‘Con-Cur’ at Mundelein: A Community’s Journey in Radical Educational Reform

By Willow Tomkovicz


This post is part of the WLA blog’s 2022 series written by guest writers. These writers are graduate students in the Public History program at Loyola University Chicago. Each visited the archives during Fall 2021, delved into the collections, and wrote about a topic not yet explored here. We are excited to share their research and perspectives!


Figure 1: Con-Cur Flyer

During the tumultuous 1960s, Mundelein embarked on a curriculum reform experiment that the Chicago Sun-Times called both “perilous and courageous” [1]. Through the Conference on Curriculum, or ‘Con-Cur,’ the students issued a series of proposals to radically alter their education with input from the “TOTAL Mundelein College Community” [2]. Led by the determined co-chairwomen Sister Kathleen O’Brien and Sister Cathleen Stieber, students made their voices heard, successfully securing lasting change [3]. On the whole, this momentous event in the college’s history brought together the entire Mundelein community to ensure each student could “realize her potential as a human being” through an education rooted in “openness, creativity, and the freedom to inquire” [4].   

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A Century of Activism: The Archival Collection of the Polish Women’s Alliance of America

By Kordian Koc


This post is part of the WLA blog’s 2022 series written by guest writers. These writers are graduate students in the Public History program at Loyola University Chicago. Each visited the archives during Fall 2021, delved into the collections, and wrote about a topic not yet explored here. We are excited to share their research and perspectives! 


A large group of people in front of a building

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Members of the PWAA attending a dedication ceremony for their new headquarters (in Chicago?). 
Photo URL Link: https://luc.access.preservica.com/uncategorized/IO_aabc534b-ebed-4eb3-afe0-6144a8509cd9/ 

Featuring an assortment of different primary sources that researchers and historians of Polish American history can utilize, the records of the Polish Women’s Alliance of America held within the Women Leadership Archives (WLA) are a substantial tool that may help to uncover new histories about the work that Polish American women did for the Polish American community, during the 20th and Early-21st centuries. Donated in 2006 by then President and Treasurer of the PWAA, Virginia Sikora and Barbara M. Miller respectively, the records that the WLA possesses offer a variety of perspectives into an organization that has long stood as a voice for many Polish immigrants that have resided within the United States over the course of the last century [1]. Not only do the PWAA records offer a cultural, economical, and social look at Polish American society and the PWAA’s work between 1900 and 2006, but they furthermore provide a broader view into the experiences that Polish American Women went through to represent Polish Americans within American society during this time period. Altogether, this collection has the potential of serving as the base for a variety of political, social, and cultural historical works focused on Polish Americans and Polish American women. 

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An Inescapable Shadow: Stalin’s Daughter and Her “Purely Personal Search for Truth”

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By Alex Friedlen


This post is part of the WLA blog’s 2022 series written by guest writers. These writers are graduate students in the Public History program at Loyola University Chicago. Each visited the archives during Fall 2021, delved into the collections, and wrote about a topic not yet explored here. We are excited to share their research and perspectives! 


A person holding a camera

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Svetlana Alliluyeva at her first American press conference at the Plaza Hotel in New York City in 1967 [2].

On April 26, 1967, Svetlana Alliluyeva captivated the world with her eloquent and charming performance during her first American press conference at the Plaza Hotel in New York City. Svetlana had arrived at JFK airport five days earlier to a crowd reportedly larger than the one waiting for the Beatles in 1964 [3]. Perceived as a moral blow and international embarrassment for the Soviet Union, the American arrival of Svetlana, Stalin’s daughter, was one of the Cold War’s most public and symbolic defections. Svetlana rode in on a wave of flashing lights, interviews, and book deals. She handled herself so well on the public stage that the head of her PR team told reporters, “She is an intellectual exhibitionist. She needs an audience,” [4]. But the audience would soon lose interest. Over the next couple of decades, Svetlana would navigate a series of setbacks on her circuitous journey for self-realization and spiritual fulfillment, a journey that would take her through the halls of Mundelein College.  

