The Abigail Quigley McCarthy Center for Women’s Research, Resources and Scholarship celebrated 30 years of helping women find their unique voices in October. It was an evening of celebrating women past and present – their lives, their voices and the community that gave rise to both. The Center was dedicated in 1986 to Abigail Quigley McCarthy, a 1936 English graduate of St. Catherine who taught at St. Kate’s until her husband, Eugene McCarthy, was elected to the House of Representatives (and in 1968 would run for president). She stepped onto the national stage in Washington D.C. and used her voice to support women’s rights and civil rights, among others.
Since its inception, the Center for Women has been a campus resource and haven for women of all ages to build their confidence, discuss issues and collaborate for change. It assists students with research projects, sponsors discussions and hosts yearly awards for leadership, research and writing.
Sharon Doherty, director of the Center and women’s studies professor, welcomed alumnae, faculty, students and staff to the celebration in October. Greeted with a standing ovation from the assembled audience, Doherty was quick to acknowledge Sia Vang, program coordinator, for the skill and dedication she has brought to the center. In a show of hands of those who had received a Center scholarship, won a Center award, gave a Center brown bag presentation or attended one, the largest number of hands shot into the air in response to the question, “Asked Sia for advice?!” Laughter ensued.
Doherty described the Center as more than a space, it was a place where we can “wrap our arms and minds around something big” as it intentionally focuses on women’s perspectives, women’s well-being and women’s contributions to the world.
Nancy Peterson Anderson ’01, a theology and women’s studies graduate who has donated major support for the Women’s Center, credited it with helping her to discover her voice. Returning to St. Kate's to pursue a graduate degree, she said at St. Kate's she found her tribe.
“It was exhilarating,” she said. “This center gave me the courage to stir the pot, but also build bridges. It was important to me to give back to help other women.”
Showcased throughout the evening were readings from Center Award recipients’ work and included alumnae Marna Anderson ’08, Marge Rogers Barrett ’68, Mysee Chang ’13 and Charlie Zieke ’15 as well as faculty and staff members Cecilia Konchar Farr, Lynne Gildensoph and Anna Shilongo.
Kay Bendel ’56 and Ruth Brombach ’60 shared memories of Catherine Lupori, the Center’s founding director who was installed in 1985. They acknowledged Lupori – and Quigley McCarthy – as women who were forces of nature for their devotion to women’s education and their courage and resolve to “never sit silently by” when faced with injustice. It was Lupori’s idea to name the Center for Abigail Quigley McCarthy '36.
The evening also focused the spotlight on the five students who were instrumental in launching the women’s center. Robyn Mathews-Lingen ’84 said the group – Barbara Appleby ’83, Amy Lindgren ’83, Ann Mathews-Lingen ’83 and Betsy Scholl ’83 – coalesced following conservative attacks on feminism in the early 1980s.
They formed the Feminist Interest Group (FIG) and were soon joined by other students as well as assisted by Geri Chavis and Nasrin Jewell who each served as a faculty advisor. FIG secured a space above Campus Ministry to collect resource materials around women’s issues and present programs and discussions.
“We were in a very small room listening to very big voices,” said Mathews-Lingen. As campus support grew, they were advised by Dean Marilou Eldred to add research to the fledging center’s title, ensuring that it was aligned it with the College’s long range strategic plan and solidifying its position as an interdisciplinary resource for students, faculty and the community.
In closing the event, President Becky Roloff noted that ceremony and recognizing milestones are important because they energize the future.
“The promise of St. Catherine is taking women seriously,” she said. “However, it starts by taking yourself seriously first.”
“Where the head meets the heart," St. Catherine University Magazine.
"Abigail’s story," St. Catherine University Magazine Digital Extra.
Learn more about Women’s Center programs and scholarships.
See a slide show of photos from the celebration.