Loyola University’s Unusual Students: Italian POWs and Loyola University

Editor’s note: This post is part of a series of essays written by students of the Fall 2018 Public History course and based on research at Loyola’s University Archives and Special Collections. Check back over the next four weeks for new stories.

The Jesuit mission is to “to work for reconciliation every day — with God, with human beings and with the environment” [1]. As a Jesuit institution, Loyola University has used this statement as its guiding ideal in education and service. During World War II the world needed reconciliation more than ever before and Loyola University was compelled to extend its humanitarian mission of education to individuals who were otherwise considered enemies: prisoners of war.

Figure 1: Portrait of Marie Sheahan, head of the Home Studies Division and correspondent to Father Ferreri. (Photo Credit: “Mary Sheahan”, One Hundred Years of Knowledge in the Service of Man:  Loyola University of Chicago, 1870 – 1970”, Box 1, Folder 3, Correspondence Study Division, Loyola University Archives, Loyola University Chicago.)

From 1922 to 1985 Loyola University maintained a Home Study Division (later renamed the Correspondence Study Division), which allowed students who could not reach the campus to take courses in a variety of subjects [2]. Like others of its kind, this program was popular among students who were housewives, who lived in the countryside, and who had to work full-time. Loyola University’s division was unique as it was the only Catholic university that cooperated with the United States Armed Forces Institute (USAFI), which provided high school and college education to American service members [3]. In addition to providing correspondence courses to Americans serving in the armed forces, Loyola University partnered with Father Achilles F. Fererri (Captain, AUS) to offer courses to Italian prisoners of war.  The USAFI only covered American service members, so this decision went above and beyond Loyola’s contractual obligations.

Father Fererri was the chaplain at Camp Hereford, a prisoner of war camp in Hereford, Texas [4]. The prison held five thousand Italian prisoners of war who were captured in North Africa [5]. Out of these five thousand prisoners, fifty-four enrolled in correspondence courses through Loyola University [6]. English courses were by far the most popular with twenty-two imprisoned students enrolling in those courses. Spanish and French language courses were also popular with eleven and four students each.  Six soldiers enrolled in Sociology courses, five in law, four in Economics, and three in both Biology and Education. Psychology, Philosophy, Geology, and Latin each had only one student enrolled [7]. The Loyola University Archives does not have any record of what grades these students received.  Although the Correspondence Division kept records of all the enrollment fees and book purchases, all coursework was sent directly from the students to the professors [8]. Despite this lack of record, it is likely that these imprisoned soldiers worked diligently on their assignments.  After all, there was precious little entertainment available in prisoner of war camps.

Figure 2: Camp Hereford prisoners with priests, standing outside St. Mary’s church. (Photo Credit: St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Umbarger, TX. Accessed December 11, 2018, https://stmarysumbarger.com/)

Fifty-four students are a small percentage of five thousand inmates, but there were several factors that likely limited who among the prisoners at Hereford could take classes. First, such courses necessitated a certain level of language skills and education. Soldiers who were barely literate or who had left school at a young age would not have been able to take college classes. The second, and arguably more important limitation, was money.  Like any other students, these soldiers had to pay course fees and buy books and only a few could afford to do so.

Loyola University initially offered a half-rate discount only to prisoners of war who were not commissioned officers. In a 1944 letter to Marie Sheahan, the head of the Home Study Division, Father Ferreri explained that the commissioned offers were not paid as well as U.S. officers. Most of the officers interred at Hereford were first or second Lieutenants and received only twenty dollars per month to cover all the needs not provided by the prison. He also mentioned that Loyola’s neighbor, DePaul University of Chicago, offered a flat rate of $10.00 per course to prisoners of war regardless of rank [9]. While DePaul University also cooperated with the military for the benefit of foreign prisoners of war, DePaul was not a participating university in the United States Armed Forces Institute. Father Ferreri had originally believed that the discount rate applied to all of the students he oversaw and hoped that he could reach a similar bargain with Loyola so as not to disappoint his charges. Just over a week later Miss Sheahan replied that Loyola had not realized how small a salary the commissioned officers received and gladly extended the half-rate discount to all the students at Camp Hereford [10].


Figures 3 and 4: Left: Interior of St. Mary’s church prior to decoration by Italian POWs.  Exact date unknown. Right: Sanctuary of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Umbarger, Texas.  Interior decoration by Camp Hereford POWs and Loyola students.   (Photo Credit: St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Umbarger, TX. Accessed December 11, 2018, https://stmarysumbarger.com/)

Readers who are interested in World War II may have heard of Father Fererri and these Italian prisoners before as they were the subject of Donald Williams’ book Italian POWs and a Texas Church: The Murals of St. Mary’s. When food was scarce in Camp Hereford in 1945, Father Fererri found ways for the prisoners to use their artistic skills to work for food [11]. In the most remarkable of these activities Father Fererri and his friend the Reverend Krukkert arranged for talented artists among the inmates, mainly painters and carvers, as well as a few unskilled help-meets to decorate the interior of Krukkert’s St. Mary’s Church in nearby Umbarger, Texas [12]. Many of these same prisoners constructed used their skills in carving and painting to build a chapel that marks the graves of the five prisoners who died in the camp during their interment. 