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Watch Me Grow: Mundelein Laboratory Preschool and Kindergarten

By Lauren Steinkoenig


This post is part of the WLA blog’s 2022 series written by guest writers. These writers are graduate students in the Public History program at Loyola University Chicago. Each visited the archives during Fall 2021, delved into the collections, and wrote about a topic not yet explored here. We are excited to share their research and perspectives! 


For 15 years Mundelein College offered Preschool and Kindergarten classes. Students of employees of the College and Rogers Park residents received an excellent early childhood education until the school’s sudden closing in 1987.

Figure 1: Children and Teachers at Mundelein College Laboratory Preschool and Kindergarten
Figure 1: Children and Teachers at Mundelein College Laboratory Preschool and Kindergarten [1] 
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The BVM Habit: From Coffin to Revolution

By Abbie Reese


This post is part of the WLA blog’s 2022 series written by guest writers. These writers are graduate students in the Public History program at Loyola University Chicago. Each visited the archives during Fall 2021, delved into the collections, and wrote about a topic not yet explored here. We are excited to share their research and perspectives! 


For more than a century, the habit worn by the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (the BVMs) remained the same, and their cornette (headdress) was unmistakable. A brimmed hood extended in front of each sister’s face, creating blinders. Within the perfect right angles of the veiled hood, each face was framed—and obscured—by a horseshoe-shaped cap. The distinctive style has been described as a covered wagon, a Conestoga wagon, a cigar box, and more ominously, a coffin. 

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Figure 1. Sr. Ann Ida Gannon, BVM, is pictured in 1957 when she was president of Mundelein College in the BVM headdress worn by her religious congregation for 125 years, before the habit was altered in 1959. (Women and Leadership Archives, Loyola University Chicago. Mundelein College Photograph Collection. Accessed online.) 

When Patricia Mary Jane Gallagher first saw the BVM habit as a transfer student to Mundelein College in 1942, she was dismayed. She and her mother had departed Iowa one July day on a train called The Land of Corn and by the time they walked up the Skyscraper building to ring the doorbell, their dresses were wrinkled in the humid air [1]. A nun greeted them with “all smiles,” but in Gallagher’s “dream of living in Chicago” she didn’t envision sisters wearing the same habit they wore at the college where she was dissatisfied for two years—Clarke College in Dubuque. “Another fantasy diminished,” she later wrote [2].  

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Sister Mary DeCock, BVM: Feminist, Scholar, and “Witch in Residence” at Mundelein College

By Caroline Handley


This post is part of a series on the WLA Blog by guest writers. These writers are graduate students in the Public History program at Loyola University Chicago. Each visited the archives during Fall 2021, delved into the collections, and wrote about a topic not yet explored here. We are excited to share their research and perspectives.


With professors involved in the civil rights, anti-war, and women’s rights movements, Mundelein College in the mid- and late-twentieth century could certainly boast a large group of progressive and vivacious faculty members. Yet to many people, Sister Mary DeCock, BVM stood out from this already-exceptional group. Other Mundelein colleagues named DeCock personally as one of the most radical and spontaneous faculty members at the College [1].According to colleague David Orr, DeCock was part of a select group of “crazy folks” on campus who were perpetually busy in their teaching and administrative duties, and in developing new programming such as Mundelein’s Weekend College [2]. A staunch feminist and global scholar, DeCock spent several decades at Mundelein College and Loyola University Chicago researching and teaching on women, feminism, and liberation theology.

Figure 1. Sister Mary DeCock, BVM, faculty photograph. 1978. Women and Leadership Archives, Loyola University Chicago. Mundelein College Photograph Collection.

