Thursday, December 12, 2013

'Scarcity in abundance'

The Mount website captured by the Wayback Machine
at one minute after midnight on June 1, 2005.
WE CAME ACROSS A COUPLE OF EXAMPLES recently of disappearing web content, a common problem for archivists and one that is going to leave a big hole in history. It's sometimes known as the conundrum of "scarcity in abundance," the phenomenon of overwhelming amounts of information in electronic form, very little of which is being retained, preserved and discoverable later.

A staff member recently needed access to the important "Diversity Statement" written during the first years of her presidency by Dr. Jacqueline Powers Doud, 2000-2011. It was posted on the Mount website, taken down at some point during a web update or redesign, and not archived.

In a similar case, a UCLA doctoral student recently wanted to see our "Diversity Timeline," which was also posted for many years on the MSMC website. It too was removed and not archived.

Our preservation fallback.
Thank goodness for the Internet Archive and its Wayback Machine. The computers of this nonprofit organization periodically take snapshots of websites and preserve them in a meaningful way -- they can be located and even searched up to a point, and although the pages are often incomplete or missing some content, at least some material can be found.

The Diversity Timeline shows up in snapshots in the mid-2000s forward. (MSMC home page snapshot shown at top), including the Diversity Statement. December 16, 2008, marks their final snapshot nearly five years ago. In the snapshot of January 31, 2009, the "Leadership in Diversity" pages have disappeared from the Wayback Machine.

You can see them by accessing this link, shown in its entirety:

We're lucky with this content. As the frame capture below shows, some content doesn't make it into the Wayback Machine. Another thing about Wayback is you have to know pretty much exactly what you are looking for, or have a complete link, and not count on ordinary searching.

Handing responsibility for keeping our web pages to a set of algorithms owned by a third party isn't a long-term model. Always in need of more funding, what would happen if the Internet Archive went under? We're both glad it's there, and worried that we're all starting to count on it. Unlike paper, once this stuff is gone, it's really gone.

A blank rectangle frames some white space where a photo gallery
on the MSMC home page was not captured by the web snapshot.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Missing a lion?

The birthday girl, center, with her purloined mascot. (Mount Archives)
ALL THE THANKSGIVING FOOTBALL CLASSICS last week got us thinking about sports and mascots, and the time the Loyola Lion made an unauthorized appearance at the birthday party of a Mount sophomore.

Mount memorabilia belonging to the late Margaret "Pegi" Parkinson '53, who passed away in 2012, recently came to the Archives. 

In among the letters and drama programs was this April 1951 newspaper photo showing Pegi at the center of some collegiate friends trying to pin a couple of corsages onto the mane of a life-sized lion mannequin. 

The picture accompanies a clipping from the Social Notes column of the weekly La Canada-Flintridge Ledger. It describes how 50 of her closest friends helped Peggy celebrate her birthday April 23, 1951, at a surprise party at her parents' home. The papier-mache lion, which had recently gone missing after a pep rally at Loyola, had been spotted in the back seat of Peggy's yellow convertible as she roared around Brentwood and nearby communities. At the party, the Loyola Lion was returned to his rightful owners, but as a substitute the Loyola sophomores pitched in and gave Peggy a 3-foot stuffed version.

The partygoers in the picture are identified, from left, as Ellen Farmer,  Dick Sulik, Joe Kamoda, Peggy, Frank Tarrentino and Mount student Dawnie Cobb (Dolores Cobb Berry '52). In the lion's jaws is Joan Odiorne. The three men were all sophomore members of Loyola's football squad.

Postscript: The spring of 1951 was a big year for pranks involving animal statues.  Just weeks before, a giant plaster Easter Bunny showed up in the Circle, with credit apparently due to a Loyola fraternity. Maybe the lion's disappearance was payback time? 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

'Bernadette' surfaces

Jennifer Jones as Bernadette Soubirous, 1943 
St. Bernadette hung in the
Chalon Library until 1986.
SHE GRACED A CONFERENCE ROOM in the Chalon library and was a familiar presence to Mount students for nearly 40 years. She was the subject of one of American portraitist Norman Rockwell's most famous and beloved works, and an emblem of one of the world's great pilgrimage sites -- Lourdes.

She was Jennifer Jones as Bernadette Soubirous in 1943 drama Song of Bernadette (based on the novel by Fritz Werfel)The 28- by 53-inch oil painting was Rockwell's study for the movie posters that made Jones and St. Bernadette famous. Jones won the Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal.

At some point before 1950 the portrait was donated to Mount St. Mary's College -- a spectacular addition to the still-new Charles Willard Coe Memorial Library. Although the circumstances of the donation are lost, it was a rare and wonderful gift to a small college.

Sad to say, our portrait of St. B was sold in 1986. The Mount needed funds. College treasures were located, inventoried and appraised and reluctantly placed on the auction block. A black-tie gala and silent auction was held in the Doheny Mansion on May 10 that year, and among the proceeds were $10,000 (according to oral history, anyway) for Rockwell's St. Bernadette. The buyer is said to have been a Brentwood neighbor, a gentleman who lived nearby in Mandeville Canyon.

