This jovial turtle named Terry, dressed here as Santa Claus going down a chimney, served as the mascot for the Mundelein College Terrapin Club. Founded in 1931, the Terrapin Club was the competitive swimming club of the all-girls school until the club dissolved in the early 1980s. The activities of the club throughout the years were documented in two scrapbooks recently digitized as part of the Mundelein at 90 project. The calendar year of a Terrapin didn’t start during the holiday season; from fall to spring, these swimmers had a packed calendar, starting with tryouts early in the school year.
Terrapin tryouts were open to any student at Mundelein College, even if they were not in the swimming class. The group consisted of two skill levels, the Junior and Senior Terrapins. Any student with a successful tryout became a pledge of the club until initiation a week later. The most important part of pledge week was playful humiliation. Through the years, pledges had to engage in peculiar tasks such as collecting signatures on bathing caps, greeting Terrapin members with the phrase “I am a poor fish”, and even walking around the halls of Mundelein wearing a swim cap, swim shoes, and a life preserver around their neck while carrying either a fish or a turtle. Luckily for the new members, the initiation ceremony at the end of the week put a stop to the madness.
The next event on the calendar was a celebration of the swimmers’ favorite reptile. Terry the Turtle was an obvious choice for a mascot, given that a Terrapin is a species of turtle. He appeared on promotional material and newsletters throughout the history of the Terrapin Club, and the swimmers kept a tradition of throwing a birthday bash for Terry every year, February 18th being the official date. The guest list for the birthday bash often included Terrapin alums and swimmers from other colleges in the Chicagoland area.
After the big party, practice would begin for the big swimming meet, usually in March or April. The Terrapin Club first participated in the Intercollegiate Telegraphic Swimming Meet in 1934. Designed for college women interested in swimming, schools across the country would record their times for the meet in their own pool and send their times to the host school via telegram, hence the name of the meet. In 1938, the Terrapin Club “hosted” the Telegraphic Meet, a privilege awarded in recognition of their winning the Minor Telegraphic Meet the year before. The meet was categorized into Major and Minor divisions; colleges with enrollment over 1,000 participated in the major division, colleges under 1,000 students participated in the minor division.
To end the school year with a bang, the club staged a creative performance. A tradition that began during the inaugural Terrapin season, the Water Carnival was a production staged in and around the Mundelein College swimming pool. The first theme in 1931 was “The Dream of the Ancient Mariner,” based on the poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Coleridge. The carnivals included synchronized swimming, scripted lines for principal players, costumes, lighting, music, sets, and props. Other carnival themes included a Venetian romance story, a retelling of the Greek myth of Perseus, and a Navy theme, featuring aquatic interpretations of drills and an Army-Navy water polo game to represent the iconic college football brawl.
Although the carnival was the last official event on the club calendar, the women stayed in close contact during the off-season. In the early years of the club, the Terrapins would often unwind as a group after commencement. In 1937 and 1938, club members spent time together at lake homes in Illinois and Wisconsin owned by fellow swimmers. Come fall, the Terrapin calendar would reset, and the club did it all over again.
From the Women and Leadership Archives to you, have a safe and excellent holiday season, and don’t forget to mark Terry’s birthday on your calendar!
The scrapbooks researched in this post are in the process of being digitized as part of the Mundelein at 90 digitization project, through an Illinois History Digital Imaging Grant. Visit our website to learn more and see updates on the project!
Kaylee is in their first year of master’s programs in Public History and Library and Information Sciences. They have a BA in History, with interests in art history and religious studies. They love calico cats, crocheting, and going to museums in their free time.
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