Coeducation and Discrimination: The Loyola University/Marymount College Merger

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, many colleges were making the switch from single-sex education to educating both genders together. Loyola University, which was originally an all-male college, officially became coeducational in 1972. It was late in its switch, but was in good company, as other Catholic colleges had already made the move, such as Santa Clara University, which began allowing women in 1961, and St. Mary’s College of California, which had recently become coeducational two years prior in 1970. Loyola University had already been sharing a campus with Marymount College, the all-female school with which it eventually merged. During this time period, the new concept of coeducational universities was accompanied by the rise of second-wave feminism, which only added to the growing expectation of gender equality.

This fight for equal rights was reflected on a smaller scale in the debate surrounding a proposed name change for the newly merged Loyola University and Marymount College. It was decided that the name of the new university should be changed to reflect the merger. However, there was pushback from some of the Loyola University administration, including the president of the university himself. An examination of Loyola University documents and correspondence from during the name change negotiations demonstrates that this resistance stemmed from preexisting gender discrimination masquerading as reason, similar to the views against which the burgeoning feminist movement was rebelling.

Prior to the merger, Loyola University, which was an all-male school, and Marymount College, which was an all-female school, existed as separate Catholic institutions in Los Angeles, California. Loyola was run by Jesuit priests, and Marymount was run by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Mary. Both colleges shared the Catholic faith tradition, and in the years leading up to the merger, the two shared a campus. The merger brought Loyola and Marymount together as one, but in truth they had already been coexisting since 1968. While the two administrations had not yet combined, the students of the two schools were already living on the same campus, sharing the same classes, and joining the same student organizations.  The universities complemented each other, with one offering programs that the other did not. Loyola had business, engineering, and graduate programs while Marymount offered a greater focus on the arts and humanities.

Once the schools had combined to create one university, the logical next step was to determine a name that incorporated both identities. However, this simple step was muddled with controversy. There were many suggestions for the new name. Some suggested changing the name to Loyola University of Los Angeles, or even simply University of Los Angeles, while there were others who firmly believed that the Marymount name should be included and put forth the name Loyola Marymount University. There remained a group of steadfast Loyola advocates who did not want the name to change and insisted that it remain Loyola University.

Discussions over this shift grew tense, and even the students themselves began to give their opinions on the topic, voicing their discontent. One frustrated Marymount student even wrote an article in the colleges’ combined newspaper and addressed the discrimination aimed at Marymount, comparing the two schools to the biblical Adam and Eve, saying “Adam has looked upon Eve as a frivolous luxury… As time has gone on, the extracted rib has become more of a thorn in his side.” She was, of course, referring to the resistance that Loyola University was showing towards adding the Marymount name to the new combined university.

The two administrations were also at odds, as the president of Loyola University, Donald Merrifield, was against adding the Marymount name to the new university. In a letter he wrote to the chair of the Board of Trustees, Merrifield discussed his opinions openly, even going as far as to call the addition of the Marymount name to the business, engineering, and graduate schools a “handicap.” His opinions were echoed by quite a few of the members of Loyola University’s administration.

Department of Archives & Special Collections, William H. Hannon Library, Loyola Marymount University

A poll taken by Richard Williamson, Dean of the College of Business Administration, showed that most members of the Loyola University leadership preferred to keep the Loyola University name and only retain the Marymount label in departments that were carried over from the college prior to the merger. The only Marymount person mentioned in the poll did not even truly give an opinion, instead stating that she would be biased and was “not a good one to ask as she is on the Board of Trustees of Marymount.” Although the majority of outspoken Loyola representatives seemed to be in favor of keeping the Loyola University title, the Board of Trustees eventually decided upon the name Loyola Marymount University through a unanimous vote. Even as this decision was enacted, there were still those who disagreed with the decision, and according to a previous Loyola Marymount University employee, to this day there are donors who were involved with Loyola University during this time period who refuse to donate to departments that originated with Marymount College.