Nothing more was heard of the painting, although we did get occasional questions from alumnae about what happened to it. It was sort of comforting to know St. B was close by.

New York Times ad for auction
This week we heard from our favorite alumna correspondent, Bev Halpin Carrigan '52, who noticed an ad in the October 18 New York Times for an auction of Rockwell's Bernadette. Bev remembers seeing the portrait in a conference room off the library entrance. Later it hung in the main staircase.

The painting is to be previewed today and tomorrow in New York City, with the auction scheduled for this Saturday, October 26. The bid estimate is $400,000 to $600,000.

So begins another chapter in Rockwell's painting of our friend St. Bernadette. We hope the eventual owner takes as much inspiration from her as the Mount community did.

Caption from MSMC auction catalog

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Department of Security, 1931

Tige, the Mount's first dog, keeping an eye on the tennis courts.
WE'RE PROUD OF OUR SECURITY OFFICERS at the Mount, who keep their watchful eyes on us and our beautiful campuses. We thought for today's blog (it being #ThrowbackThursday) we'd look back at MSMC guards in history. Today's folks, after all, are standing on the shoulders of giants.

Well, giant dogs, anyway.

When the College moved from St. Mary's Academy to the new Chalon site -- a lonely outpost on a mountaintop -- the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet decided they needed a watchdog. Thus began a long and faithful tradition that continued for more than 50 years.

The story of the first dog is too good to miss, so we are reproducing Sister M. Germaine McNeil's rendition from her History of Mount St. Mary's College, Los Angeles, 1925-1975 (New York: Vantage Press, 1985, 425).
The first and most intelligent in the long succession of Mount canines was Tige, a huge blue currier, given as a watchdog by a friend of Sister Winifred Riecker and Sister Celestine Quinn  [Music faculty -- Ed. note] soon after the college moved to its Chalon Campus in the spring of 1931.
Tige was a gentle and obedient dog, trained by his former mistress to obey commands in French and German. Sister Winifred fed him on a diet of toast and pancakes, which he quickly learned to supplement by catching quail. Sister prepared a bed for Tige in the passageway leading to the engine room [Brady basement -- Ed. note] and tucked him in nightly with an old blanket. The dog would remain until Sister left, then lope across campus trailing his blanket caught in his collar. If he thought something was being concealed from him he would open a drawer or a door-latch with his nose to satisfy his curiosity.
Tige with a friend, possibly Buzzy, who arrived
a few years after Tige and left in a hurry.
Tige was hostile to strangers but did not bite. Instead, he would firmly grasp their upper arm in his teeth and conduct them out to the road off the campus. 
The students were Tige's special friends. He chaperoned them on their hikes in the hills and accompanied them on their walks into Westwood. In this latter instance, he became an embarrassment because he would chase every motorcycle he saw. When the girls wanted to leave campus without Tige, they would lock him in the elevator [in Brady Hall -- Ed. note]. Then, of course, the dog would bark until he was released. 
Tige's coat was so thick and heavy that it was usually clipped in summer to make him more comfortable. He was so ashamed, however, of being deprived of his coat that he would hide for several days in the thick brush of the hillsides.
He faithfully attended Father Vaughan's classes in the Lecture Hall [now Brady lounge -- Ed. note], where he slept in the rear on the flat of his back with his legs up against the wall.
Sister Germaine's dog tales warrant a couple more blogs if we can locate more photos. When she finished her history in 1985, the Mount still had a four-legged security team -- although the two-legged variety had supplemented the department for decades. We'll tell you about the last two, Zac & Zelda, in a future post.

Thanks to all our Security team members for their hard work and keeping up a venerable tradition.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Remembering Joella

According to the 1950 yearbook, Joella played so many different
instruments, she amounted to a "one-girl orchestra."
NEWS OF THE DEATH of Joella Hardemann Gipson-Simpson '50 on January 31, 2012, in Windsor, Ontario, somehow bypassed the Mount Community. The Mount's first African-American graduate was such a remarkable woman that her passing warrants a mention even a year and a half later. Joella's career in education and service is way too extensive to cover in a little blog, but there is a complete obituary in the Windsor Star, and it reveals a woman who put enough into life for three or four people. Here are a few highlights.

Joella Hardeman '50
Nicknamed "Joey," Joella graduated from the Mount in 1950 with a bachelor's degree in instrumental music and minors in philosophy and English. Like many of her fellow Mounties she was active in campus clubs and service organizations. She earned a full scholarship to pursue a master's degree in music at the University of Iowa, which he completed in 1951.

At some point, though, her attention turned to math, and she went on to earn a PhD in Mathematics Education, becoming one of the first African-American women in the country to earn a math doctorate.

Her distinguished career in higher education took her to universities from Mississippi to Africa to Nicaragua, and even included a stint as a math teacher in L.A. Unified School District. 

She attained a full professorship at Wayne State, which she joined in the early 1970s, going on to educate generations of math teachers. Her studies in numerous STEM education issues were funded by the National Science Foundation and U.S. Department of Education grants, and she was twice a Fulbright scholar.  

