The Trinity Sisters

Many of America’s most powerful women went to a college you’ve never heard of.

By Kevin Carey

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

Sister Ann Gormly is almost ninety, but she still skips the elevator and climbs the steep wooden staircase in the main hall of Trinity College, her alma mater and former employer of many years. I met her there one cold afternoon in early December, on the college’s small hillside campus in northeast Washington, D.C. She guided me up one flight of steps, down a long, quiet hallway, and into a spare white meeting room, where she and three of her fellow nuns told me about one of the more remarkable and unacknowledged institutions in twentieth-century American higher education.

Trinity was founded by Sister Gormly’s religious order, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, in 1897. But neither the college nor the order of nuns is what it used to be. Of the four sisters in the meeting room, none was younger than sixty, and two of them—Sister Gormly and Sister Margaret Claydon— were old enough to reminisce about the day Pearl Harbor was bombed, during their freshman year as Trinity students. Sister Claydon, who served as president of the college from 1959 to 1975, sat down next to me wearing a black jacket and a heavy gold cross on a chain around her neck, and she leaned a wooden cane against the table as she took her chair. She described Trinity’s years of decline, when nuns started leaving the order in droves and young women stopped coming to replace them. “It was painful,” she said. “It still is.”

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