Naval Academy Is All in the Family

By Debbie Gregory.

When Alison Disher attended the Naval Academy, she tackled the challenges with the support of not just her family, but her fellow midshipmen. That support was earned on the back of her mother, Sharon Hanley Disher, a decade earlier. Sharon was among the first females admitted to the school by a Congressional mandate in 1976.

Legally, they may have been allowed to go, but they were certainly not welcome. Upon her arrival, Sharon’s platoon leader said, “I don’t want women in my school, and it will be my mission, for the next year, to make sure you are gone before I graduate.” In 1980, she became one of the first women to graduate.

Sharon’s husband, Tim Disher, is an Annapolis graduate. Now, their twins, Alison and Brett, and son Matthew have all attended the school as well. They are the first family in American history to send every member to Annapolis.

The family’s journey tells the story of women at Annapolis. When Sharon attended, she had to fight her way to the top with every step she took. That was perhaps most obvious during a freshmen rite of passage. The plebes work together to climb to the top of a greased, 20-foot-tall obelisk: Herndon Monument.

When Sharon headed for the top, a male student below her pulled her off. As she fell, she heard him say, “‘No girls on Herndon.” When Alison made the same climb a generation later, males students reached down from the top to pull her skyward. Alison said, “There were boys who said, ‘Ally, give me your hand. Get up here!’”

The story brings Sharon to tears. Now, her daughter is a company commander. The sacrifices and pain endured by Sharon and her female classmates changed an entire institution. “What we did is worth it,” she said.