A lifelong, devout Catholic, she lived the social justice values she learned at the Mount and in her family, throughout her life supporting innumerable charities, service organizations and schools -- including the Mount. In August, 1995, on the 45th anniversary of her graduation, the Mount held a daylong gala in her honor,  and the California Assembly and Los Angeles City Council both honored her life of work and service. 

In 1990, the Mount named her Alumna of the Year. (A sketch of her incredible career is in our online repository.) What a privilege to call Joella Hardeman Gipson-Simpson one of our own.

Joella and members of the Mount Orchestra in 1949-50, her senior year.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Movie stars among us

Prof. Picerni emcees a fund raiser.
From 1951 Mount yearbook.
WE FIELDED AN INTERESTING research request from an alumna the other day. Is there any evidence that a Sister of St. Joseph on the Mount faculty was a good friend of a particular Italian-Cuban-American entertainer in the 1960s?

Alas, the archives turned up nothing on the gentleman in question (we have to be mysterious here because of confidentiality issues). But as we were poking around the archives, we found a future movie star, right there on the Mount faculty.

Paul Picerni was a decorated World War II Army Air Corps veteran and recent graduate of Loyola University when the Mount hired him in 1949 to teach speech and drama. In addition to producing and writing plays -- his musical "Everybody Goes to College" was staged with Mount and Loyola students in 1949 -- he continued to audition for film roles. He started hitting it big with parts in "Twelve O'Clock High" in 1949 and "Breakthrough" in 1950.

Paul Picerni shows up on page 16 of
the 1950 Mount yearbook (upper right).
Picerni continued to teach as his career picked up speed -- nine pictures in 1950 alone -- and even after he left the faculty he continued to emcee Mount events well into the 1950s.

Picerni went on to a long, productive career, with 200 film credits and 455 TV episodes to his name, including a long run on TV's "Untouchables." A devout Catholic, he and his wife raised eight kids in Tarzana, and he still managed to find time to emcee halftime for the NFL Football Rams for 30 years. He passed away in 2011.

Over the years, siblings and daughters of Hollywood denizens came to the Mount to study. And movie stars, especially Catholic movie stars, were were among the Mount's most generous supporters.

When the Mount held a major fund raising gala in 1964 for a new Fine Arts Building after the 1961 Bel Air Fire, stars like Jose Ferrer, Rosemary Clooney, Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin, Bobby Darrin, Sandra Dee, Lucille Ball, and Bob Hope purchased tickets, and the honorary event committee included Ralph Bellamy, Bing Crosby, Jimmy Durante, Irene Dunne, and the wife of the late Clark Gable.

Yes, indeed, the CSJs had some very good friends in Hollywood.

Mount St. Mary's College and Loyola University students in the 1949
production of "Everybody Goes to College"  at the Wilshire-Ebell Theater,
written and directed by faculty member Paul Picerni. (Mount Archives photo.)

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Digital Spearman

A page from the Frank Spearman website.
WE'RE THE FIRST TO ADMIT that the name Frank H. Spearman didn't ring a bell when we showed up for work our first day on the job in the Mount St. Mary's College Archives in 2008. Since the archives room is named after the guy, we figured we'd find out sooner or later.

So it is beyond gratifying to see what our Digital Humanitarians have accomplished with just three boxes of archives material and a shelf or two of novels by western author Frank Hamilton Spearman. There is a website devoted to Spearman and his legendary hero Whispering Smith, Twitter feeds at #FrankSpearman, #WhisperingSmith,  a Facebook page, annotated online analyses of the novel and information about more than 50 years of film and television treatment of the hard-ridin', railroadin' champion of Spearman's most successful novel.

We've never quite gotten around to explaining Spearman's relationship to the Mount. A businessman as well as a prominent author of Western-themed short stories and novels, Spearman moved to Hollywood in the early 20th Century ("Whispering Smith" was produced several times as a motion picture, both silent and talkie). He was a convert to Catholicism after his marriage to Eugenie Lonergan and took on religious and moral subjects for the Catholic magazines of the 1920s and 1930s. As a well-known Catholic writer and intellectual, he was a regular sight around Mount St. Mary's College, giving the occasional lecture and being interviewed by the campus newspaper (which can be read in full in our online repository). Spearman passed away in 1937.

One of his sons, Arthur Dunning Spearman, became a Jesuit priest and librarian at Loyola University. Father Spearman was also a well-known presence at the Mount, conducting regular retreats and celebrating masses in the 1940s and 1950s. After his parents died, Father Spearman donated not only many of his father's books, papers and photographs to the Mount library, but also furniture, antiques and oriental rugs from "Beausoliel," their former estate in Hollywood. When the Charles Willard Coe Memorial Library was built in 1947, the first Frank Spearman Room was set aside for his archives and artifacts. It moved once or twice before settling in its current location in 1995 on the first floor of the Coe.

The Digital Humanitarians of MSMC have demonstrated the power of archives to bring an author to life -- even a comparatively unknown one -- 75 years after his death, using the amazing tools of social media. Dr. Jennifer Tran Smith's creativity and innovation in developing the Mount's first Digital Humanities course was fun to watch from the vantage point of the Spearman Room. She ran it like a business, not just a learning environment, and the results are the first-rate websites and webtools noted above.

