Musings on Mundelein College and the Selma March

Mundelein College students in Montgomery, Alabama.

Mundelein College students in Montgomery, Alabama.

For the past few months we have been researching Mundelein College’s role in the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama as well as the march itself in preparation for the anniversary and the accompanying events this March. After researching Selma, writing blog posts and web features, and attending related events at Loyola, we wanted to use Selma as a starting point to talk about broader issues of race, gender, and representation in archives and elsewhere.

JENNY: Within our archives Selma is a challenging topic to research. Although we have historic persons as well as organizations who participated in Selma and other events of the Civil Rights movement, the vast majority of material is photographs. Small amounts of other material that relates to the history of the civil rights movement can be found – but is generally integrated into other collections such as Mundelein College and that of scholar Suellen Hoy. These two collections contain relevant material on Selma, but also represent other important strengths of the Archives, particularly the history of women in the field of education.

Despite our many strengths, like every historical institution, the WLA has gaps. When thinking of this for our collections, we do not have much material that relates to hispanic women and there is also little that relates to the history and presence of various Asian populations in the midwest.

MOLLIE: But how do you even begin to collect? We don’t have a slew of people knocking down our door desperate to donate their personal papers or organization’s records on a daily basis. Many people don’t even know that archives,  much less the WLA, exist. Often class or educational levels can play a role in a person’s knowledge of archives, which could lead to somewhat homogenous donors and collections. How can archivists reach out to fill in these gaps?

Mahalia Jackson, 1962. Photo taken by Carl Van Vechten.  Carl Van Vechten photograph collection, Library of Congress.

Mahalia Jackson, 1962. Photo by Carl Van Vechten. Carl Van Vechten photograph collection, Library of Congress.

JENNY: Taking inspiration from the Civil Rights movement, who are some Black women leaders or activists in the Civil Rights movement who could be part of ours or another archive’s collections? Why have I not learned about them? Take for example, Mahalia Jackson. Born New Orleans in 1926, Jackson was a nationally-renowned gospel singer who worked for 40 years in the music industry. She also actively participated in the Civil Rights movement, singing at multiple national rallies and events, but this portion of her history is overshadowed. I found Jackson’s page on Wikipedia, as well as entries on biography and music history sites. Much of the information I found was brief, noting two to three paragraphs of accomplishments and referencing her association with more publicly known figures of the Civil Rights movement. Wikipedia’s page has background on her childhood and youth, her career, her activism in the Civil Rights movement, as well as her death and legacy.

MOLLIE: Although Mahalia Jackson has a pretty decent Wikipedia page in terms of length, it is by no means complete. But unlike many other women, she actually has a page, which let Jenny learn about her in the first place. Like almost all Wikipedia articles about women, Jackson’s article is subject to gender bias. In the section on her Civil Rights activism, the article focuses on her relationships with Ralph Abernathy and Martin Luther King, Jr. rather on how Jackson herself contributed to the movement. Gender bias on Wikipedia can take many forms ranging from total exclusion of women to a bias in the way the article is written.

Archives are spaces where stories like Jackson’s reside, but they are also places of interaction. We want visitors to come and engage with, look at, touch (when appropriate), and discover the materials in our collections. But because barriers (getting there, navigating the finding aids, finding the time etc) often restrict people from engaging one-on-one with the collections, we have to ask ourselves how to tell the stories of the women in the archives. With Selma, we told the story of Mundelein College and their role in the march. Public programs contextualized the stories found in the archives while blog posts and web features made it available to a wider audience. But did we tell a complete story? Did we tell a good story? As an institution that collects and makes available women’s stories, gender bias issues found on Wikipedia are not as much of an issue for us.

At the March 12th Mundelein Remembers Selma event, panelists reached out beyond Mundelein’s story to talk about broader issues of race, gender, and religion during the 1960s and participants in the march recounted their personal experiences. Was it a good story? Yes – it was engaging and interesting. Was it complete? No. But no story can be one hundred percent complete and coherent. Archivists and public historians need to acknowledge the gaps in their collections and stories and work to close them through exhibits, general interactions with visitors, or Wikipedia edit-a-thons.

JennyJennifer Pederson is a Graduate Assistant at the Women and Leadership Archives. She will be graduating in May 2015 with a M.A. degree in Public History. In her spare time she enjoys stumbling upon public art and reorganizing her apartment.

 

0a621f2Mollie Fullerton is a Graduate Assistant at the WLA and is finishing her last semester of her MA in Public History at Loyola University Chicago. In addition to sharing authority, she enjoys biking, making/eating pie, and playing the musical saw.


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.


