Building on history and tradition

MU’s Institute for Women’s Leadership adds to trailblazing legacy

Marquette University
3 min readOct 9, 2020

Building on its historic role as the first co-educational Catholic university in the world beginning in 1909, Marquette established a research-based Institute for Women’s Leadership one year ago. The institute was made possible by a generous $5 million gift from the Thomas J. Rolfs Family Foundation. The institute’s team has been hard at work since, focusing on research, leadership and development programming related to gender equality in education and the workplace. Below, are five moments of progress for both women at Marquette and throughout the nation.

  1. More than 110 years, ago, Rev. James McCabe, S.J., bravely opened Marquette’s undergraduate programs to women (without full approval at the time) — and lost his job as a result. His commitment to equity in educational is celebrated to this day.

2. An institution-wide commitment

In first announcing Marquette’s new Institute for Women’s Leadership, President Michael R. Lovell expressed gratitude to the Thomas J. Rolfs Family Foundation, and then highlighted Marquette’s institution-wide commitment.

“Gender equity and inclusive representation in the workforce and education at all levels are critical topics both nationally and within our campus community at Marquette,” President Lovell said. “I am personally committed to raising the profile of female leaders on campus and ensuring we have the right support systems.”

3. Creating a solution

Five years ago, President Lovell had a vision of developing a campus-wide culture of innovation and the university launched Marquette’s innovation fund (now the Explorer Challenge). When Vice President for Research and Innovation Jeanne Hossenlopp shared the final proposals with donors who made it possible, one raised a concern, she said.

“Claire Rolfs, who represented her family foundation at the donors meeting, saw clearly that women were under-represented in the process,” Hossenlopp said. “Claire didn’t simply complain, though, she committed to helping create a solution.” “Through her leadership and advocacy, the Thomas J. Rolfs Family Foundation supported a pilot project which created our Women’s Innovation Network (WIN). Claire’s support and advocacy are driving progress.”

4. Welcome, new leaders

Andrea Schneider, Dr. Jean Grow, Dr. Jennica Webster and Sasha Parsons Waters.

In September 2019, Hossenlopp named the Institute for Women’s Leadership team. Andrea Schneider, professor at Marquette University Law School, was named the first director.

Dr. Jean Grow, professor of strategic communication in the Diederich College of Communication and Dr. Jennica Webster, associate professor of management in the College of Business Administration serve as co-directors, with help from Sasha Parsons Waters of Marquette’s Women’s Innovation Network.

5. 100-year anniversary of women’s right to vote

One-hundred years ago, the 19th Amendment was ratified. And, who led the charge? Wisconsin. Wisconsin became the first state to ratify the 19th Amendment on June 10, 1919. Then, on August 18, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the 19th Amendment, providing the final ratification necessary to add the amendment to the Constitution. With this the United States became twenty-seventh country in the world to give women the right to vote.

19th Amendment language: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”