The Class of 1974 Celebrates 40 Years

by Virginia Weir

When Fairfield’s first class of women arrived on campus in 1970, it was a time of excitement and turmoil. How would the presence of women change the character of an all-male University?

There were 181 women enrolled that first semester — 26 percent of the class. Most came from Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, and New Jersey, looking for a good education at a local University that had a reputation for rigorous academics and a beautiful shoreline campus. Twenty students came for the new nursing school, which had just opened that year.

Today, the alumnae from that class of 40 years ago number 156, of 162 who graduated. More than a quarter of the class — 41 in total — married men who attended Fairfield, and several sent their children to Fairfield. Now, they live as close as Fairfield, and as far away as Florida and California. Some have retired. Many still thrive in careers as teachers, nurses, attorneys, psychotherapists, and financial managers.

Many have stayed involved with the University, serving as Trustees, volunteering on school Advisory Boards and the Alumni Association Board. Over the years many have shared their expertise on Reunion and campaign committees, assisted at Admission recruitment events and mentored current students.

In celebration of that extraordinary time and and 40 years of women at the University, in anticipation of their reunion in June, Fairfield University Magazine invited three graduates from the Class of 1974 to share their memories.

Vivian Moore-Brown, retired since 2008; previously worked in public health administration for many years in the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene; currently working as an events planner at Baruch College; mother of two adult sons and “two precious grandchildren”; lives in New York City.

“A couple of my teachers from high school were alums from Fairfield. When they heard I was applying, they were encouraging. I loved the campus. It had a small-campus feel. I will always have this picture in my mind of studying in small gatherings on the big lawn, and the willow trees by the (Bellarmine) pond.

There were about 10 African American women when we started, and maybe 30 (African American) males at the time. We definitely formed an allegiance — we had to be there to support and encourage each other. The men considered themselves our big brothers. In general, we felt a sense of protection from the guys — they were very receptive to us being on campus — maybe too receptive! It was sort of great how they didn’t have to go off-campus anymore in order to hang out with women.

I felt there was a disparity between the students, but it wasn’t an issue per se. The only concern I had was that there was not a sense of inclusion in terms of the University’s mainstream. There was only one African American professor, and no specific courses relevant to people of color or women.

One of my favorite memories was the Earth, Wind & Fire concert (1973). We fought hard to get that concert — you can only imagine! And any time spent at the Campus Center. You could always predict countless laughs and serious people watching.

Our particular class fostered special relationships; I don’t think that other classes maintained that same bond. I have maintained a 44-year “sistership” with several women from the class (Sharon Christopher, Cathy Ford Frissora, Carla Latty, Kathy Graham Griffith, and Joanne Patterson Fagan). We have experienced weddings, the birth of our children, grandchildren, and have even vacationed together. It is an incredible bond, one that I treasure.

After I graduated I went into public health administration in New York City, and assisted with administrative policy development for the ‘Article 28’ clinics that provided direct clinical care.

I felt very passionate about my work… I felt like I was able to be a voice for the voiceless.

I would classify the women of the Class of 1974 as pioneers — strong willed and very opinionated. We did make a difference, and I think we left an indelible mark on the University. I feel like we helped change the atmosphere on campus. It had a different swag when we graduated. Hopefully we made things a bit easier for the women who followed us.

Joellin Comerford, English literature major; retiredafter31yearsatAccenture, where she was Chief Executive, Outsourcing; co-chair of the upcoming 2014 Fairfield Awards Dinner.

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