And there was one more surprise. Whispering Smith (1906) is a really good book. It's not just another pulp Western novel, but real literature, full of neat turns of phrase, three-dimensional characters and vivid images of the empty Wyoming ranges of a century ago. Digitization makes this all possible; the book is freely available in many forms both physical and electronic, and thanks to the DigHum crew, not just a good read but a digital experience.

Friday, August 16, 2013

We are ready to party!

The MSMC Digital Humanities Team, Summer 2013:
Back Row: Dee Bakker, Lauren Lees, and Dr. Jennifer Tran Smith. 
Front Row: Lynnel Bryson-Davis, Rosemary Irvine, Lauren Buisson (teaching 
assistant), Veronica Guardado, Breanna Bello, Elizabeth Goumas 
(teaching assistant), and Jessica Record.
And you’re invited!

The Humanities Graduate Summer Session has come to an end. We will officially launch our digital project this Sunday, August 18, 2013, 5-7 p.m., in the Donohue Conference Center, located on the Doheny Campus at Mount St. Mary’s College. (No. 15 on the map)

It has been a wonderful adventure working alongside Dr. Jennifer Tran Smith, her two teaching assistants, and my fellow students. All of us in HUM 249E,  Digital Humanities: Finding, Manipulating and Creating Electronic Texts, were deeply involved in this, our project.  Each student put in 100% effort toward the design and implementation of a digital resource for the western novel Whispering Smith by Frank H. Spearman.

Dr. Smith conceived of this ambitious project, one that had never been tried before at the Mount. She organized the work around specific job functions which we all were responsible for “owning.” The end result is a truly collaborative realization.

There are really too many parts to capture in a blog but, for example, I worked on the archival portion; Lauren Lees designed the website, and Dee Baker employed her professional editing expertise to ensure quality control.

What makes this project so unique and fulfilling, however, is that each student will retain copyright ownership of the work they contributed to the site.  This sense of genuine ownership, and ultimately, responsibility, drove us all to excel in our individual roles. Our project is the sum of all our participation.  I can’t tell you how much fun I had with such a dynamic group of women on this exciting adventure!

We invite the Mount community to come and support the students’ work.  I guarantee you will be amazed by what we’ve been able to accomplish in so brief a period of time.

All Whispering Smith Team members will be on hand at computer stations to discuss both how the project developed and to demonstrate how to navigate the website.

Come join us!  Light refreshments will be served. Please RSVP at
Archivist's note: We have been privileged to take part in this exciting project in the College Archives during the Summer Session. This is the third and final guest blog by Breanna Bello, the team's social media manager, with contributions from Teaching Assistant Lauren Buisson. The Mount Archives are open daily and by appointment for qualified researchers and all members of the Mount community. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Digital Humanities Saved My Academic Life

A "word cloud" of the text of Frank Spearman's novel Whispering Smith.
The graduate humanities students of Dr. Jennifer Smith have learned
to use the software WordSmith and the digital tool WordCloud.
Students learned how to manipulate text while operating the programs.
Archivist's note: We have been privileged to be participating in a brand-new initiative at the Mount, a Weekend Format course in Digital Humanities. These master's degree candidates have been working with the Frank H. Spearman Collection in the College Archives under the direction of Dr. Jennifer Tran Smith. This is the second guest blog by Breanna Bello, the team's social media manager. 
THROUGH THE USE of digital humanities, my academic career has improved. You know that moment, when everything becomes inexplicably clear. That is exactly how I have been feeling this summer.  There are not enough words to express how the last seven years of my collegiate life have been under a rock.

Every day, we use our smart phones, iPads, tablets, computers, etc.  Everything seems to be at the touch of a screen so take a moment and ask yourself, are you taking advantage of all the digital mediums out there?  Before I enrolled in HUM 249E, Digital Humanities: Finding, Manipulating and Creating Electronic Texts, a graduate course led by Dr. Jennifer Smith in the Humanities program, I considered myself a digital illiterate.  I’m not ashamed to admit my lack of technological savvy because I enjoy the process of learning a new skill set that will assist my education.

What I have learned is that the digital world provides tools, software and websites that can help produce documents, improve organization, and create remarkable presentations.  While studying the subject matter of the digital humanities I learned about  Adobe Pro, Gephi, Google Docs, Dropbox, MeoGraph, Prezi, and Scrivener.  Each of these applications function differently such as providing aid for research, digital storage, and presentation software.

I challenge all of you to take the time to explore the digital media out there.  Next paper, project, or presentation use a new digital program.  Don’t be a digital Luddite, get out there and explore.  Take it from me, you won’t regret it!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Remembering Dr. Delahanty

Dr. Jim Delahanty in the 1978 Mount yearbook.
THE COLLEGE ANNOUNCED THE PASSING last week of Dr. Jim Delahanty,  a faculty member for 40 years in the History/Political Science Department. He was also a member of the Regents Council, and his wife, Jane, is an alumna of the class of 1965.  

