Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Mount of the future, 1930

CAME ACROSS a cute story in Lightning 1930, the yearbook of St. Mary's Academy, on whose campus the College met between 1925 and March, 1930.

A short story called "Can This Be Saint Mary's?" by Vivian Hainley '30 describes a classroom scene in which the instructor, Sister Agatha, notices two of her students are missing. She promptly picks up her Visiscope, which the author explains is a phone-telescope combo. She spots the truants chatting away under a palm tree. They're summoned to class.

Next, our tech-savvy Sister hands out a demerit to a student who was caught talking by the Merit Monitor, the "hall machine [that] records everything." You see, the author advises, "Saint Mary's now has complete modern equipment." And wow, are they ever strict.

Finally, Sister lights into poor Mary for being late to class again. The student earns knowing smirks from her classmates. How many times have they heard this?

"My plane wouldn't start," Mary tells Sister. The campus, we're told, quickly filled with small planes every morning as students arrived.

Can this be St. Mary's? Yes, writes the author, in 1950. To Vivian Hainley, this is what the bright future was going to look like in just 20 years -- all-seeing monitoring devices, videophones, and a truly modern solution to traffic jams.

If Vivian could have seen ahead 75 years she'd be almost right -- except for the traffic solution. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word "gridlock" didn't show up until 1980. We're still waiting for our airplanes, but I don't think Vivian would be surprised by video chat on a hand-held -- do you?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

First draft of history - digital edition

ONE OF THE MOST VALUABLE COLLECTIONS in the Mount Archives is the run of campus newspapers, starting with Inter-Nos in 1927 (typewriter to mimeograph), and running more or less continuously through The View 1945-1992 (ink on newsprint), The New View 1993-1995 (same), The Oracle, 1995-2007 (newsprint, then color photocopied) and now (deep breath) ...

... The Oracle on the internet.

The digital Oracle debuted last week and can be viewed at It's nice looking, full of articles and images, easy to navigate, and entirely virtual. How does a format like that fit into 65 years of print copies in the archives? How do I preserve it?

This lone arranger cannot/should not/will not do digital archiving. (If you want to know why, you'll have to sign up for the 15-week graduate class I teach each semester at San Jose State University.) Suffice it to say, I will probably end up trying to print it out screen by screen.

I pointed my one preservation "tool," Acrobat Distiller, at the Oracle website and ended up with 67 fragmented and duplicative pages. (It could be worse--I did the same with the MSMC online catalog and ended up with over 1,200 before my computer crashed.)

Newspapers are the historian's lifeblood; just this week I had a visiting postdoc in from Rutgers going through all the old newspapers and yearbooks of the Mount. I am honor-bound to capture Mount journalism for the archives. But here's the great conundrum: Even as technology makes it easier and less expensive to publish a campus newspaper, the same technology dooms it to oblivion if left alone.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Fr. Joseph Anthony Vaughan, S.J.

EVERY COLLEGE, IT SEEMS, is blessed with certain families that give freely of themselves generation after generation. At the Mount, the Vaughan family is one of those.

It was announced this week that the 2011 Commencement speaker will be the renowned Sister Judy Vaughan '68, CSJ, founder of Alexandria House, a transitional residence for women and children in need. Sister's blood sister is the also-renowned Sister Kieran Vaughan '64, CSJ, of our education faculty. Their parents, J. Robert and Margaret Vaughan, were long-time supporters of the College and recipients in 2005 of the Carondelet Medal.

I've encountered another Vaughan in the College Archives: Father Joseph Vaughan, a Jesuit who served as Mount chaplain and chair of the philosophy department for many years beginning in the early 1930s. Father, it turns out, was the great-uncle of Sisters Kieran and Judy, and a legend in his own right.

Most of what I know about him I've gleaned from a Los Angeles Times column written many years ago, and stories from a couple of the older CSJs who knew him back in the day. With doctorates in economics and philosophy his academic credentials were superb, and in addition to Greek and Latin he was fluent in Spanish and French. He studied and taught on two continents. His services as a labor negotiator were much sought after. He set up the first radio station at the Vatican. Nothing but a stellar scholar would do for the new College in Brentwood Heights.

According to the Sisters, though, Father Vaughan arrived at the Mount in something of an emergency. The original road climbing to the Chalon Campus was reputedly so treacherous (it collapsed altogether during construction in 1930) that the Archdiocese of Los Angeles forbade any of its priests from making the drive. That left the Mount without access to the sacraments, so in stepped the Jesuits from Loyola University -- one of them being Father Vaughan. Not only did he brave the winding, slippery dirt road above Sunset Boulevard, he helpfully leaned on the horn of his Model A Ford as he shot past Brady Hall to make sure the students would be wide awake for the 7 a.m. daily Mass.

He founded the Mary's Day tradition, drilled two generations of Mount students in the finer points of philosophy, celebrated their liturgies, spoke at their Commencements, comforted them through the trials of higher education. He was lenient and exacting, funny and scholarly, and very, very smart.

In a Feb. 10, 1975, essay, Zan Thompson, the Los Angeles Times columnist and an alumna of the Class of 1940, immortalized her former teacher and old friend Father Vaughan, who died in 1961, in a hilarious reminiscence about his gifts. She concluded,
How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? Oh, lots of us, honey. And see that one over there leading the Irish round? That's the boyo himself, Father Joseph Anthony Vaughan, who loved corned beef, conversation, and teaching a gawky girl at Mount St. Mary's to lift her eyes unto the hills.
Eight decades of Vaughans at MSMC... now that's a legacy.