Seventy years ago, 18 girls wearing black wool uniforms and bringing with them, as the catalog insisted, "a plentiful supply of shoes, toilet articles, stationery and sewing materials," enrolled in Immaculata College.
The two-year college at 4300 Nebraska Avenue NW, which has evolved from a simple liberal arts institution offering home economics to one with a strong emphasis on business, will celebrate its 70th birthday Saturday with a party at the Chinese Embassy.
Among those invited to the party are D.C. Mayor Walter Washington, who has promised to attend, and Cardinal O'Bcyle an neighbor of the colleges.
"It wouldn't be a party without the neighbors," says Sister Marian Brady, president of the college.
Immaculata, whose 200 students come from 27 countries and are of various ages, offers evening classes to residents of the community who want them and offers a reduced tuition rate to persons over 65. The college, says Sister Marian, undertakes to offer a value centered education in a world too busy or too big to bother with human basis. Students are taught to reach across social, cultural and age differences for interpersonal relationships, says Sister Marian, who is especially proud of the lack of barriers between students and faculty at Immaculata. "There can't be any," says Sister Marian. "They are always borrowing my stapler."
The staplier sits on a desk in an office which reflects the international flavor of the student body. Behind Sister Marian's chair dangles an embroidered bangle from Japan, on the desk is a sequinned Thailand elephant, and the phone book is covered with Oriental fabric. On the bookcase an ebony head from Tanzania surveys the room.
"It is really so exciting being in this environment," says Sister Marian. "Religious, cultural heritages, just to learn about them and . . . share them is such an enriching experience. The young American woman is least open to this understanding. Our country is so large, the young take security in sameness. Here we try to foster respect for differences."
Oley Jammeh of Gambia is the newly elected president of the sophomore class. "To be in a foreign country without family is very hard," she says. "Without this school last year I wouldn't have survived."
The medal for highest academic standing last year was won by Jane Kibinge, wife of the ambassador from Kenya, who studied part-time six years to complete the two-year course.
Immaculata was founded by the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary of the Woods, in Indiana, at the suggestion of James Cardinal Gibbons, then Archbishop of Baltimore. The tract of land where the college was built was then being used as a hunt club. When it began, tuition, room and board cost $350 a year, which limited its enrollment to the daughters of, as Sister Marian says, a select few who could afford it. Today the cost is $3,600 a year for tuition, room and board, moderate by today's skyrocketing standards.
The college has remained open only to women in an era where the trend is for women's colleges to admit men. "There is a whole dimension women have to give the world which we should encourage regardless of vocation," Sister Marian says. "Women must draw on their femininity to provide this dimension of love, graciousness and sympathy for others."
Immaculata continues to believe that its students can best thrive in what Sister Marian calls "a non-threatening environment in which women may gain confidence an a chance to succeed."
"A woman must be a widely educated person with understanding and appreciation of the arts," she says, studying the African violets on her windowsill. "A woman has a special vocation in a love for children. We think we encourage this. But I think we're very contemporary. We offer a course in child development and one in introduction to law."
Sister Marian has been president of Immaculata during a decade that has seen many changes and along the way has bowed to some inevitables. No longer are students forbidden to wear pants. "A lady can wear anything that is appropriate," says Sister Marian.
"Immaculata stands for a moral and religious fiber often lacking today," says Susan Nunez, an alumni officer. "I hope that never changes."