The College Archives recently took in a large box of loose papers from Dr. Delahanty's office that has been stored upstairs in Chalon library since he retired in 2000.  It was a treasure trove of material, including meeting notes, correspondence (fan mail from students and a thank-you letter from Cesar Chavez; see a digitized copy on our Twitter feed) and scrapbooks from his years moderating the Model United Nations program in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  

Dr. and Mrs. Delahanty were featured on the Spring 1984 cover of Mount Magazine. More pictures and articles across his four decades at the Mount can be browsed in MSMC's digital archives, including magazines, yearbooks, and campus newspapers. Just type "Delahanty" in the search box.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Presenting our Digital Humanitarians!

Archivist's note: We have been privileged to be participating in a brand-new initiative at the Mount, a Weekend Format course in Digital Humanities. These master's degree candidates have been working with the Frank H. Spearman Collection in the College Archives under the direction of Dr. Jennifer Tran Smith. We're happy to present the first in a series of guest blogs by the team's social media manager, Breanna Bello.
Dr. Jennifer Tran Smith, right, and class break for lunch
on the Brady Hall patio during a day in the Archives.
 Presenting the Digital Humanitarians, led by Dr. Jennifer Smith, Mount St. Mary’s College Humanities program.  Graduate students in the class are designing a Digital Resource on the Internet for the 1906 western novel Whispering Smith.

One may ask, why a western novel?  Mount St. Mary’s College holds a collection which consists of published articles by or about Frank Hamilton Spearman published from 1899 – 1937. The documents are made accessible to Digital Humanities students by Victoria McCargar, Mount St. Mary’s College Archivist.

The course, HUM 249E, is called "Digital Humanities: Finding, Manipulating and Creating Electronic Texts." The creation of new a website will be the result of 100% collaboration of the students.  This class setting is a requirement for the subject matter, and it has never been undertaken before at the Mount. Throughout the the project, each student is accountable for several critical components.  In order to create an internet resource, students have engaged in responsibilities such as transcribing, editing, managing, annotating, describing and creating research resources for future scholars on Whispering Smith, Spearman's most successful novel. 

Unlike a typical 15-page term paper that is seen by few people, this grant-funded experiment is intended to show the Mount community the power of Digital Humanities scholarship.  At the end, we hope this endeavor will open the door to many opportunities concerning the subject of Digital Humanities at Mount St. Mary’s College and position the Mount at the forefront of the development of several Digital Humanities resources.
Guest Blogger Breanna Bello works with the
Spearman Collection photos in the Archives.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Capturing Doheny's calm beauty

Cool blues with a sunset sky bring the quiet and peace of
Chester Place to life. St. Vincent's looms in the background.
LOS ANGELES ARTIST AND AUTHOR Leo Politi is known for the special way he rendered our city in vibrant colors and bursting with activity, celebrating its ethnic diversity years before anyone started paying attention.

He could also paint stillness and quiet. Should anyone be surprised that he found them at Mount St. Mary's College?

The image above is from Tales of the Parks of Los Angeles, Politi's 1966 tribute to the most inviting cityscapes (Palm Desert, CA: Best-West Books). The Mount's copy was found earlier this week in Coe Library storage and will be cataloged and join several other Politi books in Special Collections.

Politi  numbered among his friends many Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and visited them at Chester Place, which in the mid-1960s had recently become the Mount's bustling Downtown Campus. But he came to paint after the students had departed and the grounds were returned to the resident nuns.

With the flowers in the Wishing Well providing the only bright splash, Politi captures the cool calm of the campus. The nuns are preparing for evening prayer at the end of what had surely been a very busy day for them.

Please see our Facebook page for additional pictures of Chester Place by Leo Politi, and you're invited to visit the Spearman Room in the Chalon Campus library if you'd like to see the originals.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Got stuff? A visual

THE BIG SUMMER PROJECT is implementing archives management software, which (we hope!) will make it easier to describe, find and update our inventories of "stuff." One of the things that has to be done as part of this is figuring out what to call things. For example, the Doheny Mansion is frequently referred to as "No. 8" (its address on Chester Place). But which is correct? Humans understand they're the same, but computers aren't that smart. We have to agree on one expression.

Working on that, we decided to take all our inventories, extract the text descriptions and dump them together into a "word cloud" generator. The color blob at the top is the result.

It's interesting how it really does zero in on the the most important subjects in the Mount Archives. But where is Chalon?

It's just a given, something that is so obvious it doesn't require naming. Thus, there are few occurrences of the name "Chalon" for the word cloud algorithm to work with. Think of it as "everything that is not Doheny."

On the other hand, "Doheny" shows up a lot to differentiate it from what was called the "main campus" for a long time.

We're not sure why "Committee" is so prominent, except in almost 90 years of history there have been a whole lot of them. That tells us that describing meeting agendas and minutes are an important topic in planning our database.

Thursday, June 20, 2013


Each "Chick" of 1946 is represented in the colorful brood.

HERE's A FUN FIND -- party decorations with photos of alumnae from nearly 70 years ago. They turned up in a long-forgotten box of "stuff" (official archival term) stored away for the last 15 years and unearthed yesterday.

The Mount Archives holds all kinds of interesting memorabilia from the late Mary Irene Vujovich Ohlfs '46, from her scrapbooks to her extensive collection of news clippings about the College. (Thanks go to Mary Irene herself for the donations, and to her family, who continued to send us stuff after she passed away in 1994.)

