By Stephanie Haeg – [email protected]

Women’s history month seems like a great time to examine the foundation of our very own College of St. Benedict.

As most people might have observed with the difference in the dates between the foundation of St. John’s and St. Ben’s, there was quite a while when there weren’t Bennies in Collegeville. 

COURTESY OF CSB ARCHIVES An illustration of St. Benedict College and Academy shortly after the establishment and opening of the school in 1913.

Women’s education has always been a tricky issue. Although it is unusual for SJU to be a men-only college these days, it was pretty much the norm in the mid-to-late 1800s. Women often didn’t go to college, and when they wanted to, they were steered towards vocational training such as teacher’s colleges.

Being kept out of male-dominated universities, some larger cities founded women’s colleges to balance out prominent male schools in the area.

The St. Cloud Diocese found themselves in a dilemma around that time. They needed teachers for the local schools, preferably from local people. Sisters were the ideal teachers, as they weren’t paid very much and were well-educated. Because of this, sisters ended up running thousands of elementary and high schools all over the United States.

This system ran into a slight roadblock as education standards began to rise throughout the country. In order to teach, a teacher needed to have a college education, instead of the previous requirement of a high school education. The sisters couldn’t attend secular women’s colleges, so there was an obvious need for a college for Catholic women.

Because of the large number of Catholics in Minnesota and the presence of a supportive bishop in St. Paul, numerous Catholic women’s colleges opened all over Minnesota, including St. Ben’s.

CSB opened its doors in 1913, but classes were absolutely tiny. Even three years later, in 1916, the entire class was 13 women, 10 of whom were first-years. But the classes kept growing, and the sisters and lay teachers began building up a network of Bennie alumnae and remained active within the community.

Far from being just teachers, the sisters founded hospitals (including the St. Cloud Hospital), did missionary work and went to the polls to vote the first year that women had the right, in 1920.

Like SJU’s preparatory school, St. Ben’s also had a high school attached to it: Saint Benedict’s Academy. The Academy closed down in 1973, but female students were then admitted to SJP in the following years. A few years earlier in 1965 the colleges began the process of combining courses and calendars, beginning the process towards the joint CSB/SJU community we have today.