Mundelein Responds to World War II: 1937-1941 

This is part one of a two-part post in which graduate students examined how Mundelein College students wrote about World War II in The Skyscraper student newspaper. This post spans the years 1937-1941, covering the time leading up to the U.S. entering the war following the attack on Pearl Harbor. Read part two of the series HERE.

China and Japan are fiercely waging a bewildering undeclared war; Spain is blood-drenched in a civil strife; Austria has been absorbed by Nazi Germany; hostile Arabs and exiled Jews struggle for supremacy in the Holy Land, and the press in all the world records strife, unrest, outrage, and terror.

The Skyscraper, April 5, 1938
Mundelein delegates at the Catholic Association for International Peace, held at Mundelein on November 1, 1941. 

The period in the late thirties leading up to World War II, the United States was marked by the stirrings of conflict abroad. While still reflecting upon a world changed by World War I, students became increasingly aware and concerned about the trouble brewing in Europe and particularly with Japan and China. The January 22 edition of The Skyscraper in 1937 urged students to “re-arm [their] soul[s] for another year in conflict.” Many of the articles written around this time placed much of their emphasis and message on spiritual resilience, and the duties of Catholics to uphold and promote peace. Students participated in peace marches and attended lectures on how peace could be obtained through social reform. 

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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.  

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Spring and Summer in the Women and Leadership Archives

After several years of voluntary archival work, my first official appointment as a Digitization and Metadata Assistant at the Women and Leadership Archives came at the perfect time. At the tail end of my graduate education in Public History and Library Science, I gained incredibly useful knowledge and experience in a field I wanted so badly to be part of while working with a rich and compelling collection. With only brief and tangential previous archival experience, I felt nervous about my ability to do this kind of work well. Not only did my time at the WLA confirm my ability to do archival work well, but it has also reassured me that my career is absolutely headed in the right direction.  


The digitization process for the Mundelein College Photograph Collection required me to tap into my problem-solving skills. I love this aspect of archival work. As I worked out the idiosyncrasies of digitizing this collection, I was asked to make updates to the written scanning instructions used for this project, a small but concrete contribution I would leave behind.

Karis working on digitization at the WLA.
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Alumnae in Action: The History of Mundelein College Reunions and Homecomings

By Anna, with research assistance from Caroline Giannakopoulos 

Mundelein College reunions and homecomings offered alumnae the chance to revisit their college days throughout the political turbulence of the mid-to-late 20th century. Unlike many contemporary college reunion events & alumnae associations, these events didn’t focus solely on fundraising or seeing fellow alumnae. Instead, the emphasis was on the continuous provision of women’s educational opportunities, even long past students’ formal involvement with the college. 

Figure 1. Mundelein College alumnae attend a presentation at the college’s 1991 Homecoming. 
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Student Publications at Mundelein College

In order to celebrate the 90 year Anniversary of Mundelein College, the WLA applied for and received the Illinois History Digital Imaging grant. The IHDI grant is aimed at digitizing documents of historical significance and making them accessible at the Illinois Digital Archives. I have been lucky to be part of a team that is digitizing items from Mundelein College held at the WLA. We’re scanning and describing thousands of publications, photographs, and other items related to the history of Mundelein College so that they are more accessible to the public.[1]

Mundelein College Skyscraper staff celebrates receiving the All-American Honor Rating by the National Newspaper Critical Service of the Associated Collegiate Press. Pictured are Columnist Mary Anne Pope, Artist Diane Mazza, Contributor Carlotta Serritella, and Contributor Maureen Racine. This photo is from the Mundelein College Collection in the process of being digitized by the WLA. (1962-05-22)] [2] [ mc_student_pubs_0052].

Throughout the digitizing process, I’ve been fascinated by the rigor with which students published journals, newspapers, and pamphlets. Mundelein College students maintained a rich tradition of self-published literature of their sixty-year history. They collected articles and essays, cropped and captioned photos, and folded thousands of pages. The resulting, now digital, volumes demonstrate Mundelein College students’ work and the joy with which they performed it.

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Ladies’ Night: The Bars that Shaped Mundelein College

A group of people posing for a photo

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Figure 1. A group of students celebrate their coming graduation at the annual “100 Days Party” at Hamilton’s Bar and Grill.

College campuses are complex organisms. They are made up of students, staff, faculty, halls, arenas, and libraries. The college experience is comprised of classes, organizations, student jobs, and groups of friends. For many students, the bars, clubs, and restaurants play a large part in not only their college experiences, but also of the college environment at large. Socialization is an integral part of college and one of the major factors that perspective students consider when choosing an institution. This was just as true for the students attending Mundelein College as it was for any student at any other university. While conducting interviews for the Share Your Story: Student Life at Mundelein Oral History Project, Mundelein alumnae often reflected on their experiences in these public social spaces as some of the most memorable. Local bars and restaurants like Hamilton’s and The Red Garter, while gone, live on in the memories that were made there. Mundelein yearbooks are filled with joyful pictures of these locales and the events and parties that went on there. From “Ladies” Night” to the “100 Days Party,” Mundelein students understood the importance of balancing academics with social activities. In remembering Mundelein College, we must accept a truth that where college students attend classes, they also attend parties, bars, and clubs.

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New Feminism in Chicago: The Feminist Voice

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!

On August 26, 1971, The Feminist Voice, a magazine “published in the interest of women” was first released in Chicago. Four years earlier, in 1967, the first “new feminist,” later known as “second wave feminist,” group in the United States was formed and released a regular newsletter, Voice of the Women’s Liberation Movement. It was from this Chicago Women’s Liberation Union newsletter that The Feminist Voice drew inspiration to report on the rise of new feminism in Chicago and the larger nation. The date of the first issue, August 26th, was of key importance to the writers of the magazine as it was the anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment which recognized women’s suffrage nationally, a victory that inspired Second Wave Feminists.[1]

Figure 1. Cover page of The Feminist Voice vol 1. no, 1 August 1971.

The Feminist Voice collective was composed of a diverse group of women; married women, divorced women, women with and without children, lesbian and heterosexual women, politically organized women, and “loners” [2]. While they shared little philosophically, the collective shared a few key beliefs that the magazine would be used to address. The first editorial column published in The Feminist Voice made their central cause clear: “We know that the liberation of all women must become women’s number one priority. We will not be talked into fighting for another’s cause as our sisters in the 1920s and 1960s were when they fought for the civil rights of other people. We have learned that fighting for the rights of others keeps us from facing our own oppression. We believe that people must free themselves from forces that oppress them [3].” The Feminist Voice would serve as a place for these women to express their “reasoned rage” in alternative to the “male-dominated press” and a space for self-discovery [4].

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Sister Coffey: The Woman Who Made Mundelein a Reality

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: Sister Mary Justitia Coffey, BVM [13]

One of the most important figures in the history of Mundelein College was Sister Mary Justitia Coffey, BVM, one of its founders and the first president of the women’s Catholic college in Chicago. Revered by her students and colleagues, Coffey was instrumental in building Mundelein as one of the cornerstones of Catholic education in the Midwest. The mark she left on the school and her peers is unmatched. “She had great gifts,” wrote Mundelein College upon the announcement of her passing in 1947. “She had an ideal of Catholic education, uncommon in her time, and she found and used well the vast opportunities that opened before her. She pioneered for higher education for women…her efforts and those of her associates have opened to religious women an unparalleled opportunity for study and research under Catholic leadership” [1].  

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

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

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! 

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Members of the PWAA attending a dedication ceremony for their new headquarters (in Chicago?). 
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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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