Today the chapel is overseen by the Castro County Historical Commission and St. Mary’s Church likewise preserves the art of these imprisoned artists. In 1988, a group of the former prisoners returned for the chapel’s restoration ceremony. Only Mario De Dominicis’ name appears in both the student roster and Williams’ book, but this reunion leaves one to wonder how many uncredited Loyola students also worked on the chapel and St. Mary’s Church [13]. By working with the Armed Forces Institute, Loyola University uniquely contributed to the education of American service members as the only Catholic university to offer classes through the USAFI. By going the extra mile and offering classes to foreign prisoners of war who were not covered by the USAFI Loyola University fulfilled its Jesuit mission of reconciliation.

-Emily-Paige Taylor

Hidden History: Gay Students at Loyola

Editor’s note: This post is part of a series of essays written by students of the Fall 2018 Public History course and based on research at Loyola’s University Archives and Special Collections. Check back over the next five weeks for new stories.

In 1991, a new organization appeared on Loyola University’s Lake Shore campus. The Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Alliance (GLBA), organized by students and sponsored by the Classics Department, was the first official club on any of Loyola’s campuses centered around LGBTQ issues [1]. Before GLBA, gay students received little official attention from the university and lesbian, bisexual, and trans students seemed all but invisible. However, Loyola’s weekly student-run newspaper, the Loyola Phoenix, tells a different story. Gay students were not only present at Loyola before the 1990s but had been forming their own societies and participating in campus-wide debates around sexuality for decades.

Figure 1: The first student directory to list an LGBTQ organization at Loyola. Courtesy of Loyola University Archives and Special Collections [2].

The 1970s were turbulent but exciting years for Loyola University. The pages of the Phoenix show students debating the Vietnam War, going on strike after the Kent State shootings, and campaigning for better representation in the curriculum. Of course, Loyolans were not alone in grappling with difficult social issues. Colleges and universities across the nation were dealing with similar cultural shifts among their students. At a Catholic university, however, topics about sexuality were especially controversial and potentially divisive. The Phoenix rarely mentions homosexuality during the early 1970s, while articles about women’s liberation, racism, and the Vietnam War appear in every issue.

Signs point to the existence of a small, yet active, gay student population long before the creation of GLBA. Advertisements for gay men’s social events held at other Chicago universities, especially Northwestern University and the University of Illinois Chicago, appeared with some regularity on the Phoenix’s “Happenings” page [3]. In 1972, Loyola’s Student Activities Board hosted its first LGBTQ event, though it did so in Evanston instead of on of Loyola’s campuses [4].  There were apparently enough interested students at Loyola to justify advertising other universities’ gay-friendly events and occasional Loyola-sponsored ones. Less frequently, the Phoenix advertised explicitly political events, such as a “Teach-Out” on sexual stereotyping that included Loyola psychology professor Dr. Naomi Weinstein [5].

Figure 2: Gay event at Northwestern, 1970. Courtesy of Loyola University Archives and Special Collections [6].
Figure 3: Loyola-sponsored gay event, 1972. Courtesy of Loyola University Archives and Special Collections [7].

There is also evidence that gay students organized unofficially in the absence of a university-sanctioned club. Two advertisements in October 1970 announced a “Gay Get-Together” for both Loyola faculty and students [8]. Five years later, a posting for a new gay students’ organization “not affiliated with any other group” appeared [9].

Figure 4: Ad for “Gay Get-Together” listing only a phone number. Courtesy of Loyola University Archives and Special Collections [12].

Even as organizations advertised their presence, privacy was a major concern. The Gay Get-Together organizers listed a phone number and the instruction, “Call for time and place,” instead of posting an address or meeting time [10]. GLBA included a statement about privacy protection in the description of their club as late as 1994 [11]. Gradually, however, Loyola students began to publicly come out. One who wrote to the Phoenix in support of a Gay Jeans Day (an event where gay students came out or showed their pride by wearing denim to class) in 1977 was the first to declare his sexuality through the student paper [13].

Then, during the fall semester of 1978, the topic of gay students at Loyola exploded on the pages of the Phoenix. Students and faculty debated two issues: Loyola’s reputation and the nature of homosexuality. The first controversy began in September, when philosophy professor Richard J. Westley reported hearing over summer break that Loyola was known as a “hot-bed of homosexuality” [14]. Curious where this idea originated, Westley asked students their opinion. They responded with a variety of views, ranging from outrage that Westley mentioned the topic to irritation over his less-than-positive view towards homosexuality. One anonymous gay student asserted that gay activity at Loyola was “less than mild” [15]. Another student claimed that the real issue was not homosexuality at Loyola, but premarital sex, sparking another round of debate [16].

