ALPHA MU GAMMA, the national college foreign-language honor society, is holding its annual convention over the next couple of days and marking its 80th anniversary. Unbeknownst to us at the Mount, the group is also honoring the founder of National Foreign Language Week, the Mount's Sister Eloise Therese Mescall, CSJ. There was an unusual instance of archives-on-deadline as I pulled together a batch of photos to send to convention organizers at L.A. City College.
Sister Eloise Therese, who joined the Mount faculty in 1948, chaired the Foreign Languages department off and on for more than a quarter century. In the "off" years she was traveling and studying in the French- and Spanish-speaking worlds, receiving a pile of honorary degrees and even a medal from the French government. Back at the Mount, she worked in the classroom and as an administrator, launching the study abroad program in the 1950s and directing the opening of the Downtown (Doheny) Campus in 1962.
She was president of Alpha Mu Gamma (headquartered at Los Angeles City College, where it remains) when she got the idea to start National Foreign Language Week. With the encouragement of educators, legislators, and even President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Alpha Mu Gamma launched the festivities in February, 1957. In the photo above, Sister is pointing to the inaugural poster, and given the expression on both their faces, she has probably told her hapless student to give an impromptu endorsement in French.
It's funny that this tidbit about Sister Eloise Therese had to come from Alpha Mu Gamma. An extensive obituary for Sister after her death in May 2001 ran in The Mount magazine. It enumerates many of Sister's accomplishments and suggests many more besides, but overlooks her National Foreign Language Week role.
The next NFLW runs March 5-11, 2012, at L.A. City College. The theme, which Sister would have appreciated, is "You're connected... Now communicate!" That's exactly what she was all about.