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Barry’s Humble Beginning

By: Jessica Hernandez Blanco

Beautiful landscape comprising of pine trees and wild vegetation stood alone for many years in Miami Shores until a new women’s college changed its scenery. Miami Shores Village had just been established seven years prior to the establishment of Barry University, then called Barry College, in 1940. 

Photo Courtesy of Barry University Archives

No one could have ever imagined the future impact of this institution on the entire state where a women’s college was needed. Colleges in Florida during the 1940s were scarce and providing education to women was very progressive for the Adrian Dominican Sisters. 

The construction of Barry College brought racially desegregated academic opportunities to many women in Florida, out of state, and in Latin America.

From Catholic nuns to regular working women, female students were invited to join this new liberal arts college which sought to educate women into working professionals that nurtured their communities. 

From its early beginnings, Barry empowered women in Florida by providing them with an affordable education by awarding full scholarships to talented women who wished to succeed in the academic world. 

Alumni of past graduating classes reveal how important it was for them to attend Barry. 

Cassandra Robinson, the first African American woman to graduate from Barry, dealt with the effects of segregation during the Jim Crow era, where riots were still happening.

“Everyone knew their place,” said Robinson, who received her degree in mathematics in 1966, in an alumni reunion interview performed by Barry University.

However, her wish of going to college was bigger than her fear of hate. 

While some of her friends’ parents did not feel comfortable sitting with Robinson at the same table when she was invited to their homes, at Barry, everyone was treated equally. 

For Robinson, she thought her life would be dedicated to cleaning houses like her mother. However, Barry changed that. 

Barry also helped in educating people with financial need.

“One of the reasons why I got the scholarship, is because I was from Georgia, where there were not catholic colleges,” said Patricia Robertson Hennessy who graduated in 1967, in an alumni reunion interview performed by Barry University.

She was benefited from the Mary Barry Gerald Scholarship, that paid for her tuition. During her time at Barry College, Hennessy only had to pay for books and supplement her financial package by working in the cafeteria. 

Many women like Hennessy were awarded full scholarships while others received some form of aid.  Also, Barry College was affordable, being the third least expensive school in Florida during the 70s. 

Moreover, Barry was committed to helping the community and advocating for the environment. 

For many years, freshman students would plant a tree around campus, wearing their academic garb -the cap and gown that they would wear at graduation to celebrate Arbor Day. 

According to the 1992 edition of The Flame, the ceremony was meant “to symbolize the hope that [students] will, like the tree, grow in strength.” This tradition continues today during Founder’s Week celebrations without the cap and gowns. 

During its infancy, Barry stressed community engagement and lifelong service. Students would teach underprivileged people at local high schools, engage in visits to Miami Dade County Jail, provide monthly programmed activities for patients at South Florida State Hospital, and help Cuban refugees during twentieth century political strife by offering them reading and writing classes. 

 Sophomore pre-nursing student Nelsa Sigin said that she didn’t know much about the university’s astonishing history. Later, she realized that Barry broke barriers for women and shared that she was attracted to the school because of its free application system and generous aid that clearly originated from Barry’s brilliant past.  

 “It is crazy how over time it changed into a co-ed type of school,” said Sigin. 

 Barry became a co-educational institution in 1975 and continues its strong legacy for men and women. 

Like many things, Barry started out as an experiment by the Adrian Dominican sisters and turned into a reality that has benefited many people along the way. 

It has provided opportunities and created socially responsible professionals ready to take the world by storm. 

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