Figure 5: Dr. Westley’s article to the Phoenix in 1978. Courtesy of the Loyola University Archives and Special Collections [17].

The subject of homosexuality appeared again in November after sociology professor Edward Levine went on the radio claiming that homosexuality was a mental illness. This time, the controversy stayed between faculty. Northwestern University professor Paul Siegel responded to the broadcast in the Phoenix with an impassioned counterargument [18]. A week later, Levine answered Siegel with a defense of his position [19]. Finally, two more Loyola professors offered their own critiques of Levine’s argument [20]. The issue appeared to die off after winter break, never reappearing during the 1978-1979 academic year. Still, the fall semester Phoenix articles reflected the real and sometimes heated conversations occurring at the Lakeshore campus. Clearly, gay students and gay rights were becoming much more visible than they had been in 1970.

As an urban Catholic school, its response to its gay students was unique, but Loyola was far from the only university adapting to changing attitudes during the 1970s. In the aftermath of the Stonewall Riots, gay students across the country grew increasingly vocal and organized, but as late as the 1990s most college campuses had yet to form official LGBTQ groups like Loyola’s GLBA [21]. In the 1970s, Loyola was neither especially inclusive nor repressive towards its gay students. It was similar to its neighbor, the women’s and Catholic Mundelein College, where lesbian relationships were tolerated, though not celebrated [22]. Additionally, while Loyola apparently held fewer gay-friendly events than Northwestern and UIC, there is no evidence in the Phoenix of gay students being targets of violence as they were at some other schools [23].

Figure 6: Q-Initiatives logo [25].

Gay Loyolans found ways to meet each other and advocate for themselves decades before there were official LGBTQ student groups. Their efforts laid the foundations for groups like GLBA in the 1990s and QTPoC and Advocate today. Loyola itself has changed in the decades since the first university-sponsored gay event in 1972, now hosting regular events from safe space workshops to LGBTQ film showings [24]. These events are no longer aimed only at gay men but include the whole of the LGBTQ spectrum. Though privacy remains an issue for some, support and resources are now available on the university website. Loyola’s LGBTQ students are no longer hidden or invisible. Instead they are out and involved in the Loyola community.

-Hannah Overstreet

Lecturing on the Big Screen: Closed-Circuit Television at the Loyola School of Dentistry

Editor’s note: This post is part of a series of essays written by students of the Fall 2018 Public History course and based on research at Loyola’s University Archives and Special Collections. Check back over the next six weeks for new stories.

Over the course of nearly a century, students sought out dental education in the United States in high demand. Dental schools popped up all across the country from the late-nineteenth century and into the mid-twentieth century, becoming well-rated, and drawing in an international pool of students. Some schools, especially in the late-nineteenth century, even required medical degrees upon admission. Even among hundreds of dental schools, some emerged as the best and most respected. One of these top-tier dental schools was the Loyola School of Dentistry. It all started in 1883, when Truman W. Brophy established the Chicago Dental Infirmary on 22 West Adams Street. Renamed the Chicago College of Dental Surgery (CCDS) with a new charter in 1888, the college grew quickly in size and reputation. Over its first 5 years, CCDS moved into new buildings a total of four times to accommodate the growing student population and dental technology needs. By 1893, the school found its longtime home at 1757 West Harrison Street [1].

Figure 1: Photograph of the Chicago College of Dental Surgery at 1757 W Harrison [2].

From its inception, CCDS pioneered the field of dental education and attracted students from across the globe. As early as 1890, school officials noted student enrollment from countries such as Canada, Germany, and Peru [3]. The school was the first to integrate the educational use of apparatuses for cultivating bacteria, and boasted a graduate, who later became Dean of Faculty, who was responsible for reorganizing the Dental Corps of the United States Army [4]. Though these innovations came within the school’s first forty years, CCDS continued to raise the standards of dental education. In 1923, the Chicago College of Dental Surgery affiliated with Loyola University Chicago. Under the university’s charter, and a newly formed Department of Dental Research, faculty members contributed to dental literature at an unprecedented pace. It was in 1954, however, that the Chicago College of Dental Surgery took one of its largest strides in pioneering dental education—It became the first dental school in the United States to own a permanent closed-circuit television system for clinical lectures [5].

Beginning in 1951, Loyola University reserved local channel 11 for the first round of TV programming coming from the university. Broadcasts included university updates, music programs, and Rev. Francis Filas, S.J.’s yearly Christmas special [6]. TV broadcasting from the university turned out to be a successful investment for Loyola. From the initial incorporation of university public broadcasting, departments of the university implemented the use of television for their own needs. The dental school was no exception.

