Thursday, October 27, 2016

Those fashionable nurses

A Mount student in the complete nursing ensemble leads
the Class of 1955 from their Capping Ceremony in Mary Chapel.
Bicycling midwives in their smart
East End nursing uniforms.
FANS OF THE BRITISH SERIES Call the Midwife love the nurses' immaculate light-blue uniforms with maroon caps, matching sweaters, and a jaunty a secret-agent-style gray trench coat.

That era, the late 1950s and early 1960s, must have been the Golden Age of nursing fashion, because Mount students in the same decade had their own unique outfits – a crisp grey shirtwaist dress with thin white stripes, covered by a starchy white pinafore and topped off by the official MSMC nurses' cap, presented during the annual capping ceremony at Commencement time.

Collar detail of the Mount nurse's cape.
But the most wonderful part, the pièce de résistance, had to be the dashing thigh-length navy cape with bright red lining.

These were made of a heavy wool (think Navy peacoat) and had a standup collar with M.S.M.C. embroidered in shiny gold.  A chain at the back allowed it to be hung on a hook without damaging the fabric.

Unlike the midwives of Nonnatus House, Mount nurses probably never made their speedy rounds on bicycles in their capes, and if they had they would have roasted in the heavy wool. But what an impressive sight they would have made!

Thanks to Alanna Madrid '15 in the Alumnae Relations Office, we recently acquired for the Archives a cape in perfect condition that was worn by a member of the Class of 1953 -- only the second baccalaureate nursing class in California history. Another alumna donated her dress, pinafore and cap several years ago, so we now have the complete ensemble from the first years of MSMU's nursing department. Stop by for a visit – there's more to archives than papers and photos!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Word of the Day: replevin

Publicity shot of Grace Mathews Scherrer in the early 1950s. 
WE HOPE YOU DON'T MIND the cheesecake photograph, but we are illustrating a situation in which archivists find themselves from time to time.

The 8" by 10" black and white glossy turned up in a large cardboard box filled with similar photos, playbills, clippings, postcards and even a box of professional-size flash bulbs. 

The box itself has been stored for years in a shed behind St. Joseph Hall on the Chalon Campus. Dr. Jennifer Chotiner, chair of the biological sciences faculty, was cleaning out the shed and found the box. Why was it stored with science department stuff? What is its connection to the Mount? 

Answers are: (1) Don't Know and (2) No Idea.

Quite a bit of stuff (archival term) comes through here that is initially hard to identify. But fairly quickly we can search our digitized publications for names and dates and come up with an MSMU connection. If that doesn't work, we contact the Provincial Archives at Carondelet Center and see if the name shows up in the CSJs' database of current and former Sisters.

This stuff eluded us. Our assistant archivist Nancy Steinmann spent some time going through the contents of the box and was able to establish a few things about the family. We then had a better idea of who this stuff belonged to and could start a search for current family members.

But we still had no idea how it ended up in storage here. 

The beautiful young lady above is Grace Matthews Scherrer, a half-Filipina actress and dancer who enjoyed a movie career in the 1950s, playing one of Yul Brynner's wives in "The King and I." She also worked as a dancer and cigarette girl in Las Vegas in the 1950s.

Grace, center, with fellow troupers. She traveled
with the 'China Doll Revue' for 6 months.
Her Filipina mother was Trinidad “Trina” Escoda Gardner Matthews, evidently a beauty in her own right. Trina was a prisoner of the Japanese during World War II and later married James Matthews, Jr., a U.S. Army photographer. They had five kids, including Grace. Following in Dad's footsteps was Grace's brother Billy – which explains the flash bulbs.

Amid the clippings in the box is the interesting fact that Trina and Grace set a cultural record of sorts by both being chosen as "Queen for a Day" within a week of each other. (This popular game show was the model for later big-prize giveaway programs.)

The box had many other bits and pieces of memorabilia that enabled Nancy to compile a list of a couple dozen friends, relatives and others who came in and out of Grace's and her family's lives. 

But what's the connection to the Mount? We're getting close – literally. Fortunately, we've been able to make contact with a representative of the Scherrer family who tells us that Grace herself, at 83, is alive and well and living right down the hill on Grace (!) Lane across the street from Carondelet Center. Doris Tan is picking up the box tomorrow to restore it to the family, and maybe then we'll find out how it ended up in the hands of Dr. Chotiner.

Oh – the Word of the Day, replevin.  This is a French legal and archival term adopted into English, and it basically means to return something to its rightful owner. Archives occasionally end up with family records, church registries, and so on that are transferred at some point but are considered alienated (another archival term) just a generation or two later because no one remembers why they were moved.  

