From All Boys to Co-Ed: Prep’s Historical Transition

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Seattle Prep’s first Co-Ed graduating class in 1975.

Kelly McGarry, Staff Writer

Seattle Prep is well-known for being both a Jesuit and co-ed high school. Although many are aware of the transition from all-boys to co-ed in the seventies, there are hidden facts and stories that only a very few people know.

Prep was founded in 1891 and started off as a school with a handful of students, and some of them were female. While many Jesuit schools, especially those on the East Coast, continue to be all-boys, Preps transition was seen as a progressive reform  According to Seattle Prep President Mr. Kent Hickey, it is thought that Prep was “the oldest or the first Jesuit institution in the entire nation” to be co-ed.

In 1905, The priest who was in charge of this small co-ed Catholic school asked the Order of the Society of Jesus or the Jesuits to take over. Since Jesuit institutions are historically male-only, they no longer accepted new female students on campus.

For the next 70 years, Prep would remain male-only; this changed in 1975. Prep made the revolutionary decision to start accepting girls into the student body. Although all-boys Jesuit schools around the country normally went co-ed because of low enrollment, this was not the reason for Seattle Prep. Seattle Prep President Kent Hickey revealed that there were “less and less Jesuits that they could enroll in their school” and that the Jesuits were planning on closing one of the four Jesuit schools in the Northwest unless they “do something interesting and different.” This led to Prep accepting girls into their classrooms.

There were only four pioneering female students in the 1975 to 1976 school year, with a couple more female transfer students.  There is an article titled “Prep Celebrates 25 Years of Coeducation” in the Seattle Prep Panther dating back to 1999. It is stated that many of the boys were strongly opposed to the transition from being all-boys to co-ed, even when other Catholic schools like Bishop Blanchet already made the transition. This was mainly because there was more emphasis on academics, rather than the football team which was very strong in the Sixties: “Not surprisingly, this caused quite a bit of resentment in the majority of the boys, who felt that the incoming girls were destroying Prep.”

On the other hand, there were many boys that loved the new environment, and the article continues on to claim that there were many “were willing to sacrifice Prep’s reputation as an athletic powerhouse for the benefits of a more diverse student body…the other boys gradually came around, and the women became an accepted part of the Prep community.”

Val Ritchie joined the Prep community in 1981 as the first female gym teacher. She claimed that she “probably wouldn’t have had the job” if Prep remained all-boys. She also revealed an interesting fact that  when Prep was still an all-boys school, there was a notorious paddle that teachers would hit students with when they misbehaved: “I think when the girls came they tried to hide that paddle and then they eliminated it. It was kind of a famous thing when (Prep) was all-boys.”

Seattle Prep’s culture also went through significant change through its transition from all-boys to co-ed. Hickey stated that Prep was “a very male culture” and that going co-ed “does not mean that the culture just goes away or dissipates” and that some of those remnants remained over time

Hickey continued hat Prep’s old locker rooms were an example of such remnants of a male culture: “for many years the girls’ locker room was much smaller…the locker rooms were a symbol in Prep’s transition from single-sex to co-ed has taken decades.”

Kathy Krueger, who came to Prep as a Collegio teacher in 1977 stated that she never felt a dominating male culture during her time as a teacher: “I thought that Fr. Healy and Benell (?) were incredible presidents. They worked hard to level the playing field.”

Ritchie agreed to this statement and added on that she did not think it was a male-dominated environment but rather “the culture was a little stifling. We still had not got over the ‘who’s really in charge’” mentality, but emphasized that “Fr. Healy and Benell were very welcoming and were trying to change the tide for the best”

Through the many changes and transitions Prep went through the decades,  Hickey believes that the overall culture has changed for the better: “I’m really pleased with how accepting and welcoming our culture is, particularly towards those that aren’t always welcomed and embraced…and value for who they are… it’s all in our mission statement, we really believe each person is sacred. When you think people are sacred, you tend to treat them better. Everything is an outgrowth of that core belief.”