The cause was complications after an accidental fall, said Ann Pauley, a public affairs officer for Trinity Washington.
Sister Margaret was a 1945 graduate of what then was Trinity College in Northeast Washington and taught English there beginning in 1952. After a one-year sabbatical in 1975-1976 following completion of her presidency, she taught again at Trinity, specializing in William Shakespeare, W.B. Yeats and T.S. Eliot until she retired in 2004. She moved to Cincinnati in 2015.
Her years at the helm of Trinity coincided with a surge of interest and activity in the women’s rights movement, civil rights and disruptive street protests against the war in Vietnam.
Colleges that had once been exclusively male began to admit women, shrinking the pool of potential applicants for women’s schools such as Trinity. Georgetown University, across town, began enrolling women who a generation earlier had been likely candidates for Trinity.
After taking over at 36, placing her among the nation’s youngest college presidents, Sister Margaret “had to figure out how to keep a traditional small Catholic women’s college relevant and thriving in a world increasingly favoring large coeducational universities,” Trinity said in a statement announcing her death.
Founded in 1897 by nuns of Notre Dame de Namur as the nation’s first Catholic liberal arts college for women, Trinity had traditionally been dominated by white, middle-class women from Catholic families.
When Margaret Claydon arrived as a student in 1941, each table in the dining hall had a flower vase and each had an assigned maid to help with the food service. First- and second-year students had to be in their rooms by 9 p.m., she told Washingtonian magazine in 1999.
As president of Trinity, she would preside over a revitalized curriculum. Graduate degrees for teachers and pastoral ministers in the Washington area were added. Enrollment invitations were extended to older women seeking to complete college degrees interrupted years earlier by marriages, children or jobs. Curfew rules were dropped, as were maid services in the dining halls.
It would be the business of Trinity College, Sister Margaret told Time magazine in 1959, to prepare women for public intellectual leadership. “Educated women must have definite views and standards,” she said. “A woman must not only know facts — she must have ideas about them. . . . The modern world needs more people — including girls — who think for themselves. . . . We’re not in the business of training committee women or bridge players.”
There were 615 full-time traditional-age undergraduates in the women’s college when Sister Margaret became Trinity’s president in 1959. When she stepped down, there were 900, including 470 undergraduate women and 439 in the graduate education program.
Today Trinity has a total enrollment of 2,000, including a hefty share of minorities and graduates of D.C. public schools. There are 1,000 undergraduates in the women’s college, 500 adult undergraduates and 500 graduate students.
Susan Margaret Claydon, the eldest of six children, was born in New Rochelle, N.Y., on July 19, 1923. Her father ran a printing business, and her mother was a homemaker. She is survived by one sister.
In addition to her Trinity degree, she received a doctorate in English literature from Catholic University in 1960.
In announcing Sister Margaret’s death, Trinity published a list of graduates who had served in Congress, presidential Cabinets or won professional prizes. One was Nancy D’Alesandro of Baltimore, Class of 1962.
In a remembrance posted online, she said, “For the women in my class and me, Sister Margaret — with her youth, sophistication and success — was a symbol of strength and empowerment, whose leadership was a reminder that women could become not only a Secretary or Treasurer, but a President — or the Speaker of the House.”
D’Alesandro is now Nancy Pelosi.
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