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Diversity Equity Inclusion & Belonging at Severn

Severn Girls Blazing the Trail on Campus and In the World

Abridged version, written by Carolyn Campion for the Summer 2021 issue of The Bridge
The 2021-2022 school year marks the 50th anniversary of Severn becoming coeducational. The decision to admit girls marked not only a historic departure from tradition but a commitment to intentional growth and change for the better. That first group of 57 girls, admitted in the fall of 1971, opened the door for so many to follow and fundamentally changed the course of Severn's future. Today, Severn is one of the top independent schools in our area, with a forward-thinking curriculum and students who care about making a difference in our community and the world beyond Water Street. That success wouldn't be possible without the generations of girls and women whose voices have made Severn School what it is today.
“To me, admitting girls was the best decision the school has made in 100+ years. No question about it.” — Former Spanish teacher and Athletic Director Julian Domenech, Sr.
Severn School students wearing caps and gowns sitting in chairs at graduation.

The First Women of Severn

Any story about women at Severn must begin with Susan Teel, the wife of founder Rolland Teel. For half a century, she devoted her life to the social and emotional well-being of Severn students, making school feel like “home away from home." Establishing the roots from which Severn's focus on character and conduct has grown, she taught them how to be respectful, poised young men. Susan Teel left a strong impression on the community, fondly remembered as “gracious” and an “unfailing friend” who devoted much of her life to helping others. She passed away in February 1963 at age 77, only nine years before seeing girls attend the school she founded.

Eight years before admitting girls, Severn began hiring women faculty. This was among the first steps toward creating a more inclusive environment and with that, a stronger community and academic program. The first was Ms. Carolyn Broaddus, the only woman faculty member during her tenure, who taught Latin from 1963-1965. Along with Latin, Broaddus was a gifted piano player and organist. The second, Madame Jeannie Iwanicki, arrived in 1965 and taught French at Severn until 1979. These two women blazed the trail for the multitude of women who have since taught at Severn.

Severn Goes Coed

The announcement came on January 21, 1971: “Severn Goes Coed!” For readers of local papers, especially the Baltimore private school community, this was surprising news. Severn School, founded as a boarding school for boys preparing to take the United States Naval Academy entrance exam, was going to admit girls. The Board of Trustees began a conversation about coeducation in the summer of 1970 as they endeavored to position Severn for future growth in a way that would enrich the lives of its students and surrounding community. The board solicited feedback from Severn's parent and student base and began a series of thoughtful discussions on whether to expand Severn's reach by enrolling girls. They had even received 30 unsolicited applications from girls by that fall. Although the feedback they received was mixed — 15% against coeducation, 6% neutral, and 69% in favor — it was clear that the community overall was ready for change. The board pushed forward with making this momentous and needed shift and put the decision to a vote. The motion was approved on January 21, 1971, by a 3:1 margin. This pivotal decision laid the groundwork for Severn to become a thriving school that responds to the changing needs of young people and society as a whole.
“No one [could] predict precisely how this decision [would] affect the quality of education at the School; all that [was] certain [was] that Severn [would] never be the same again.” — Former history teacher Bob Gray
Collage of letters and photos from Severn School's history.
In the fall of 1971, Severn opened its doors with 361 students; 304 boys and 57 girls. Severn hired three new faculty members to teach Ms. Carole Dean Salomone (French), Ms. Jodi Gossard (physical education), and Ms. Jane Schwarz (art), bringing the total number of women faculty members to six, which included longtime tennis coach Ms. Sheila Keifer. And that year, the Board of Trustees added a woman to their group, while also inviting two members of the Mother's Club to their regular meetings.
“Even though it was a small group of girls, that group was very special . .. with strong personalities and a desire to get involved right away. We need to give credit to this group. For them to come into a school with mostly men — retired military officers — that could not have been easy. The girls were not afraid. And they were highly qualified, academically top of the line. They changed the school forever.” — Julian Domenech, Sr.
In May 1972, nearing the end of Severn's first academic year as a coeducational school, Head of School Alfred G. Ward was quoted in the school newspaper as saying, “As I have written to many of you, the school is having one of its best years; by far the best since I've been here. The coed students have made a difference, and for the better. The boys study harder to keep up with the female competition and they behave themselves better. School spirit is tremendous.” According to Admiral Ward and many others, Severn's leap of faith into coeducation was a success.

A Remarkable Legacy

And here we are, about to begin the 2021–2022 school year, celebrating 50 years of coeducation at Severn. Severn has grown to include 423 girl students, 109 woman faculty and staff, 12 woman board members, and 8,062 alumnae as of the 2020-21 school year. Among that group is an impressive array of scholars, athletes, leaders, innovators, and creators, who have significantly impacted the trajectory of Severn School and their communities at large. And to the women who blazed the trail for future generations, we say, thank you. You have forever changed Severn for the better. Congratulations on a remarkable 50-year legacy, and may your leadership inspire more trailblazers to come.

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