Construction Paper

Imagine you are assigned the task of building a skyscraper in Chicago. Your task, should you choose to accept it, would be to make the major decisions for the project by keeping in touch with the architects and major contractors. The catch? The year is 1929 and you are located in Dubuque, Iowa, some 175 miles from Chicago. You will also have very limited access to the telephone. I sure hope you know how to use a typewriter!

The story of how Mundelein College was constructed unfolds in the letters and telegrams housed in the Mundelein College Collection located at the Women and Leadership Archives. The Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM) kept the letters they received and carbon copies of the letters they sent. In-between the letters are lists of the cost of building materials, contract bids, budget reports, and general plans for the college. A majority of the letters are between Nairne Fisher, architect, and Sister Mary Realmo and Reverend Mother Isabella, head of the Order of the BVM.

An example of a copy of a letter sent by Mother Isabella.

An example of a copy of a letter sent by Mother Isabella.

 

Example of Nairne Fisher answering a question posed to him in a prior letter and an example of suggestions for substitutes in building materials

Example of Nairne Fisher answering a question posed to him in a prior letter and an example of suggestions for substitutes in building materials

 

Many of the letters are fascinating because the content of the letters can be as short as a text message or a quick email today, but others are several pages long and include additional materials related to construction. Phone calls appear rare and some letters are in response to a message left after a missed phone call. In person visits were few and far between. Without the use of today’s technology, communicating decisions about Mundelein College through letters was very important. A simple question may have taken days to get an answer. Another thing to keep in mind is that construction of Mundelein College happened during the Great Depression after the stock market crash of October 1929.

The correspondence between the sisters and the numerous people contracted to build the college, shows the dedication of the sisters to the school as well as the frustrations of planning and budgeting. Many letters are spent on managing finances and the costs of construction materials. The sisters were meticulous about ensuring quality products at reasonable prices. They ask questions for clarification and constantly crunch numbers to see where the finances stand. Some letters highlight the problems with building the college. Prices for materials sometimes went up during construction, altering the budget, or there were a few miscommunications about how something was to be done. Some of these issues may have been exacerbated by the time it took to communicate back and forth via letters.

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Very few letters were handwritten.

Looking at Mundelein College building today, I am amazed that most decisions that went into building the institution can be found in a series of letters. Nearly everything from the materials used on the exterior to the classrooms inside were decided upon without the architect or the sisters talking in person. The letters remind me to be a little more grateful that I can communicate with friends and family miles away in a matter of seconds!

A few of the letters highlighting the construction of Mundelein College

A few of the letters highlighting the construction of Mundelein College.

 


Megan Bordewyk
Megan is a Graduate Assistant at the WLA and is in the first year of her M.A in Public History at Loyola University Chicago. She is an avid movie-goer and enjoys arts and crafts, live sporting events, and small Midwestern towns.

 

 


Loyola University Chicago’s Women and Leadership Archives Blog is designed to provide a positive environment for the Loyola community to discuss important issues and ideas. Differences of opinion are encouraged. We invite comments in response to posts and ask that you write in a civil and respectful manner. All comments will be screened for tone and content and must include the first and last name of the author and a valid email address. The appearance of comments on the blog does not imply the University’s endorsement or acceptance of views expressed.


Sister Safety

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Exploring the files of Sister Mary Carmelyn McMahon

Exploring the files of Sister Mary Carmelyn McMahon

As part of our Women’s History Month activities, I worked on creating a display showcasing materials from the collection of Mundelein College, a Catholic women’s college that was once located next to Loyola. The exhibit focused on two of Mundelein’s art professors and two students who went on to have successful art careers. This was another great opportunity to find new things and learn more about life at this unique college for women.

As I researched the art professors of Mundelein, I found interesting details on the life of Sister Mary Carmelyn. Sister Mary Carmelyn McMahon was born in Missoula, Montana in 1905 and taught at Mundelein from 1934 to 1954. Sister Mary Carmelyn designed several of the college’s Christmas cards and even illustrated the Graduate Pledge, which was taken by seniors at every commencement ceremony.

Sister Mary Carmelyn working with the Safety Council

Sister Mary Carmelyn working with the Safety Council

The Mundelein College Graduate Pledge, created by Sister Mary Carmelyn

The Mundelein College Graduate Pledge, created by Sister Mary Carmelyn

While inspiring students in her role as a teacher, Sister Mary Carmelyn discovered something else about which she was passionate. She began the College Safety Council at Mundelein in 1943 and spent her time learning and sharing ways to prevent accidents on school campuses and beyond. In the 1940s, she dedicated much of her time to the Red Cross and was appointed to serve on many safety councils, including the Education Committee of President Truman’s Conference on Highway Safety. She even taught the other BVM’s to swim. I wish we had a photo of that to share!

A World War II poster warning about one of the many safety hazards of the workplace.

A World War II poster warning about one of the many safety hazards of the workplace.

This sudden concern for accident prevention seems out of the blue, but Sister Mary Carmelyn was actually just doing her patriotic duty. In the midst of World War II, factories increased production to provide supplies. Meanwhile, workplace accidents and injuries also increased. The National Safety Council, with the support of President Roosevelt, launched a national campaign in 1941 to teach ways to avoid accidents in industries, homes, schools, and on the road. Citizens could support the war effort by preventing carelessness that would waste resources or result in injury to much needed workers.

Sister Mary Carmelyn participated in the movement that spread these safety lessons to all areas of life. She promoted the 3 E’s of accident prevention: Education, Engineering, and Enforcement. She also wrote an article for Safety Education Magazine explaining the forgotten “R” in safety, religion. “Knowledge of skills,” Mary Carmelyn wrote, “plus the realization and acceptance of man’s relationship to his fellow men and his Creator, will…direct the knowledge toward…attitudes of safe living.”

Exploring Sister Mary Carmelyn’s records in the Mundelein College Collection provided the opportunity for me to learn more about national events during World War II. Through the archives, I was able to see one fascinating woman’s participation in broader patterns of history.

Caroline blog photoCaroline Lynd is a Graduate Assistant at the WLA and is working on her Master’s in Public History at Loyola University Chicago. She spends her spare time caring for her pufferfish, interpreting dreams, and watching cheesy movies.

 

 


Loyola University Chicago’s Women and Leadership Archives Blog is designed to provide a positive environment for the Loyola community to discuss important issues and ideas. Differences of opinion are encouraged. We invite comments in response to posts and ask that you write in a civil and respectful manner. All comments will be screened for tone and content and must include the first and last name of the author and a valid email address. The appearance of comments on the blog does not imply the University’s endorsement or acceptance of views expressed.