Brigid Driscoll, 1933-2018

Tributes paid to nun who was a pioneer of women’s education

December 20, 2018
Brigid Driscoll

An “inspired and inspiring” champion of women’s education has died.

Brigid Driscoll, originally known as Joan, was born in 1933, grew up in New York and took a first degree in mathematics at Marymount Manhattan College. She graduated in 1954 and, the same year, joined an international order of nuns known as the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary. She also continued with her mathematical studies, gaining a master’s degree from the Catholic University of America and a PhD from the City University of New York.

In 1957, Sister Driscoll began teaching mathematics at Marymount College in Tarrytown, New York, a women’s college that was absorbed by Fordham University in 2000. She would remain there for the rest of her career, apart from an interlude for her doctorate, serving as associate academic dean (1971-74), director of continuing education (1974-79) and finally president (1979-99).

A committed advocate for women’s education, Sister Driscoll promoted the Marymount Institute for the Education of Women and Girls and the Girls’ Summer Science Program, which offered laboratory experience to girls who might otherwise have been wary of pursuing scientific studies. She was equally committed to the cause of widening access through initiatives such as the Weekend College, which she introduced in 1975. It was one of the first programmes in the US to give adults, most of them employed full time, an opportunity to gain degrees exclusively through weekend classes.

When Sister Driscoll announced her retirement in 1998, a profile in The New York Times described how she had transformed Marymount: “The students are not all daughters of the Italian and Irish families that had once been the college’s mainstay, nor are they all young Roman Catholic women. There is an increasing number of students for whom Marymount is not the continuation of a family tradition but frequently represents an immigrant family’s first toehold on the ladder of the American dream. And perhaps surprisingly, given its Catholic traditions, increasing numbers of students come from single-parent families.”

Once retired, Sister Driscoll completed the master’s in religious education which she had abandoned when taking up the presidency. She also worked with LifeWay, an anti-trafficking network, and taught mathematics on the degree programme for inmates of the Bedford Women’s Correctional Facility.

Fordham president Joseph McShane described Sister Driscoll as “an inspired and inspiring educator, a fierce advocate for women, and a leader of great integrity and decency. Her energy and great devotion to the proposition of women’s empowerment through education were second to none.”

Sister Driscoll died on 29 October.

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