This is a replevin story with a happy ending. If we hadn't heard back from Doris Tan, our next stop was going to be the L.A. Chapter of the Filipino American Historical Society. But this wonderful scrapbook-in-a-box is going home.
The Stardust Hotel in Las Vegas where Grace worked in the 1950s.


July 25, 2016

WE WROTE THE FOREGOING a month ago, and since then the box has been replevin'd to Grace Matthews Scherrer. We just returned from lunch in Brentwood with her and her son, John.

The family didn't know of the box's existence, but when they got a chance to explore the contents, Grace concluded it had belonged to Grace's mother, Trinidad. She realized that a particular album of photos taken decades ago in the Philippines was missing, leading Grace to conclude that there has to be another box. No second box has [yet] presented itself, and Grace was as mystified as we are about the circumstances that brought the box to the Mount. The mystery continues.

One mystery is solved, though, the eponymous Grace Lane, 90049. A savvy real estate investory, Grace purchased 11 acres below Chalon Road and subdivided them in the late 1970s. She named the street for herself. 

Grace Scherrer is worthy of having a street named after her. Her life adventures would make a book. The box gave us a chance to get to know her a little, and meeting her in person left us astonished -- Amazing Grace, as I'm starting to think of her. 

And it all started with the unannounced arrival of a plain cardboard box.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Breaking another barrier

Mrs. Betty Smith Williams of the nursing faculty takes a
phone call with colleagues Sister Albert Mary, Miss Eloise
King, and Sister John Bernard, in 1959 or 1960.

SKIMMING THROUGH THE 1957 YEARBOOK, we noticed that among the 10 smiling members of the Nursing Department faculty was an African-American woman identified as Mrs. Betty Williams. We wondered whether that was unusual -- how many faculties at California colleges and universities had black faculty in those days?

It didn't take Google long to produce an answer: Our Betty Smith Williams was the first black professor in California -- male or female, in any subject, anywhere in higher education. It says so right here.

Betty Williams, center, with nursing colleagues Marjorie
Cogan and Sister Richard Joseph in 1958. 

Should we be surprised? After all, the Mount graduated a young African-American woman, Vivian Burgess '52, from its first-in-California bachelor's in nursing program. The brilliant Sister who made that happen, Rebecca Doan, CSJ, was still chair of Nursing in the fall of 1956 when Betty Williams broke the color barrier and joined the faculty.

Williams herself had already broken that same  barrier when she became the first African-American to earn a master's in nursing at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio in 1954.

She taught at the Mount for 13 years, moving to the faculty at UCLA and many more firsts. You can read about them here:

Now 82, Dr. Betty Smith Williams remains actively engaged in issues of ethnic and racial diversity in nursing and nursing education, and continues to speak to the importance of cultural competency among nursing professionals.

In 2010, she received the prestigious designation Living Legend of the American Academy of Nursing, the second member of the Mount community to reach that pinnacle after Sister Callista Roy, CSJ (2007).

Dr. Williams' amazing academic career got its start because our {Unstoppable} founding Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet weren't afraid to be bold -- nor were they interested in holding to the conventions of the day.

To the women and men of the Class of 2016 who will soon receive their diplomas, congratulations! In the footsteps of Sister Rebecca, Vivian Burgess, Dr. Williams and all the other remarkable people of the Mount who have gone before you, be {Unstoppable}. Be a first.

Betty Williams, seated at the end of the table, joins the rest of the
nursing faculty in a humorous moment during a meeting, 1956-1957.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

385 Years of Service

One of our favorite photos in the MSMU Archives: Sister Regina Clare
receiving her PhD in Education in 1972, which turned out to be USC's 100th in
that department. She was dean of graduate and undergraduate programs
at the time based at the newly renamed Doheny Campus. She is celebrating
seven decades as a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet.

SIX OF THE MOUNT'S SISTERS are celebrating Jubilees this week during the festivities surrounding the feast of the CSJs' patron, St. Joseph. Together, they've given an astounding 385 years of their lives to the CSJ mission: to do all of which woman is capable (in the words of their guiding light, Father Jean Pierre Medaille, S.J.) in serving the dear neighbor.

Three hundred and eighty-five years: That is an average of  64.16666667 years apiece. That number is skewed upward a bit by the tremendous vocation of Sister Constance Fitzgerald, 102, celebrating 85 years as a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet. 