As the student population at CCDS grew, so did the needs of faculty members to properly instruct clinical practices. Dental students typically crowded around one dental chair in order to observe the techniques of their professors. This manner of observation could only serve three to four students at one time, and the rest of the class would miss first-hand instruction on dental care. One way that CCDS attempted to alleviate the issue was by establishing a Department of Visual Education in 1950, where photographic slides were made available for classroom use [7]. Four years later, the alumni publication of CCDS, The Bur, reported a recent purchase by the department of a closed-circuit television [8]. The purchase reflected the broader effort by Loyola to implement educational material on broadcast television.

Figure 2: A pamphlet advertises closed-circuit television at the dental school [9].

Shortly after the Chicago College of Dental Surgery purchased the closed-circuit television equipment, the school presented its new clinical lecture method at the Chicago Dental Society Midwinter Meeting in February of 1954. The poster and table presentation, titled “Teaching Dentistry with TV,” displayed the advantages of the closed-circuit TV method. On the left side of the board, a picture showing students crowding around a dental chair to observe their professor is pinned with the caption “Few Really See.” On the right side of the board, presenters pinned a photo of current dental students watching a lecture with the TV projections. The caption under this photograph reads “Vision Unlimited.” Clearly, the dental school envisioned a bright future for its students upon adopting a new lecture style. The Bur also took a positive approach to the method. In the 1954 issue of the bulletin, editors praised the Visual Department’s new purchase:

In recent months this department has been highlighted with purchase of its own closed circuit television system. This means that the faculty at the dental school, through its own department of visual education, can televise any demonstration, technic or clinical procedure from anywhere in the dental school building, to any other part of the school. For example, it will be possible to televise an oral surgery procedure from the surgery to the amphitheatre, where it will be possible for 100 students to see what is being done instead of the usual one or two. The use will not be limited only to clinical demonstration, but will have a place also in laboratory demonstrations, such as setting up of teeth or even an anatomical [dissection]. [10]

Figure 3: The dental school’s presentation at the Chicago Dental Society meeting [11].

Within the first eight months of incorporated closed-circuit lecturing in the dental school curriculum, students and alumni already expressed positive interest in the new format. The Bur reported, “The days of a few students viewing an operation is past. Now the entire class has a front seat” [12]. Closed-circuit television opened avenues for the dental school. Students were no longer limited to a faraway view of their professors’ hands, nor did they need to rely on notes from classmates who had a closer look at clinical techniques. Displaying the professor’s work on televisions inside an amphitheater meant that more students could view the lecture at once; in effect, the dental school could accept more students into the program with the new method. Implementing closed-circuit television also decreased the amount of time professors spent on each lecture, since they could easily move from one technique to another without worrying about students’ poor vantage points.

Figure 4: Students watch their instructor on the screens at the front of the classroom [13].
Figure 5: A technician holds a camera for the procedure to be broadcast to a classroom [14].

Even after the incorporation of closed-circuit television for lecture halls, CCDS remained committed to innovative teaching methods and spaces. By the late 1960s, Loyola’s dental school was the only school in Illinois to teach the “four-handed, sit-down” method [15]. The method utilizes the help of dental assistants alongside the dental practitioner for more efficient dental hygiene appointments, and is still incorporated in dental assistant programs today. Additionally, a new dental school building was completed on the Maywood medical campus in 1969 to accommodate more students, lab space, and technology. During the centennial celebration of Loyola University in 1970, a commemorative booklet noted that fifty-one percent of Chicagoland dentists were graduates of CCDS [16]. Loyola’s dental school retained its strong reputation as one of the state’s largest dental schools until decreasing enrollment and high maintenance costs led to its closing in 1993. Although Loyola no longer has a formal college of dentistry, the former school’s Maywood building has been renamed the Maguire Center, and houses the medical campus’ Oral Health Center [17].

-Bianca Bárcenas

Mundelein and Loyola Speak Out: Social Activism in Student Publications (1967-2018)

Editor’s note: This post is part of a series of essays written by students of the Fall 2018 Public History course and based on research at Loyola’s University Archives and Special Collections. Check back over the next seven weeks for new stories.

With their Jesuit affiliation, social justice has been at the forefront of the missions of both Loyola University and Mundelein College.  With the approach of the 1960s, however, students and faculty felt particularly empowered to make their voices heard— at their home institutions, in their communities, and around the world.   In this post, we’ll look at a few examples of Loyola’s participation in social activism and political discourse over the past 50+ years.

