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The Cole sisters’ generous spirit lives on

Cole SistersMary and Edith Cole spent much of their lives helping others and advocating for the rights of women everywhere. Their generous spirit has outlived both as they continue to ensure that a high-quality education is available to everyone.

The Coles had humble beginnings. They were raised along with their sister, Jody, by their mother, Ethel Cole Tyler, in Butler Township after their father died suddenly while the sisters were in their infancy. Ethel, an educator, set high expectations for her daughters to educate themselves and become independent women. Mary once said about her mother, “She just assumed that all of her daughters would be educated, you know, be able to take care of yourself. She didn't have to say much. There was an example right in front of you.” In many ways, the Cole sisters carried on that tradition in mentoring other women to become independent leaders in society.

During the World War II, Edith worked in US Military Hospitals, and Mary worked as an administrative officer in Belgium and France. Both quickly earned the respect of their male counterparts in a heavily male-influenced environment. Mary and Edith both joined the reserves after women were allowed back in the Army in the late 1940s. After getting her doctorate in psychology from University of Pittsburgh in 1952, Mary worked as an industrial psychologist with the Psychological Services of Pittsburgh. In 1970, she published an article about the similarities in men’s and women’s managerial styles, which attracted attention and earned her many radio, TV, and print media appearances. Mary retired from the Army with the rank of Major; Edith worked all her life as a Physical Therapist at the VA hospitals and retired with the rank of Colonel.

Both sisters were unassuming, with a reserved attitude when talking about their personal accomplishments. But behind the curtains, they were assertive, passionate about women’s issues, and colossal champions for women’s advocacy and rights. At an organizational meeting held in 1975 on Chatham campus, Mary helped form a coalition of empowered women called the Executive Women’s Council of Greater Pittsburgh, which would provide leadership and facilitate opportunities to increase the political and economic power of executive and professional women. The organization just celebrated its 40th anniversary. Mary also helped found the Pittsburgh chapter of the Women's Political Caucus, the political arm of the National Organization for Women.

In 2001, Mary endowed a scholarship at Chatham in her mother’s name: The M. Ethel Cole Endowed Scholarship for students in biology and environmental studies. Mary loved classical music, and was particularly interested in Chatham campus performances. On one occasion, Mary heard a young Chatham student singing at an event. She loved her voice so much that she paid her tuition in full. Mary then established the Jody Cole Music Award for a Gateway student, in honor of her other sister. Mary was to be honored with Chatham’s Distinguished Alumna Award at her 70th reunion in October, 2009, but died on the day of the event.

The Cole sister’s devotion to Chatham and women’s empowerment was remarkable. They are a perfect example of why planned giving works. They could not have known what a transformative power they would have in the lives of so many of Chatham’s students, yet they worked hard to give to Chatham not only throughout their lives, but ultimately through their generous bequests which established The Edith Cole Endowed Scholarship to benefit students entering the physical therapy program, and the Mary E. Cole Endowed Scholarship to benefit students in all academic areas with first preference to those studying psychology. Chatham will forever be grateful for the Cole sisters and their lifelong mission of educating and empowering young women.