Many of these Sisters' vocations were lived out at Mount Saint Mary's University. Three of the six are alumnae, and all of them taught and/or performed administrative duties. Many had second and third careers after the Mount; as long as there were works of mercy to be done in the world, they were there to do them, continuing to help even in retirement.
  • Sister Judy Diaz Molosky, 50 years - Founded the Center for Urban Partnership on the Doheny Campus, coordinating service learning activities for MSMU students at downtown social service organizations. Mount alumna with B.A. in Mathematics.
  • Sister Sandra Williams, 50 years - Current Mount Trustee and member of the CSJ Leadership Team. She is a Mount alumna with a B.A. in Spanish.
  • Sister Joan Henehan, 60 years - Former Mount Trustee, formerly chair of the Religious Studies faculty, associate director of the Spiritual Life Program on the Doheny Campus. Mount alumna. 
  • Sister Cecile Therese Beresford, 70 years - Chair of the Home Economics faculty at MSMU and former member of the CSJ Congregation Leadership in St. Louis.
  • Sister Regina Clare Salazar, 70 years - Member of the Education Faculty at MSMU and founder of the Mount’s first evening and weekend program at Chester Place in the 1950s. Became one of the early administrators of the new Doheny Campus starting in the 1960s. After MSMU became President and CEO of Daniel Freeman Hospital and now oversees the care of retired Sisters at Carondelet Center.
  • Sister Mary Constance Fitzgerald, 85 years - Longtime Doheny Campus resident and an alumna of Mount Saint Mary’s. She taught creative writing and child development during summer sessions at MSMU and volunteered in the Learning Resource Center. 

We've put some pictures up on Facebook showing recent pictures of the Jubilarians along with some from yesteryear:
Posted by Mount Saint Mary's University Archives on Wednesday, March 16, 2016 
Sister Constance Fitzgerald shown tutoring a student at Doheny in 1999 when she was
 a mere 85 years old. Now 102, she is celebrating 85 years of service as a CSJ.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

MSMU's superstar scientist - an update

Sr. Mary Gerald Leahy, CSJ, in her laboratory on a postdoctoral
 fellowship at Harvard University in 1967.
Editor's note: Recent global concerns over the massive outbreaks of the Zika virus in Latin America and elsewhere -- and its tragic outcome, thousands of newborns suffering from microencephaly -- remind us of the seminal research by Sr. Mary Gerald Leahy, CSJ, whose work in the 1960s and 1970s focused on interfering with the reproductive cycle of the deadly Aedes aegypti mosquito.  
A. aegypti, called the deadliest animal in the world, is behind the current zika outbreak. The mosquitoes' reproductive cycle is again the focus of intense research, this time through genetic manipulation to kill the insect before it is old enough to reproduce. It's the latest version with modern tools of the approach taken by Sr. Gerald.
For those interested in her work, list of some of her publications appears below. Visit the University Archives at Chalon for further information or to read the articles.
ONE OF THE VERY BEST PHOTOS in the College Archives is this one, a beautifully composed and lighted print in black and white, which is just the right medium for its subject -- a nun in the traditional religious habit of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and a serious-looking microscope.

This isn't just any nun, however. This is the brilliant Sister Mary Gerald Leahy, CSJ, of the biology faculty of Mount St. Mary's College from the 1940s through the early 1980s. More than a professor, she was a world-renowned researcher whose work with insect reproduction took her from Africa to Asia to Eastern Europe. Governments from Canberra to Kenya sought her help in pursuit of a way to halt the spread of deadly mosquito- and tick-borne diseases.

We got to spend the day with her papers and scientific journal articles in the University Archives, writing up a "finding aid" that describes the contents of what we hold on the Chalon Campus. (If you're on campus and can get into the MSMU intranet, you can read the finding aid here, or contact us through the University Archives website.)

There's more to say about Sister Mary Gerald than will fit in a blog, but there are a couple of things worth sharing.  One was her commitment to research.

Later in her life, she recalled what was impressed on her while earning her doctorate at Notre Dame University: that Catholic higher education had a profound responsibility to foster science and research.

She determined to return to the Mount and bring her undergraduate students into the research experience. She did so by creating "special problems" courses at Chalon that enabled young women to take part in her work, which was  funded by the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation and World Health Organization.  That commitment to research continues today at the Mount.

The other thing we couldn't help but notice was Sister Mary Gerald's high level of achievement in an era when scientific careers for women were few and far between. But in that career she was also fulfilling the CSJ charism. As the primitive constitution states, members of the order are "to perform all the spiritual and corporal works of mercy of which woman is capable."

Well, this woman religious just happened to be a brilliant scientist. And surely preventing the spread of terrible scourges like zika, yellow or hemorrhagic fevers fits the category of corporal work of mercy. In this Year of Mercy, it is a reminder of the many ways of love for the "dear neighbor" without distinction.

