LOOKING BACK: CIVIL RIGHTS AT MANHATTANVILLE COLLEGE

Mother Grace Dammann
All photographs courtesy of Manhattanville Library’s Special Collections

By BREANNE POST ’16

“People we consider objectionable, and in favor of those we consider pleasant or desirable, but whichever sort they are we are natural and human and we shall have them to the end,” Mother Grace Dammann stated in her “Principles verses Prejudice” speech on May 31st 1938,  as she voiced her support for the integration of the Manhattanville student body. Through her famous speech, Mother Dammann was trying to exhibit and make it known that Manhattanville isn’t a school to judge.

“Prejudices comes from narrowness of outlook, from not knowing enough, from having a limited education, or rather an ‘education’ which is not really education but a one sided form of instruction,” declared Mother Dammann, who here tried to demonstrate that the whole point of college is to get beyond all of this judgment. She wanted people listening to her speech and people around the world to know that everyone has beauty, not just one selected group.

“Principles Versus Prejudices”. Tower Postscript. Summer 1938.
President Dammann’s speech was reprinted in this alumnae publication as well as several national publications including The Interracial Review.

Manhattanville made a recognized Civil Rights movement in 1946 when they had their first African American students graduate after completing four years at Manhattanvilles college.

Lauren Ziarko, Archivist and Special Collections Librarian states that, “By 1960, 200 colleges were members in the National Federation of Catholic College Students to help out their communities and Manhattanville was determined to take on interracial injustice commission.” Manhattanville’s concern even until this day is equality and to help out the community. The tradition of services continues through The Duchesne Program for community service, named after St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, and it still is an important aspect of our College today as well.

Ziarko explains, “Manhattanville shows its great reputation by being voted the social action secretariat, because Catholic Colleges respected Manhattanville’s remarkable civil rights achievements.”

Anonymous Alumnae. Letter of Protest. May 1938.
Hearing of Mother Dammann’s decision to admit the first black student, seven anonymous alumnae mailed this letter to alumnae, family members, and friends of the college

“I wish to commend you for your progressive step in admitting young ladies regardless of their race into the full privileges of Manhattanville College.”
Letters of support far outnumbered the letters of protest sent to Mother Dammann.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In this time, what was unique to Manhattanville was that the administration let them march in demonstrations with a Manhattanville banner in the Washington March for Civil Rights showing their supports for the cause. This was a very controversial event because this would upset many people but Manhattanville already had 30 years of upsetting people and they wanted to prove a point and make an incredible moment in history.

Though Manhattanville has experienced changes including becoming coed in 1971 and nondenominational in 1972, the spirit of the college has consistently supported the rights of each student and fought to better their community.