Figure 1: Students and faculty debate the ramifications of the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War (1967), Skyscraper, 1967

“Every time we’ve escalated it’s because another policy has failed,” Loyola sociology professor Clark Kissinger, one of the “doves” on the panel, is quoted as saying in the Skyscraper, addressing the motivations behind the United States’ escalation of its involvement in the Vietnam War [1]. Reporters at the entirely student-run, Mundelein College newspaper were covering the April 26, 1967 Vietnam War Teach-In, an opportunity for discussion and reflection about the causes and implications of our nation’s continued involvement in the conflict abroad.  While the headline clearly addresses the tension between those on either side of the debate, the panel distribution hints at the majority political leanings of the school’s student body and staff as well.

Figure 2: Students confront Loyola administration at 1969 Student Convocation, Loyola News, 1969

“…probably the first time university administrators were criticized to their faces…”  In 1969, Loyola’s “very best” students were invited by the administration to attend the Honors Convocation and share their “opinions and perceptions” about the past year. What the administration and attending parents got was a succession of admonishments about the university’s dismissal of students’ voices and the “radical change” that needed to occur within the university’s walls and policies.  While many parents in the audience responded with gasps and rebukes of the speakers, the Loyola News does note that “administration took the remarks graciously as the sincere reflection of responsible students’ opinions” [2]. 

Figure 3: Black students at Mundelein College demand change in the culture of their institution, skyPAPER, 1970

“The future of both cultures hangs precariously on our decision.” Black students at Mundelein spoke as one voice and presented a list of five demands to the university faculty. On May 26, 1970, they received a response at the town hall meeting in McCormick Lounge.  “We have chosen not to ignore [these demands],” responded Sr. Virginia McDermott to the “several hundred” people in attendance.  Money was pledged to assist the families and honor the memories of the two students who had been killed at Jackson State, recommendations were made to the white community at Mundelein, and university president Sr. Ann Ida Gannon promised that the administration would “move to meet the black students’ needs as quickly and as fully as possible” [3].

Figure 4: Blackacre’s editorial board reflects on the tumult of the past few years and the change it produced, Blackacre, 1975

“…the more or less calm satisfaction…” The September 25, 1975 editorial in Loyola Law School’s Blackacre speaks to the tumult that the university had experienced in the first half of the decade, and the present “contentment” felt after a year of “news and controversy.”  There had been faculty resignations, “publicity controvers[ies],” and a rift between the law school and the university about a proposed Legal Aid Clinic. However, the start of 1975 brought a year of all seats on the faculty being filled, a functional Legal Aid Clinic, and the redesign of classrooms.  The editorial attributes these changes to the “student activism of the past two years” that was “instrumental in effecting a change in the University’s position toward the law school,” as well as the new Dean Murdock [4].

Figure 5: The Loyola Phoenix’s political cartoon, titled “Castro, the archer,” Loyola Phoenix, 1982
Figure 6: Students and faculty call for the withdrawal of of military and economic aid from El Salvador, Chicago Tribune, 1990 

On March 19, 1982, the Loyola Phoenix published a political cartoon depicting Uncle Sam grabbing Central America and clenching it between his fists as Cuba’s Fidel Castro shoots arrows into his behind [5].  Later, in a continued attempt to shine a light on the United States’ military involvement in Central America, Loyola students and faculty published a full page ad in the Chicago Tribune, calling for the withdrawal of economic and military aid from El Salvador after a string of brutal killings of Jesuit-affiliates by the Salvadorian military [6].  

Figure 7: Loyola graduate students interrupt budget meeting in an attempt to negotiate with administration about pay and working conditions, Loyola Phoenix, 2018

Current examples of activism and it’s coverage in student publications is evident on October 17, 2018, as graduate students crashed a budged meeting “calling for higher wages and union recognition.”  Long a source of tension in university environments, the demands of many graduate students workers—demands that often require a set number of hours per week, in addition to grading papers, holding office hours, and attending their own classes—felt untenable to many, and they voiced these concerns.  “We are fed up,” members of the union are quoted in the Loyola Phoenix as saying.  To date, they have not been able to negotiate with the university, as Loyola representatives have expressed that graduate student workers are “students in every sense of the word” [7]. 

Like most Jesuit-affiliated institutions, the student bodies of Loyola University and the former Mundelein College have a deep sense of the importance of social justice and the power of political activism.  We look forward to seeing their ongoing commitment to social change and the reporting on it through their myriad student publications.

-Ericka Christie

Playing a Part: Loyola Actors Find Their Place in the Chicago Theatre Scene

Editor’s note: This post is part of a series of essays written by students of the Fall 2018 Public History course and based on research at Loyola’s University Archives and Special Collections. Check back over the next eight weeks for new stories.

While Chicago’s rich theatre history evolved over the 20th century, Loyola students pushed their pins into the map of the Chicago theatre scene. [1]. With Pulitzer Prize winning premiers and Broadway bound productions, the city’s theatre scene clawed out a reputation as a lab for world class performances. Loyola University theatre program grew on a parallel trajectory beginning as a student run organization and ultimately becoming a full fledged professional training program with the creation of a theatre department.