List of articles archived at MSMU:

1. Leahy, M. G., & Craig, G. B. (1967, March 30). "Barriers to Hybridization Between Aedes Aegypti and Aedes Albopictus (Diptera: Culicidae)." Evolution, 21(1), 41-58.
2. Leahy, M. G. (1967, August). "Non-Specificity of the Male Factor Enhancing Egg-Laying in Diptera." Journal of Insect Physiology, 13(8), 1283-1292.
3. Leahy, M. G., & Craig, Jr., G. B. (1965, December). "Accessory Gland Substance as a Stimulant for Oviposition in Aedes Aegypti and A. Albopictus." Mosquito News, 25(4).
4. Leahy, M. G., & Lowe, M. L. (1967, January 15). "Purification of the Male Factor Increasing Egg Deposition in D. Melanogaster." Life Sciences, 6(2), 151-156.
5. Spielman, A., Leahy, M., & Skaff, V. (1967, June). "Seminal Loss in Repeatedly Mated Female Aedes Aegypti." Biological Bulletin, 132(3), 404-412.

More on Sr. Gerald Leahy at MSMU:

"Cue the swarming insects" -
"The rattlesnake, our 'dear neighbor'" -

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Deluges past

The Mount under construction in 1930 or 1931. Much of the work on the building
coincided with an El Niño condition and lots of rain.
AS WE ADMIRE THE RAIN cascading onto the Chalon Campus, we find ourselves wondering about the El Niños (Los Niños?) of the olden days, and we recall reading about some problems in the early 1930s when the new college campus was under construction.

Although the groundbreaking was held during Commencement on June 16, 1929 (a day that began with a downpour), work on the foundation of the new campus' first and only building didn't get going until late in the year and early in 1930. According to the El-Niñ website, 1930-1931 was an El Niño year. That meant trouble.

Here's how Sister Germaine McNeil describes what happened next in her 1986 book, History of Mount St. Mary's College, Los Angeles, 1925-1975:
When the excavation for the piers of the foundation got underway, it was discovered that they would have to be much deeper than first estimated to reach solid bedrock. Then, when rains seeped into the exposed Monterey Shale of the soil, several landslides occurred. (p. 9)
Further investigation revealed that the cost of construction had more than doubled, but the superintending architect, I. E. Loveless, refused to halt construction. The provincial leadership of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet had no alternative but to fire him, and the brought in the original campus architect, Mark Daniels, to finish the job.

Daniels could not have been surprised. He had earlier warned in an essay in The Tidings of potential problems with the steep hillside and "soils." His revision of the plans entailed shifting the main load-bearing part of the structure several feet to the east, i.e., further up and into the hill. Since part of the building was already in place, Daniels had to incorporate some existing walls. The result of this alteration is clearly manifest in the long corridor between the cafeteria and bookstore entrance on the ground floor of Brady Hall.The width of the hallway is the precise distance Daniels had to move the foundation.

Construction continued as planned, and faculty and students were able to move into the finished campus in mid-April, 1931. But El Niño was still making its presence felt.The college's first concert was scheduled for a Sunday a couple of weeks after the move. The venerable journal of Sister Dolorosa Mannix, CSJ, picks up the story in McNeil's book:
Invitations for the recital were sent out and all was in readiness. On the preceding night rain fell in torrents, washing watery streams of clay across the normally good shale road. The road was not paved. We had no money for paving... Later, Mrs. E. L. Doheny's generosity helped pave the road. (15)
The dedicated concertgoers made their way up the treacherously slick road anyway -- only one accident is recorded -- and the performance went on.

But that wasn't quite all the 1930-31 El Niño had up its (his?) sleeve.

Once, more, Sister Dolorosa:
About a month after the opening of the college, several of us noticed in the night a faint sound as of grains of sand blown against the window by a windstorm. ... No one seemed to have paid much attention until, rising at 5 the next morning and drawing back our curtains, we found the tiles white with snow and the ground a wonderful white sheet. It was 3 inches deep and lasted for several days. (14)
Never a dull moment during an El Niño, even if it just seems like more rain than usual. Will Mount students at Chalon or Doheny be treated to snow this coming May? We can cross our fingers and hope. And we're pretty sure that students in the 2015-16 El Niño won't be too different from their foremothers in 1930-1931:
Great excitement reigned. Some of the girls had never seen snow at close range, so classes were deferred for an hour after [shuttle] arrival, while students climbed the hill ... to view the charming winter scene in May. Others played snowball and made a 4-foot snowman which, placed in a sheltered corner, remained with us for several days. True to life, some students, ignoring the winter sports, huddled around the radiator. (Ibid.)
Happy New Year, and here's to a safe, warm and memorable (but not too memorable) El Niño of '15-'16!