Summer in the WLA: Quenching the “Thirst for Knowledge”

I am so grateful for my experience at the WLA over the last few months. As a recent undergraduate, this summer has been both a thorough introduction to the day-to-day practices of archival work and an engrossing delve into the history of Mundelein College. 

As a metadata and digitization assistant for the IHDI grant project, I spent a lot of time this summer with the Mundelein College Photograph Collection, writing metadata for photographs I scanned. For context, metadata is often referred to as ‘information about information’; for example, the metadata for a single photograph in a WLA collection includes the date it was taken, its dimensions and format, a description and transcription of what’s happening in the photograph (which often requires outside research), and organizational tags for both the archive’s internal system and external researchers – as well as several other categories.  

Compiling metadata is a slow and repetitive process which requires careful attention to method and detail. It’s a very different way of processing information than academic research or personal interest. Learning to contextualize the details of these individuals’ college lives was honestly more fun than anything, but it came to feel primarily like an act of care – care for the memory of the students who were grateful to have opportunities which they understood as rare and remarkable, and care for the institution they were heartbroken to see disappear. 

Figure 1. Mundelein students sat in on the stairs in their Learning Resource Center (now known as Sullivan Center) in protest of the college’s affiliation with Loyola.  

Outside of photo scanning, there was also the review of Mundelein student publications, which was often “difficult” work, if only because of the constant impulse to stop counting pages or checking for scanning errors and instead read a super weird poem (I say this with so much affection) or reflect on a piece of literary criticism for a novel which I and a student in 1950 apparently had a very similar experience with.  

Figure 2.  I was struck by this poem by Mundelein student Karen McKelvey which appeared in the Spring 1983 issue of the Mundelein Review. As a person who has spent a lot of time with Heather Clark’s insanely interesting biography of Plath this summer and made it the problem of everyone around me, it was very touching to see that a generation ago, a young person my age was similarly emotionally invested in the poet’s life.  

As a student, I’ve come to understand the importance of caring for the history of those who came before you. Archival work – really, any kind of historic preservation – always felt very much to me like an act of civic responsibility, acknowledging the labors and mistakes of those who built up the society we live in today. From a theoretical standpoint, this is all well and good and true, but I’ve learned that the hands-on experience of it can also be intensely personal. 

Figure 3. For three weeks in 1970, Mundelein students participated in the nationwide student strike in protest of the Vietnam War and in solidarity with the students of Kent State University.

In the WLA this summer, I was frequently moved while working with photos of Mundelein students laughing by the lake or in lectures in Galvin Hall, or reading articles about them protesting on the steps of Piper Hall – places I’d also posed for pictures with fellow Gannon Scholars, sat in classes, or attended protests with friends dozens of times. Examining these resources, researching their subjects, and writing down what I found felt like an opportunity to say thank you to the people whose commitment to women’s education put me, quite literally, where I am today.  

Figure 4. This anonymous op-ed in The Skypaper on the strike framed the political activity surrounding the Gannon’s building – now known as Piper Hall – in pop culture terms, just like I tried to do with every political science paper I ever wrote in undergrad. 

I am hugely indebted to the graduate IHDI assistants and the WLA staff for everything they’ve helped me with or advised me on over the last few months! I’m also grateful for the work itself; spending time in the Mundelein College collections has been an invaluable opportunity to connect with the memory of those who preceded me on the campus I’ve been lucky enough to call mine the last few years. In conclusion: 

Figure 5. Mundelein student Barbara Mounsey wrote this in 1962 as part of a Mundelein Review art piece called the “Collegegirl’s Color Book”. Tell ‘em, Barbara. 

Anna is a Summer 2022 IHDI Assistant in the WLA. She recently graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a BA in political science and, after a year of service with AmeriCorps & the Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest, plans on pursuing graduate education in public history. She enjoys contemporary fiction, embroidery, and swimming in Lake Michigan.  

Figure 1. “Mundelein College students protest Loyola-Mundelein affiliation in stairway”, c. 1990. Box 16, Folder 9, Mundelein College Photograph Collection, Women and Leadership Archives, Chicago, IL.  

Figure 2. McKelvey, Karen. “Sylvia Plath”, The Mundelein Review, Spring 1983, pp. 16. Mundelein College Paper Records Collection, Women and Leadership Archives, Chicago, IL.  

Figure 3. “Vietnam War Student Strike 1970”, May 5, 1970. Box 49, Folder 4, Mundelein College Photograph Collection, Women and Leadership Archives, Chicago, IL.  

Figure 4. “Editorial: Mundelein College – Woodstock Revisited?”, The Skypaper, Vol. 1, No. 10, May 28, 1970, pp. 3. Mundelein College Paper Records Collection, Women and Leadership Archives, Chicago, IL.  

Figure 5. Mounsey, Barbara. “Collegegirls’s Color Book”, The Mundelein Review, Vol. XXXIII, No. 1, December 1962, pp. 24. Mundelein College Paper Records Collection, Women and Leadership Archives, Chicago, IL. 

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About Women and Leadership Archives

Established in 1994, the Women and Leadership Archives (WLA) collects, preserves, and makes available permanently valuable records of women and women’s organizations, which document women’s lives, roles, and contributions. The WLA grew out of the need to care for the records of Mundelein College and expanded to collect papers of women leaders and women’s organizations. Collection strengths include the subject areas of activism and women’s issues; authors; education; environmental issues; public service; social justice; women religious; and the fine, performance, and visual arts. The WLA is part of the Gannon Center and Loyola University Libraries and serves a wide variety of users, ranging from students and scholars to the general public. The WLA makes records available at the Archives in Loyola’s Piper Hall, offers remote reference services, presents programs, and provides online resources. Staff include a Director, Assistant Archivist, and graduate assistants from Loyola’s Public History Program.

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