When Professor Joseph Rice took over direction of the Loyola University Players full time in 1931, it didn’t take him long see the need to move Loyola performances off-campus to reach a larger audience. In March of 1932, he directed Loyola students in “The Enemy” by Channing Pollack at the Goodman Theater [2]. At that time, the Goodman was housed at the Art Institute which provided an opportunity for the student production to perform downtown [3].

Figure 1: This emblem dramatically displays LUP, Loyola University Players,’ from their 1932 production of The Royal Family of Broadway by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber [4].

In 1952, the Loyola Theatre Players, under the direction of Reverend James T. Hussey, did more than transport their theatre to the outside world; they brought the world to their productions [5]. In a much-publicized event, Father Hussey produced the Loyola Theatre Festival which brought in Hollywood and Broadway stars to perform alongside Loyola student-actors. The brightest star of the lot, Gene Raymond, had shared a stage with the likes of Humphrey Bogart and appeared in ninety-seven films but took the time in 1952 to perform in The Devil’s Discipline by George Bernard Shaw at the Loyola Community Theatre [6].

In a retreat from the slings and arrows of Hollywood fortune, Raymond “took a kitchenette apartment near Loyola University” according to the Chicago Tribune’s gossip column “Tower Ticker by Will Leonard” [7]. In his rented abode, Raymond hosted the student cast of another Loyola Theatre Festival production, The Royal Family, to a dinner he prepared himself.

Figures 2 and 3: These two programs from the 1952 Theatre Festival are the dullest in the whole Loyola theatre records archive [8].

The 1952 Theatre Festival, while charming, did not necessarily put Loyola theatre on the map. It was a spectacular event but not a legitimizing one. Students must have been a thrilled to work and play with world class actors like Raymond, but critics did not find it very amusing. Tribune columnist, Claudia Cassidy, condemned Loyola Theatre Festival’s attempt at George Bernard Shaw’s work by saying, “Frankly, it seems wiser to me and infinitely more enjoyable, to read such a play than to share in a botched-up performance.” Cassidy left after the first act of one of the program’s performances complaining that the star, Dennis King, did not have a suitably aquiline nose for the part—yes, literally, his nose—adding that Shaw was “quite simply not for amateurs [9].”

There is no word that could cut as deeply into the heart of Loyola’s burgeoning theatre than that—amateurs. After roping in a handful of professional actors including Hollywood stars, Loyola was still being relegated to the kid’s table in Chicago’s theatre scene.

The Curtain Guild, Loyola’s student led theatre group, dealt with the same criticism. A Loyola News review from 1965 gave their “Six Characters in Search of an Author” by Luigi Pirandello a harsh critique once again alluding to the lack of quality in acting [10]. Later that school year, an editorial in the Loyola News recommended the Curtain Guild include a “company of professional actors” to increase audience attendance at performances [11].

Figure 4: This program cover is from the 1965 production of Luigi Pirandello’s Six Character in Search of an Author.

            Loyola University responded to that criticism in 1968 by creating a professional training program, the Loyola Theatre Department [12]. The first theatre majors were in the same generation of actors as the Illinois State University grads who started Steppenwolf Theatre at the North Shore Unitarian Church [13]. In fact, in 1974 when Steppenwolf staged its first production, Loyola theatre majors boasted Chicago theatre credits at popular venues like the Athenaeum, Court Theatre, and a handful of other Chicago venues [14]. The theatre department, under the direction of Arthur W. Bloom, merged with the Chicago theatre scene at the most exciting time in Chicago theatre history. The department’s inaugural theatre majors took advantage of the fortune of their era and cast off the amateur designation.

Figure 5: Here are a selection of programs from the early seventies during the first few years of the official Loyola Theatre Department [15].

Dr. Arthur Bloom chaired the Theatre Department during the zenith of the Chicago storefront theatre age in the early 1980’s. He worked to secure internships at Organic and St. Nicholas Theatre which both produced acclaimed world premieres of Pulitzer Prize winner David Mamet [16]. Under his leadership, the Theatre in Chicago class brought students across the city to see an array of productions from the Lyric Opera’s Macbeth to Steppenwolf’s Of Mice and Men [17]. Bloom prioritized students’ engagement with the Chicago theatre community.

Today, the results of the parallel trajectory of Loyola Theatre and the Chicago theatre scene are visible around the city and the country. Theatre alumnus Osh Ghanimah founded the non-profit, Broadway for All, whose mission is to “train young artists from all income levels and all ethnic backgrounds in a world-class conservatory–led by professionals from the Broadway, television, and film industries [18].” That mission surpasses the scope of the Loyola’s theatre leaders and pursues a goal of social progress, but the ambitious spirit is the same: Loyola’s theatre has fought to make itself an integral part of the greater community and the theatre world.