Mary Irene Vujovich
Ohlfs '46.
Mary Irene was truly devoted alumna of the Mount in general and of the Chicks of '46 in particular. The Class of 1946 was a close-knit group who had weathered the World War II years together at Chalon and got together regularly for the rest of their lives.

According to the envelope, these party decorations were used for the reunions of the Class of '46 in 1981 (35 years) and again in 1991 (45).  Each is a 2-inch, brightly colored baby chick with a small photo of the graduate pasted over the face and alumna's name on the back. It was a labor of love -- probably Mary Irene's -- to create each tiny cut-out and add a bit of purple curling ribbon.

Well into their 90s, the remaining Chicks of 46 are gradually dwindling in number. But thanks to Mary Irene, their well-documented memories live on in the Archives.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The rattlesnake, 'our dear neighbor'

A "modern-day St. Patrick" : Sister Mary Gerald Leahy, CSJ,
with facilities engineer Martin Bullinger in the early 1960s,
helps a visiting rattlesnake to find a safer location.

WE INTRODUCED SISTER MARY GERALD LEAHY the other day and described her impressive career as a biologist. Although insects were her specialty, disease-bearing mosquitoes in particular, she loved biology where she found it, and there was plenty at Chalon.

Take rattlesnakes, for instance. The Mount is planted right in the middle of snake country, surrounded on three sides by dense chaparral. And it's not as though the founders didn't know what they were getting into. Here is an excerpt from a history by one of them, Mother Dolorosa Mannix:
When the real estate agent took us to see the site, there was no road, and the climb had to be made through brush -- sage, mostly, chaparral and sumac. The guide sent his dog on ahead of us, saying, "If there is a rattlesnake in the brush, the dog will bark." We were grateful that the dog did not bark, though we did see rattlers coiled around the branches of the black walnut on the summit.*
That summit, of course, was where the College was built. In spite of 85 years of development in the area, there are still plenty of snakes roaming the hills.

As a biologist, Sister Mary Gerald knew that snakes play an important role in nature's cycles. Fewer snakes would mean more troublesome critters like rabbits nibbling on the landscaping and field mice in Brady Hall. Threatening as they seem, rattlers are good neighbors. When a snake paid a visit, Sr. Mary Gerald was summoned to greet him.

The picture above, found in her papers, shows Sister's technique for handling her reptilian visitor.  As she supervises, chief engineer Martin Bullinger has managed to get the rattlesnake -- which looks to be about 4 feet long -- to clamp his fangs into the end of a long stick. A big, empty glass jar stands ready.  Drop the snake into the jar, quickly pop on the lid, and carefully escort him off campus.

According to unwritten College lore, the only person ever bitten by a rattlesnake at Chalon was one of the Sisters, who was treated at a hospital and released with no ill effects. If it was Sister Mary Gerald, it's a good bet that she didn't mind. She certainly had enough exposure: The View from October 25, 1955, has a front-page picture of Sister handling a somewhat smaller snake by herself. In the caption, she is referred to as "a Modern-Day St. Patrick." 

We think the creature-loving St. Francis of Assisi may be a better comparison. No one will ever rid the Mount of snakes as St. Patrick did in Ireland, but Sister's legacy is at least to remember that they are God's creatures, or as a scientifically minded CSJ might say, our "dear neighbor." Next time you see our neighbor Mr. Snake, be nice -- and think of Sister Mary Gerald.

* Sister M. Dolorosa Mannix, Mount St. Mary's College, Los Angeles Provincialate Archives, 1927. Quoted in The History of Mount St. Mary's College, Los Angeles, California, 1925-1975 by Sister Mary Germaine McNeil, CSJ. New York: Vantage Press, 1985. Page 6.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Lost and found ... and found!

Could this be a long-lost corner of Chalon before 1961? Image
 is slightly cropped. (Photo by Bud Hankel. Used with permission.)
OH, THE WONDERS OF SOCIAL MEDIA. Somebody noticed some Mount Archives stuff on the web and surprised us with some heretofore unknown Mount artwork.

We've blogged about the Mount's iconic artist, Sister Ignatia Cordis, CSJ, who founded the Art Department in the 1920s and painted till the end of her earthy life in 1986 at age 99. We've noted how her paintings were largely destroyed in the Bel Air Fire, and when we discovered a treasure trove of slides taken in 1979, we started getting a handle on her surviving and later works. We scanned the slides and put them on our Flickr site at

Debbie Ream in our PR department forwarded a message from Amy Hankel in Rogersville, Mo. In her voicemail, Amy explained that she and her husband, Bud, owned a painting signed by Sister Ignatia and and found out that she once taught at Mount St. Mary's. Could we tell her more about Sister and the painting?

We called back and talked to Bud, who said he'd purchased the watercolor at the Superior Thrift Store in Stockton maybe 15 years ago. The family later moved to the Ozark Mountains in southern Missouri and hung the watercolor of the foyer of their home, where it remains. He has been curious about the signature and did some internet searching, where he eventually found the Flickr site and this blog.

A photograph of the painting, attached to an email from Bud, shows some droopy eucalyptus trees and a steep staircase with a rickety wooden rail. There are some indefinite shadows in the background. Could those be hills? Could this be the Chalon Campus? Even more interesting, could this predate the 1961 disaster?