Born in 1923 in De Witt, Iowa, DeCock joined the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM) as a young woman before obtaining her graduate degree in English. She arrived at Mundelein in 1955. She eventually ended up teaching in Mundelein’s religion department, where she focused heavily on social justice, race, and feminism in her teaching [3].With classes such as “Feminist Issues and Religion” and “Women, Religion, and Social Change,” as DeCock became further committed to her students and the Mundelein community, she dropped out of her University of Chicago PhD program in Social Ethics to devote her time solely to teaching and social justice work [4]. DeCock served on committees surrounding feminist issues, set up lecture series on women’s history, and developed a particular interest in women’sissues in her scholarly research and writing [5]. She paid special attention to Marian theologyand the history of the BVM in her own work [6].

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An Unexpected Journey: The Dreams, Art, and Spirituality of Sister Blanche Marie Gallagher, BVM

By Shannon E. Honl


Over the next several months, the WLA Blog will feature posts written by guest writers. These writers are graduate students in the Public History program at Loyola University Chicago. Each visited the archives during Fall 2021, delved into the collections, and wrote about a topic not yet explored here. We are excited to share their research and perspectives! 


Figure 1. Sr. Blanche Marie Gallagher
Sr. Blanche Marie at her Chicago studio next to her artwork, “Homage to Teilhard: Planetization.”

In mid-twentieth-century America, it would have been reasonable to expect a young middle-class woman to graduate from high school, maybe attend college, find a handsome veteran to marry, and raise a family of Boomers. For Patricia Gallagher, this is precisely the path she envisaged for herself – a motion-picture-perfect life as personified by Ginger Rogers and Kathryn Hepburn [i]. However, a series of serendipitous turning points took Gallagher on a much different and unexpected journey. 

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Feminist Theology in the Pulpit: Anne Carr

By Caroline Lauber


Over the next several months, the WLA Blog will feature posts written by guest writers. These writers are graduate students in the Public History program at Loyola University Chicago. Each visited the archives during Fall 2021, delved into the collections, and wrote about a topic not yet explored here. We are excited to share their research and perspectives! 


A pioneering theologian and professor, Anne Carr BVM specialized in feminist theology and Catholic thought. She was a steadfast supporter and advocate for women’s equality in the Catholic Church. Loyola University Chicago’s Women and Leadership Archives houses her personal papers and official Mundelein College documents. Born in Chicago, Carr spent the majority of her academic career in the Midwest. She received her undergraduate degree from Mundelein College in 1956, before joining Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM) two years later. In addition to other appointments, she taught at Mundelein College, serving as the undergraduate chair of the Theology Department before becoming Assistant Dean and Assistant Professor of Theology at the University of Chicago Divinity School from 1975 until her retirement in 2003 [1].  

Figure 1, Anne Carr, circa 1980.

Her most well-known book, Transforming Grace: Christian Tradition and Women’s Experience, details the relationship between the women’s movement and the Catholic Church. In this book, she advocated for the pursuit of wholeness in reconciling the two. Carr expressed the possibility and the need to reevaluate deep-seated traditions, while also remaining devoted to the Catholic Church. 

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Zonta International: A History of Service in Clippings

By Dariel Chaidez


Over the next several months, the WLA Blog will feature posts written by guest writers. These writers are graduate students in the Public History program at Loyola University Chicago. Each visited the archives during Fall 2021, delved into the collections, and wrote about a topic not yet explored here. We are excited to share their research and perspectives! 


In 2012, the last President of Zonta International Oak Park donated an extensive collection of Zonta records to the Women and Leadership Archives. Within this collection, is an assemblage of newspaper clippings dating back to 1934 detailing the history of club activity through the years. These clippings reveal the impact of Zonta International’s service orientation in the village of Oak Park.

Figure A. Zonta Code of Conduct, Illustrated by Helen. L. Smith, 1921.
Theresa de Langis, Advancing The Status of Women Worldwide: A History of Zonta International 1919-1999 (Paducah, Kentucky. Turner Publishing Company, 2000), 5.
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