During this point in time, coeducation in universities was rapidly increasing, and the new Loyola Marymount University became one of the last Catholic colleges in California to make the transition. While the disagreement surrounding the name change could appear to be an isolated incident, both the merger and the controversy that it sparked were reflective of the major growth that society was undergoing during this time. During a span of twenty years, from the 1960s to the 1980s, second-wave feminism was coming to the forefront of the social consciousness. In fact, the Women’s Action Alliance, which was founded by Gloria Stienem and Brenda Feigen Fasteau, was created only a year before the merger was completed, in 1971. The alliance followed the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the new form of feminism that was sparked focused on ending all discrimination based on gender. These beliefs promised to usher in a new era of equality, which coincided with the rise of coeducation in universities.

Loyola University and Marymount College were among the Catholic schools that followed this new trend of coeducation. During this time, the Catholic church was fairly conservative in its beliefs, and the idea that men belonged at a higher place than women was a fairly widely-held opinion. In addition to this, the casual sexism of the time was a major cause behind the resistance to adding the Marymount name to the title of the new university. Merrifield gave an example of this discriminatory viewpoint when he talked about the opinions of Sister Raymunde McKay, president of Marymount College in his letter. He seemed to be upset that her voice was receiving equal weight, stating that “Apparently, Sister Raymunde’s desire to have it be ‘Loyola/Marymount University’ receives more consideration than just concerns of our Loyola faculty and students.” This sexism was frustrating but not unusual for the time period, and it provides an example of the type of discrimination that the feminist movement was fighting against. Although it is clear that all McKay wanted was equal representation, in the end, McKay had to use Marymount itself as a bargaining chip in the debate, saying “Finally [Sister Renee] came one time, she was dead beat. She said ‘they’re not going to put any of the Marymount name there. They want to just keep it Loyola.’…I said to her, ‘Go back and tell them: no Marymount, no merger.’” The idea that Marymount College had to work so fiercely in order to retain its name after it merged with Loyola University suggests a motive besides a simple reluctance to change on the part of Loyola University. Given the rapid period of change that was occurring at the time, it is highly likely that there was a certain amount of gender discrimination occurring, the very discrimination that coeducation was created to combat.

Today, the name Loyola Marymount University is unlikely to spark any sort of debate, unless it is regarding the quality of the food in the cafeteria. Instead it is a place where people of all genders are able to receive an education, thanks to the departments that were derived from both Loyola University and Marymount College. The fight for gender equality is still ongoing, but the idea that men and women should be educated and equally respected has become more widely accepted than before. While the merger between Loyola University and Marymount College was one that ushered the resulting school into a new era of equality, it is clear that there were still occurrences of discrimination that lingered on even into the debate around deciding upon a new name for the university. These ideas, which were introduced by feminism at that time period, are still around today. Although the merger is long past, the Loyola Marymount University name will continue on as one worthy of respect no matter the gender of the student population.

Written by Haven Watts, History, LMU 2022


Hicks, Patti. “Script(ure) of the Merger.” Los Angeles Loyolan, October 1972. Affiliation and Merger Records. Department of Archives and Special Collections, William H. Hannon Library, Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, CA. 

Hubbard, Melanie. “LMU’s Original “Riot Grrrl”: Sister Raymunde McKay, RSHM,” LMU Library News, March 17, 2016.

Letter from Donald P. Merrifield to Ernest Sanchez. November 27, 1972. Affiliation and Merger Records. Department of Archives and Special Collections, William H. Hannon Library, Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, CA. 

Loyola University of Los Angeles. “The New Name.” Affiliation and Merger Records. Department of Archives and Special Collections, William H. Hannon Library, Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, CA. 

Whittier, Nancy “Persistence and Transformation.” Journal of Women’s History, Vol. 14, No. 2, Summer 2002.

Santa Clara University. “History: Breaking the Mold.” Santa Clara University.

St. Mary’s College. “Our History.” St. Mary’s University.