerard Scholar award, the College's highest academic honor. The English department, headed by Mother Ursula Correa and the art department, under Mother Stanislaus Clarke, offered more courses than any of the other departments. The theology and philosophy departments benefited greatly from the arrival of the Rev. E.K. Lynch, O. Carm., in 1931.
1940s: WWII and the Snow Queen Festival
The decade of the 1940s began on a sad note for Marymount with the death of Mother Butler in April, 1940. When the U.S. entered into WWII, less than two years later, the students joined many others in "doing their part" for the war effort. They formed first aid units for the Red Cross, sold war bonds and worked on victory gardens, among other activities.
Mother Therese Dalton succeeded Mother Gerard as president of the college in 1943. Mother Gerard was subsequently elected General Superior of the congregation in 1946.
The Snow Queen Festival, a popular tradition to benefit overseas missions (a favorite cause of Mother Butler) began in 1945, and a large new dormitory, Gailhac Hall, was built soon after. The student body grew in numbers, especially after the war ended, and many long-serving members of Marymount's faculty joined the College during these years, among them Mr. Louis Tanno for the drama department, Dr. Helene Magaret and Dr. Vincent Kenny of the English department, Dr. Lillian Proietto of the biology department, and Dr. Elisa Carrillo of the history department.
1950s: Spellman Auditorium, Marian Hall, and the Alumnae Sports Building
Mother du Sacre Coeur Smith, a former classics professor and dean of the college, became president of Marymount in 1953. She was especially committed to promoting the mission work that was so important to Mother Butler and during these years the students worked diligently to make the Snow Queen Bazaar, which benefited the missions, a great success. The building program of the college continued during the 1950s with Spellman Auditorium completed in 1951, Marian Hall in 1954, and the Alumnae Sports Building in 1959. A highlight of this decade was the 1957 celebration of the 50th anniversary of Marymount's founding.
1960s: Senators Robert Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy Speak on Campus
In 1960, Mother Brendan McQuillan (now known as Sister Maire) became president of the College. The 1960s were a time of almost revolutionary change, with upheaval in higher education, in society at large and in the Catholic Church. Increased student activism—fueled by the unpopularity of the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement and the women's movement—affected college campuses throughout the nation and Marymount was no exception.
Prominent politicians such as Senator Robert Kennedy and Senator Eugene McCarthy spoke on campus and both students and faculty were involved in protests against the war, while opinions within the Marymount community were sharply divided. Any turmoil, however, did not prevent the College from completing the construction of the Gloria Gaines Library, Rita Hall, and another large dormitory, St. John's-St. Ursula.
The decade ended with Mother Brendan's resignation as president and the selection of Dr. John Meng, former president of Hunter College and executive vice president of Fordham University, as the first layperson—and male—to be president of Marymount. Influential faculty members who came to Marymount during the 1960s included Dr. Michael Zeik, Sister Kathleen Connell, and Dean Roger Panetta of the history department, Sister Ellen Marie Keane in philosophy, John Lawry in psychology, and many other dedicated professors.
1970s: Peak Enrollment
The highest enrollment in Marymount's history, approximately 1,100 students, was reached in the early 1970s. During this time, in response to a changing educational climate and introduction of the federal Title IX legislation, there was serious consideration of the possibility of Marymount becoming co-educational. However, after consultation and deliberation, the Long-Range Planning Committee concluded that Marymount's mission should remain that of providing quality undergraduate education to women only.
Marymount remained a pioneer of new ideas when Sr. Brigid Driscoll, then associate dean, introduced the Weekend College in 1975. This program offered adults, most of whom were employed full-time, the opportunity to pursue a college degree through weekend classes.
At the same time, the liberal arts curriculum for the traditional college students was revised to include some emphasis on career preparation. The College began offering students the opportunity to participate in off-campus internships and to provide them with practical experience in the workplace. In late 1974, Dr. Meng resigned as president, having steered Marymount through a difficult period of student unrest. He was succeeded by Dr. Robert Christin, formerly president of St. Norbert College in Wisconsin and an English professor at the University of Notre Dame. In 1976, Fordham University began offering graduate-level programs in social work, education, and business on property owned by the religious community near the Marymount campus but this had no effect on the independent status of either institution.
1980s: 75th Anniversary
Dr. Christin resigned as president in 1979 and Sister Brigid Driscoll was formally installed as president in October of that year—restoring the tradition of Marymount being led by a member of the R.S.H.M. congregation. In 1982, the college celebrated its 75th anniversary marked by several special events, including a Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral with Helen Hayes as a lector, a street festival in Tarrytown, an International Honors convocation and a commemorative project of the journalism class: 75 Years Educating for Tomorrow—organized by Professor William Darden. Another highlight during the 80s was the "We Put Women in Their Place" advertising campaign, which highlighted the achievements of Marymount alumnae who had become leaders in business, public service, and the professions.
1990s: Declining Enrollment
Through the 1990s, under Sister Brigid's direction, Marymount continued its mission of educating women for leadership positions in society, although changing times and attitudes regarding single-sex education were demonstrated by lower enrollment numbers.
1990s: Restoration of the Butler Dome
In 1997, Marymount celebrated the 90th anniversary of its founding with a Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral. The musical setting for the Mass was composed by alumna Donna Cribari who also directed the choir.
Sister Brigid resigned as president in 1999 and was succeeded by Anne Slattery, '69, a former banker. She spearheaded the restoration and re-dedication of the Butler Dome at the Honors Convocation in October 1999, an important symbolic gesture for the Marymount community.
2000s: Closing the College
In 2000, faced with declining enrollment and the increasing financial burdens experienced by many small liberal arts colleges during this time, Marymount sought assistance through a merger with Fordham University. Marymount and Fordham had many ties over the years. The Agreement of Consolidation was announced in December 2000, and Fordham declared its intentions to continue to operate Marymount as an undergraduate women's college within the University for as long as it was "academically and financially feasible" to do so. With Fordham's assistance, the Campus Ministry was transformed and many of the campus facilities were updated or re-furbished. At the same time, however, a University task force was formed to review the operating costs of the College and make recommendations for future plans. The results of the task force review indicated that the College was experiencing such financial difficulties that it could no longer be sustained. In October 2005, after months of deliberation, the Fordham Board of Trustees made the decision to close Marymount in June 2007 and to merge any remaining eligible students into Fordham's degree programs. The Marymount Campus was then sold by Fordham to EF Education in February 2008.
The Class of 2007 was the last to receive a degree from Marymount College. However, the legacy lives on as the 10,000 alumnae who attended Marymount make their mark on the world, taking with them the quality education, strength of character, and religious ideals of those who dedicated their lives to the development of Marymount College, Tarrytown.