August 20, 1897: Countdown to History!

August 20, 1897: Countdown to History!

August 20, 1897: Trinity Officially Founded!

Part 1: March – August 11, 1897. Read Part 2 here: August 13, 1897.  And be sure to read President McGuire’s blog post: Imagine Our Founders.

125 Years of Education for Justice! 125 Years at 125 Michigan Avenue!

Reflections on Trinity’s Remarkable History, by Ann Pauley, Media Relations

Trinity is celebrating its 125th Anniversary in 2022 – and we’re celebrating all year! Read about the exciting events planned to celebrate in October 2022!  

August is a particularly important month in Trinity’s remarkable history because on August 20, 1897, Trinity College was officially incorporated by an Act of Congress! (Why Congress? D.C. did not have home rule – meaning, its own government. So, every incorporation had to go through Congress. We think that’s very special!)

Sr. Julia McGroarty, Foundress of Trinity

But what happened before August 20, 1897, to make this special day a reality? What was the vision of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur for this wonderful place we call Trinity? What challenges did they face? (There were many.) What successes did they have? (There were many of those, too.)

I love history and I especially love the fascinating, remarkable history of the founding of Trinity! Take a moment and be inspired by the perseverance of the  visionary, determined, amazing Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur!

March 1897

In her book, “Trinity College, the First Eighty Years, 1897-1977,” Sr. Columba Mullaly, wrote: “The actual history of Trinity College, Washington, D. C. began in March, 1897. Five months of enthusiastic activity, frustration, anxiety, deliberation, premature publicity, violent opposition and momentous decision led to the act of incorporation of Trinity College on August 20, 1897.”

Wow – sounds like there were so many challenges and such amazing perseverance by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur!

Sr. Columba continues: “The record of those months alone forms a microcosm that typifies not only the spirit of the closing years of the century, but the history of the college through its more than eighty years of service. [Now 126 years!] Three years of foundation laying, preparing curriculum and faculty, setting requirements, recruiting students, seeking funds and constructing a building, reached fruition with the opening of the college in the fall of 1900.”

Intrigued? Read on!

Sr. Julia McGroarty is recognized as the foundress of Trinity, working closely with Sr. Euphrasia Taylor and several other strong women leaders. She worked tirelessly to develop the idea of Trinity College – the first institution in the U.S. to be founded as a Catholic college for women: developing the curriculum, selecting the right location for the campus, hiring an architect, raising money to build Main Hall, and so much more. Under her leadership, great work was done from March through July 1897. And then …

July 1897

By July 1897, Sr. Julia was exhausted or, in her words, suffering from “over-exertion.” She was under a doctor’s care and on complete bedrest. The doctor told her she must do “no mind-work what so ever, not one line of writing, in a word, no application of any kind.”

Yet Sr. Julia was still firmly in charge and very active in making the vision of Trinity a reality!

Sr. Columba wrote in her history of Trinity that Sr. Julia “was deeply concerned about the validity of the deed, about taxes, insurance, about water, sewage and gas – and about the well-meaning helpfulness that had brought about the premature announcements of June.”

August 1, 1897

On August 1, Sr. Julia expressed her frustration of being on bed rest with so much to do. She wrote: “The reaction of all I went through since I arrived in Philadelphia came near putting me ‘hors du combat, for good and all. For six months I must have rest. You know I never in my fifty years took a week, now I must or go under the daisies and buttercups. Now to all to whom you have any right to say anything, answer we have bought the ground, we are getting our plans, etc., that an immense educational institute as a college will take time to mature, etc. I think it may be well to write to the Cardinal, tell him by the order of our two doctors, I must have six months rest. In the meantime, I will be drawing up our moral plan, while Mr. Durang [the architect] is attending to the outside. Sr. Mary Borgia wrote him yesterday. Now for something just as serious. I am not satisfied with the title … Get all the information you can on any and all subjects and let me have it. I am sorry I cannot tell you my conversation with Archbishop Ryan, who did not think we would have all smooth sailing with the Archbishops. No more strength for today. I am glad the dear Sisters enjoyed [visiting the] Trinity site, they may go again on an outing. God bless you.”

August 11, 1897

Sr. Julia McGroarty wrote to the other Sisters that she approved the Incorporation documents, but noted, “We must be careful or we will fail. I am having a pattern of a college seal drawn – I will send it for you to see. Faith in Latin will be the base … Write me everything. I enclose for you two or three news articles about Trinity College which you may not have seen. I am glad of a little adverse criticism! It will help.”

In her book, Sr. Columba Mullaly wrote: “This was the first indication of the storm of adverse criticism that was to appear in many parts of the country in mid-August, threatening continuation of the work.”

Stay tuned for more on that “storm of adverse criticism.”

Next up in this countdown of Trinity’s history: Part 2: August 13, 1897.

The first class to graduate from Trinity: The Red Class of 1904!



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