Exploring a Tumultuous Time in an Idyllic Place

Piper Hall

Piper Hall

For the majority of my time at Loyola University, Piper Hall was a subject of mysterious beauty. It is unlike any of the other buildings on campus. The beautiful stone mansion sits overlooking Lake Michigan and during the warmer months it is surrounded by numerous flowers and greenery. Even before I set foot inside its elegantly furnished parlor, I was cognizant of a deep historical aura surrounding the building. Now, during my last semester at Loyola, I am able to explore not only the building but its history and the connections to the past it houses. On the very top floor of Piper Hall sits the Women and Leadership Archives, a warm place for researchers to delve into the past of Mundelein College and explore the lives of important women in Chicago. It is here that I have chosen to do my history internship.

I first began working on developing online resources for History Fair students; however, after comparing many archives’ materials I found that the Women and Leadership Archives was already ahead of the curve. I then discovered from talking with Nancy Freeman, the Director of the archives, that the WLA had a special story to tell in light of the 50th anniversary of the march from Selma, Alabama. As an historian, I love researching and sharing stories that need to be heard. So I dived in with the intent of creating a comprehensive exhibit to honor the 28 Mundelein delegates who participated in the Selma March.

College Students, Selma March, 1965

College Students, Selma March, 1965

I used Mundelein’s Skyscraper Newspaper as my first resource in understanding the context, motivation, and story of the Mundelein delegation. From the newspapers I discovered contrasting viewpoints, personal narratives of college life in the 1960s, journals of those who went to Selma, and important facts about the journey. As a female college student sitting in the same classrooms as the Mundelein college students back in the 1960s, I cannot help myself from comparing my experience from those told in the newspaper. Theirs was a time of passion and expression; mine a time of quiet contemplation and self-discovery.

The next step in my research will be interviewing one or two women who participated in the Selma March. This is an exciting step, for it will give my research new life and meaning. These women’s experiences are important to preserve and can be used to better understand women at Mundelein in the 1960s. It will also give us insight into the experiences of female college students in Chicago and perspective into the roots of prominent women today. Oral history is foreign to me but I am excited, albeit a bit nervous, to better understand the role of the interviewer and to add important stories to the collection at the WLA.

I look forward to continue being inspired by the beauty that is Piper Hall, and through the resources it houses, to better understanding life at Mundelein in the 1960s. As a culmination of my time at the Women and Leadership Archives, I hope to produce an online blog exhibit that accurately imparts to the reader the tumultuous and expressive feeling of the 1960s, while telling the story of a group of Mundelein students who so vehemently wanted to march for racial equality.

Intern Elyse Spring 2015Elyse Voyen is an undergraduate intern at the WLA and is studying History, International Studies, and French at Loyola University. In her free time she knits colorful socks, eats as much interesting food as Chicago has to offer and dreams of camping in the middle of nowhere, Minnesota.

 


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.


Mundelein Remembers Selma

Mundelein Remembers Selma: March 12, 4:00pm-5:30pm, Piper Hall, Room 201

Confederate flags are visible. Just passed a gas station filled with police; national guardsmen are everywhere. Some are in bushes, some on the road, all with walkie-talkies and guns. – Judy Hilkin, Mundelein Student, journal entry upon arriving in Montgomery

MC Selma posterOn March 23, 1965, Mundelein College sent twenty-eight students, eight faculty, two guests, one priest, and one doctor to Montgomery, Alabama to support the participants of the Freedom March from Selma to Montgomery.

Today Mundelein College only exists in spirit with the Ann Ida Gannon, BVM, Center for Women and Leadership, and in archival records with the Women and Leadership Archives. The Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM) founded and began to operate Mundelein College in1930. They provided education to women until Mundelein affiliated with Loyola University Chicago in 1991.

MC Selma009Reactions on campus to the Mundelein group joining the civil rights march ranged from enthusiasm to opposition. Despite this, the college still elected to send a delegation to participate in the final leg of the march. What made Mundelein, a Catholic women’s college in Chicago, so committed to civil rights? What prompted students to go to Alabama?

On March 12 Mundelein Remembers Selma will explore this question, with special attention to the college’s decision to send faculty and students to participate in the Freedom March. Panelists will include Nancy Freeman, the Director of the Women and Leadership Archives; Dr. Prudence Moylan and Dr. Ann Harrington, BVM, Loyola History Professors Emeritae and former Mundelein College Professors; Judy Fitzgerald, alumna of Mundelein College and march participant; and John Fitzgerald, alumnus of Loyola University Chicago and march participant.

Please join us for this wonderful program!

Mundelein Remembers Selma: March 12, 4:00pm-5:30pm, Piper Hall, Room 201

Be sure to stick around for the reception following the program!