Figure 6: This blog has been constructed using the Loyola University Theatre Records with a specific emphasis on past theatre production programs. In this bizarre excerpt from a production of Arsenic and Old Lace in 1973, this student is either trying to say they are a werewolf or a vampire [19].

-Anthony Stamilio

What Makes a Women’s Movement? Thoughts on a Women’s History Roundtable

On October 17th, Professor Alice Weinreb of the Loyola University History Department led an excellent roundtable on women’s history research at the Crown Center on Loyola University’s Lakeshore Campus. Professors Tanya Stabler and Elizabeth Fraterrigo and PhD candidate Ruby Oram, all also of Loyola, presented on their research. The event included spirited conversation among the guests and delicious snacks from the Middle East Bakery and Grocery in Andersonville. While the subjects of the research differed in era and geographic focus, each spoke to the thorny question: what constitutes a women’s movement, especially in the absence of explicitly feminist institutional structure?

After a few introductory comments from Professor Weinreb, Professor Stabler discussed her research on the Beguines, a lay order of women in medieval Paris. Inspired to works of piety and charity, these women took temporary vows and self-identified as religious, but mostly existed outside the control of canon law and a patriarchal monastic structure that often saw independent women as a threat to male leadership. Fascinating and compelling, these women were neither nuns nor “normal” women.  While much of the literature on the era focuses on official orders or notable nuns like Saint Clare of Assisi, Stabler focuses on the innovations of the Beguines while investigating them as a compelling women’s movement despite their lack of formal recognition.

PhD Candidate Ruby Oram (left) and Professor Tanya Stabler.

Next, Ruby Oram discussed her dissertation research on vocational education of young ladies in Chicago between 1880 and 1930. Much of the literature on Progressive-Era education focuses on industrial training for boys, but Oram notes that vocational training for girls preceded and even inspired similar programs for male students. Vocational education for young ladies took three forms: traditional craft skills like sewing and hat-making, white-collar labor like typing and stenography, and domestic education for modern home-making. Oram argues that Progressive reformers saw education for girls not just as an economic tool but also as a solution to social ills such as child labor, sexual delinquency, broken families, etc. Although the women spearheading these programs may not have identified as feminists or gender activists specifically, Oram sees their work as a women’s movement because women were organizing at the official level to influence law and policy.

Professor Elizabeth Fraterrigo outlined her work on the National Organization for Women in the 1960s-1980s and their work to change the culture through media, shaping and controlling representation to encourage gender equality. This program and other feminist projects like it in the era are readily identified as women’s movements partly because the 1960s was the era of movements. But this led the roundtable to also discuss whether or not anti-feminist activists, like the late Phyllis Schlafly, were part of a women’s movement as well, just one of a strikingly different nature.

Professor Elizabeth Fraterrigo.

Much of the current literature on women’s movements focuses on very structured groups of women led by “big names” like Betty Friedan or Saint Clare.  Broadening our answer to the question “what defines a women’s movement?” may help scholars and educators elevate the voices of influential but non-institutional groups of women working to improve their local communities, either as part of their own projects or within the structure of another. It may also allow us to investigate the tensions between the advantages of institutional protection and organization versus the freedom of movements with fewer structural restraints.

The next History Roundtable at the Loyola History Department will take place December 5th from 12:30-2:00pm in Crown 528. The topic will be ‘violence’, and the presenters will be Loyola Professors Gema Santamaria and Suzanne Kaufman and Loyola History PhD student Ella Wagner. According to Professor Weinreb, “this series is especially intended for grad students, particularly those who are currently writing/working through their research materials. The goal is to encourage discussion amongst faculty and grad students to tease out theoretical or conceptual categories that are relevant to many of us here at Loyola. Grad students – see this as an opportunity to hear from and talk about your work with faculty and other grad students whom you might otherwise not engage with! Come to pose questions about your work, or to hear other people discuss their ideas and struggles.”

Snacks will again be provided. We at the Lakefront Historian highly encourage you to attend.

[Photographs courtesy of David Hays.]

Chicago’s Innovative Sisters of Theater: A Reflection on the Mundelein College Drama Department

Chicago has made a name for itself in live theater and the performing arts, as a hub for off-broadway plays, epicenter of the Little Theater Movement, and with students from its improv comedy schools ascending to fame on Saturday Night Live. But with all the ink spent on Chicago theater, very little has splashed for the rich history of college drama departments in the Windy City. These institutions have not only trained up many of America’s stars of stage and screen, but also feed into the important local arts and multimedia production sectors, raising up the next generation of high school drama coaches and local television producers. We can see an amazing example of such an institution in the drama department at Mundelein College, which lasted from 1930 to 1991 as one of the first – and also the last – private Catholic women’s colleges in Illinois. Far from an insular, strictly academic program, the theater department at Mundelein College shone brightly as both very communal and highly innovative.