We're going to show the photo around to some of the landscape guys and see if they recognize those stairs. Our current theory is they were adjacent to the old Bowl, about where the Drudis-Biada Building and parking structure are now. The Bowl was destroyed in the 1961 fire.

Many thanks to the Hankels for reaching out, and three cheers for social media.  Maybe we'll be able to locate some of the other 56 paintings.

Detail of the painting with signature. (Photo by Bud Hankel. Used with permission.)

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Preservation Week @MSMC, Part 6

Logs of research requests, each query a learning experience.

WE'VE BEEN LOOKING THIS WEEK at how preservation "happens" at the Mount, the entirely ordinary, prosaic techniques that archivists everywhere use to try to ensure their collections stick around as far as possible into the future. Cool, dry, acid-free, boxed, sleeved, digitized: these just about cover the gamut of options.

There's one more essential technique that has nothing to do with environment or equipment. It's called usage. Archives in most cases are meant to be used, to be referred to, to be cross-checked against other evidence. The archives that aren't used won't be preserved. 

Usage also means that the stuff has to be accessible. Creating what's known as intellectual access is just as important as keeping things cool and dry. Users have to be able to find what they're looking for without having to dig through (in our case) about three dozen four-drawer filing cabinets plus a couple hundred feet of shelf space, not to mention all those 1s and 0s in the Cloud. Creating access is a gradual process, and it often comes about as the result of a search for a tidbit of information. 

The College Archives averages at least one request for information a week, or over 50 a year. Some can be resolved quickly, while others take days or even weeks. But every foray into the "backfiles" turns up some additional knowledge about the whereabouts of certain documents, pictures or other historic material. This is added to the inventories, lists, finding aids and other descriptive material, and the requests themselves are logged, because some questions get asked more than once.

(Here's a test. What is the most frequently asked question in the College Archives? Answer: When were men admitted to the Mount? Here's another test. When were men first admitted? Answer: Fall 1960, to the Music program.)

Archives truly  have a life of their own. They're static and yet dynamic, historic and yet new – depending on what you're looking for. But the important thing is to be always looking. This is especially true with digital archives. Just think about that old laptop in the garage that hasn't been powered up in 10 years.

As soon as archives were invented (in Sumeria, not long after writing was invented about 3500 B.C.), someone came along and asked, "Do we really need that stuff?" Preservation has been a challenge ever since.

We're not arguing for a spot on "Hoarders," but if you're not careful history will end up in the dumpster. We're here to make sure that doesn't happen. Happy Preservation Week, 2013.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Preservation Week @MSMC, Part 5

If you think it looks a little
insubstantial, you're correct.
IT'S THE END OF THE SEMESTER, and from the look of them a lot of the students' heads are in the clouds. The seniors are just a few days from Cloud 9. And these days, all of us with pads, pods, desktops and smartphones are in the Cloud constantly, whether we know it or not.

We hear about it everywhere: Cloud computing, Cloud storage, in the Cloud. It refers to the vast tracts of cyberspace where our digital lives live and move and have their being (to paraphrase St. Luke). The applications we interact with on our smartphones, our online picture collections, games, communications and even historic archives are kept in the Cloud. (This blog is written in the Cloud and you're reading it from there... where ever "there" is.)

Without inducing glazed eyes, we should explain that the Cloud merely represents a whole bunch of interconnected computers all over the world with extra computing capacity that would otherwise go to waste. Amazon started the movement around 2000 by leasing this unused capacity to companies and individuals, and now all kinds of third parties offer Cloud-based storage and applications. 

Not much better, but you can at least hold it in your hand.
This holds 750 gigabytes of Mount Archives data.
The problem with digital documents and pictures and audio and video is that they're all really only teeny on-and-off switches (the 1s and 0s, respectively), and "preserving" them means a whole lot more than sliding them into a polyester sleeve and putting them in an acid-free folder. CDs, DVDs, flash drives and external hard disks like this one are quickly going the way of the floppy disk, so it's only appropriate to speak of JPEGs in terms of maybe 15 or 20 years (5 to 7 if you're not careful), not 100 or more like plain paper or a good black and white print.

The Cloud actually helps with this because it gets around one serious problem, the rapid obsolescence of storage media. But the Cloud then raises a raft of preservation issues of special concern to archivists, like, oh, where is it, who owns it, how do you know it's the real thing, and will you ever get it back of the Cloud provider goes under – "it" being any digital item you happen to stick in the Cloud. Remember, "it" is just a bunch of 1s and 0s. 

In spite of these problems, we're forward-looking at the Mount – and do we ever have a lot of stuff in the Cloud these days. If you want to create access for users (tomorrow's blog!), it has to go somewhere digital – and somewhere is that vast network in the sky. If you haven't seen them, take a look at the Mount's collections in the Cloud, thousands upon thousands of individual blobs of nicely arranged 1s and 0s. 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Preservation Week @MSMC, Part 4

Teatime at the Mount, a lace-collar event in the Student Lounge. Photo
is from the 1944-45 academic year and includes the Classes of '45 and '46.

