Mary Bruemmer and The Women’s Commission


Photo Courtesy of Jesuit Bulletin

Mary Bruemmer seated at far left

In 1938, Mary Bruemmer began her first days at Saint Louis University as a student studying education and history. It was impossible to know the great impact this small, 5 feet 1 inch to be exact, young woman was going to have on the atmosphere at SLU. 

As a student, Bruemmer championed change by following her passion. Marching into the office that was home to the University News, Bruemmer demanded that women have a voice in the school newspaper. With her demands met, she earned the position of editor in chief,making her the first woman to do so.

Bruemmer was inducted into the women-only Jesuit honor society Gamma Phi Epsilon which would later be integrated into Alpha Sigma Nu. After graduating with honors and high marks in 1942, Bruemmer was offered the position of Dean of Students but declined. 

       “She simply hadn’t lived enough life yet. She was just so thoughtful about life,” stated Mary Krieg, a close friend of Bruemmer and former president of SLU’s Women’s Commission. 

In 1956, Bruemmer returned to SLU after traveling and working in the radio communications field, again breaking barriers in a relatively male-dominated work environment. She began by working in residence halls with students. 

          Nancy Culbert, who has been reading through Bruemmer’s appointment journals since her passing, states that there were many things Bruemmer did at SLU that not many people are aware of. “In 1962, she was on the planning committee for the Peace Corps at SLU. She knew it was a way to give students opportunities to work for the greater good. She didn’t talk about that hardly at all.”

      Her true passion was working with SLU students and this became even more apparent as she began her position as Dean of Students in 1972. She assisted students on both an administrative and personal level. Krieg told the story of Mary assisting a female student who was pregnant and whose parents had disowned her. “Mary went to SLU donors and got money to help her finish college,” Krieg recalls.

       This story is just one specific example of the work Mary Bruemmer did for women at SLU. “She was the self-appointed greeter to all women who joined the ranks of St. Louis University,” Krieg stated.

       Ellen Harshman, Dean Emerita of SLU, recalls the day she herself was welcomed to the University by Bruemmer. “She was giving me tips for interviews and recommending me committees. She specifically recommended me to the Women’s Commission.” 

The Women’s Commission, initially called the President’s Advisory Commission on the Status of Women, is one of Mary Bruemmer’s living legacies. A federal directive issued in 1978 stated the inclusion of women to be essential to all universities. According to Krieg, Bruemmer quickly took the directive to President Paul C. Reinert and advocated for the launch of the Women’s Commission. 

SLU’s Women’s Commission is a group of female staff that have been identified as leaders in their communities. Since its founding, the Women’s Commission has undertaken several projects to promote the inclusion of women in the workplace. At the helm of it all was Mary Bruemmer, a constant source of support and leadership for the organization.

        “Her first love and the thing that she devoted most of her time to was SLU’s Women’s Commission. She watched over the commission as it evolved and ensured that it was living out its mission,” Harshman stated. 

Kellisa Fiala, former president of SLU’s Women Commission, and Emily Boyd, current president, reflected on Mary Bruemmer’s presence within the commission. 

           “She would always make a point to tell us that we had put on a nice event and give us positive feedback on the women that we nominated as leaders for the year. It always made us feel good to be recognized by her for all our hard work,” Fiala stated. 

Mary Bruemmer received the commission’s first Woman of the Year award in 1977. The award goes to women who embody the mission of SLU while demonstrating a commitment to professionalism, diversity and mentorship. 

 Fiala confessed that with Bruemmer receiving the first Woman of the Year award, there was pressure to find women of equal prestige and accomplishment in the later years. However, the commission has highlighted several astounding women since 1977.

          Boyd confessed that seeing Bruemmer at meetings felt something similar to seeing a real-life celebrity. “She was just a legend,” Fiala agreed.

The Women’s Commission and its successes were on Bruemmer’s mind until the tragic day she passed away. Nancy Culbert stated, “The last time we discussed the Women’s Commission was not long before her death. She held it as a great point of pride that SLU’s commission was the only one still operating, to her knowledge, continuously since the directive in the early 70s.”

Now, after the passing of Mary Bruemmer, the commission is looking for ways to continue her legacy and get more individuals involved. 

The commission typically hosts an event, open to all students and staff, once a month. The events range from discussions of economic inequality to luncheons to attending a SLU women’s basketball game. 

Additionally, the commission is seeking motivated female student leaders to join a new group called Women Empowered. The students not only get to engage in programming for this organization but get to take leadership roles by running the committee. 

          “There’s so much room right now for students to shape what this program looks like,” Boyd stated. 

The involvement of students is the new lifeblood of SLU’s Women’s Commission. Mary Bruemmer truly believed in the students at SLU and it only makes sense that they will now be keeping her legacy alive. 

 Mary Bruemmer worked tirelessly to advance the rights of women, students, and anyone else who needed support and the impact she has had on SLU cannot be overstated.  “She was a woman of small stature but great reach,” said Culbert.