A still from a performance of Twelfth Night taken from the Chicago Tribune

While Mundelein College was named for Cardinal George Mundelein, the funding, planning, and administration of the school came from the dedicated Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the BVMs, led by the school’s first president Sister Mary Justitia Coffey. They chose a modern design, with the school primarily comprised of a tall skyscraper adjacent to Loyola University in Rogers Park so the two schools could share lecturers and access to the Red Line Train stop. (The Mundelein building primarily serves as classrooms for Loyola University today.)

Early photo of Mundelein Skyscraper, built 1930

The building featured excellent theater space according to a 1932 pamphlett: “The entire eighth floor of the college building is devoted to drama and art. At one end of the broad corridor which leads from the elevators is the Little Theatre. Complete in its equipment, the stage furnishes an excellent workshop for the drama student.” The floor also included studios “for private instruction”, ventilation, mirrors, “other necessary equipment”, and a club room with “modernistic furniture and attractive window hangings”. The Little Theatre was sufficient for smaller productions, including one-act plays, student-written scripts, and events like teas and revues. For larger productions, the young thespians worked their magic in the large auditorium on the ground floor of the skyscraper campus. It offered patrons of the arts 925 floor seats and 325 balcony seats. “Beautiful in its simplicity,” one pamphlet reads, “it carries out the architecture of the rest of the college in the long lines of its mural decorations and in the immense chandeliers which epitomize the structure of the building… The stage has the distinction of having the first successfully-operated electrical rigging in this country.”

The Little Theater at Mundelein

In addition to its modern construction, the auditorium, in the words of alumni and Academy Award-winning actress Mercedes McCambridge, possessed strange aural properties:

When empty the auditorium at Mundelein College was acoustically quite unsound… When it was full of people, the acoustics were great. But in the emptiness there was booming and echo… a perfect place for me to work on my voice… I literally learned to play my instrument by ear. The reverberations that hit back at me from the walls and the deep hole of the balcony let me know that nasal tones are scarcely ever effective, that each word deserves its completeness or it is received as garbled garbage…

Sister Mary Leola Oliver served as the department’s first director from 1930-1938, and began the program’s long history of innovation. She not only produced an impressive array of productions ranging from Shakespeare to the tragicomedies of Henri Gheon, but also organized her students into a verse-speaking choir, a new concept from Europe where combinations of light and dark voices performed texts in half-spoken, half-sung arrangements. The program proved so successful that Sister Leola won her choir a 5-year radio contract with NBC, exposing Mundelein Drama to millions of listeners and giving students like Mercedes McCambridge a jump-start to their acting careers. The much-loved Sister Leola counted famous thespians – including Ethel Barrymore and Claude Rains – among her friends, leading to exciting guest speakers for her students.

Photo of Sister Leola and her most famous pupil after Mercedes McCambridge won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in All the King’s Men, 1949.

From 1938 to 1960, Sister Carmelia Hanses directed the department, which contained both the drama and speech programs at Mundelein. Sister Carmelia innovated by using theater to treat speech disorders, much as Viola Spolin created improv theater (also in Chicago) to help children develop socialization skills through play. Under Sister Carmelia’s leadership, the Mundelein students coached a theater program for the children of Chicago, and many went on to work in the field of speech pathology.

A Mundelein student leading a speech clinic for children.

Although Sister Carmelia technically directed the program until 1960, the real director of the drama portion of the program from 1952 to 1980 was Sister Jeanelle Bergen, who prolifically produced three major plays a year in addition to smaller reviews and mosaics written by her students. Sister Jeanelle, while still incorporating the classics, also introduced her students to post-modern theater and plays with controversial topics, such as her 1968 production of Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste of Honey which tackles subjects including alcoholism, racism, and homosexuality.

But perhaps Sister Jeanelle’s most innovative contribution to the program was her commitment to preparing her students for the television age. Despite a dearth of equipment, she arranged classes on television production, created local television programs related to the Catholic church, and even took a summer internship at a game show so she could learn the tricks of the trade to teach her students. Once an executive hoping to score complimentary tickets called her “Jeanie Baby” on the phone, shocked to find on his arrival that “Jeanie Baby” was a nun in full habit, holding a clipboard while helping film “The Match Game”.

Sister Jeanelle learning the ropes of television production while interning at a game show.

Much work remains for cultural historians in studying both the Mundelein College Drama Department and the history of Chicago academic theater departments generally. Scholars should particularly consider the outcomes of these programs for women seeking careers in fields such as drama pedagogy, performance, television production, and speech therapy. For those of you interested in the Mundelein College Drama Department, please reach out to me at mamyx@luc.edu and I will send you my entire paper on the subject, or visit the Women and Leadership Archives at Loyola University and ask to see the Mundelein Drama Department files. (Ask nicely, and maybe they’ll show you Mercedes McCambridge’s Academy Award.)