The first woman to graduate from The Citadel said Friday the school provided what she needed to succeed in college: structure, discipline and a challenge.

Nancy Mace, who graduated in 1999, spoke about her experience at The Citadel to the Palmetto Chapter of the group Women in Defense in North Charleston.

Mace and her family have recently moved back to the Lowcountry after being away for more than a decade.

She told the audience that her father, Brig. Gen. Emory Mace, had initially warned her against enrolling at the school. He was worried about possible hazing and sexual harassment as the first group of four women to enroll officially the year after Shannon Faulkner left after attending the military college for less than a week.

Only Mace and one other woman finished that year and went on to graduate. The other two left in their first year amid allegations of harassment and hazing.

Citadel sophomore Melissa Fredette was one of several currently enrolled female cadets invited to the meeting. She was thrilled to meet Mace. “Every woman who went before us is an inspiration to me,” she said, adding that she thought it must have been much harder for women in the early years.

Mace moved on to a successful business career after she graduated from The Citadel, said Sara Dwyer, secretary of the local chapter of Women in Defense. Her group, which has about 176 members, meets monthly and is always looking for engaging speakers, she said. Mace was asked to speak because she had business acumen and interesting experiences from The Citadel.

In addition to taking care of her two young children, Mace is the founder of The Mace Group and founding principal in Mace & Boucher Consulting.

She also does the marketing and public relations work for FITSNews, a South Carolina news and opinion website that features an unusual mix of breaking political news, insider political gossip and photographs of scantily clad women.

The content on the site is largely the work of Will Folks, a South Carolina political consultant and former gubernatorial spokesman.

Today, Mace stands firmly behind her alma mater. “It made me what I am today,” she said.

And she has the same advice for men and women who are considering enrolling there. “The Citadel isn’t for everyone, but if you go there, give it 100 percent.”

Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or on Twitter @dianeknich.