THE MOST POPULAR TREASURES in the College Archives – at least in terms of requests to use them – are the historic photographs. They exist in many forms, rich black and white prints, color snapshots, slides, color transparencies and for about the last 10 years, digital pictures in the form of JPEGs. They're a problem, which we'll get to in a minute.

With a little TLC, the black and white prints will last for a really long time. They get the white-glove treatment to prevent fingerprints and a crystal-clear poly envelope that is as close to lasting "forever" as we talk about in the profession.

A 1994 photograph is ready for scanning.
This is Sr. Annette Bower, CSJ, the Mount's
legendary Physical Sciences chair emerita.
Slides, transparencies and other formats get their own special sleeves. If anyone needs to reproduce one of these historic images in a publication or brochure they go onto a scanner. The resulting JPEG can be sent virtually anywhere – with the proper copyright permissions.

Unfortunately, you can't put JPEGs into a sleeve and talk in terms of forever. The best we can do to preserve the JPEGs is upload them our online repository and keep a couple of backup copies on external hard drives.  And if worse comes to worst, we've still got the hard-copy originals to rescan.

Our photo archives sort of come to a stop around 2003, the year College photographers switched from film cameras to digital. There are a few sets of snapshots, but the really good ones – professionally shot and processed - are elsewhere, or nowhere. If they're not in the archives, they can't be archived or preserved. Will we have today's student events to look at 70 years from now, as we do the tea party from 1945? Cross your fingers.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Preservation Week @MSMC, Part 3

Folders come in many dimensions and shapes, but the
standard color for acid-free is a nice, dull tan.
TOOLS OF THE PRESERVATION TRADE are showcased in glossy catalogs from a short list of manufacturers, including Brodart, Gaylord, Hollinger/Metal Edge and University Products. (For consumers, there are Family Archives and Light Impressions, which have the same items but can be purchased in smaller quantities.) For the retail maven, they're like a fabric and crafts store, hardware store and stationery store all rolled into one thick mailer. Shopping is fun.

Archives are expected to keep their contents for a long, long time -- or forever, depending on whom you ask. We are always seeing news tidbits about a fabulous discovery in an attic full of old papers. While much more orderly than an attic, an archives is pretty much the same idea; you file things away carefully and list them on an inventory of some kind, and much, much later someone makes a fabulous discovery and ends up in the news. (We recently made such a find in the Chalon Campus archives pertaining to the Doheny Family. You can read about it here on page 29, "From the Archives.")

But as we mentioned yesterday, old paper can be very brittle and crumbly because of the acids embedded during manufacture and aging. Unfortunately, this will quickly be true of the brand-new paper on which we printed out today's email (yes, email -- but that's another story!).

We can prolong the life of our archival files on paper for hundreds of years if we keep it cool and dry and away from additional acids. Like the book boxes, this is done with special folders similar to the manila variety in size and shape, but made of buffered board with a neutral or slightly alkaline pH. We buy them by the hundreds and have been gradually replacing the old manila folders in the College Archives.

It's sometimes a tedious process, but it's the history of Mount St. Mary's College we're talking about here. It's well worth it -- and we're sure there are many other treasures yet to be discovered.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Preservation Week @MSMC, Part 2

Bryant's Mythology, ca. 1805. Each volume is sadder than the last.
There are many such battered books in libraries everywhere.
A BUNCH OF OTHER LIBRARIES are piling on the blog bandwagon for Preservation Week. We archives and special collections librarians are proud of the service we provide and have lots of company! PresWeek also has its own Facebook page, so you can check out what's going on at institutions big and small.

Yesterday we shared an inexpensive device for measuring the all-important temperature and humidity in the Frank H. Spearman Room here in the Coe Library at Chalon. It works for anyone with treasures they want to hang onto -- cool and dry probably doesn't describe the garage, so keep your good stuff in the house.

A beautiful handmade book of poetry in Spanish,
dated 1866, with its protective box.
Another handy-dandy technique for protecting books are pre-cut boxes made of special cardboard. Not only are they free from harmful chemicals that may further damage brittle paper, but they also filter out gases that may be present wherever there is carpeting, furniture and human beings -- gases that can add acidity to the books and bindings.

When the books are as beat-up as the ones pictured above, boxes also add a physical barrier that will protect the contents from getting dented or bent. Throw a length of unbleached cotton tape around the book and the covers (called boards in the biz) won't become separated from the pages (the text block) even if the hinges are already shot.

Figuring out what to do to help a book is as much art as science. To restore old leather bindings costs into the hundreds of dollars per book, so it had better be a pretty special book to begin with if you're going to go to the expense. For those books of lesser or unknown value, a neat row of light-blue boxes is perfectly adequate. With luck we'll get at least a couple hundred more years out of treasures inside. In our next post, we'll look at the same approach for plain old paper.

A row of 18th-century journals, secure and happy in their special homes.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Preservation Week @MSMC, Part 1

A little too warm today -- 74 degrees.
Relative humidity just right at 40%.
THE LIBRARY AND ARCHIVES WORLD is marking Preservation Week, an annual reminder that without a certain amount of tender loving care our books, papers, manuscripts, photographs, yearbooks, magazines and other treasures will gradually disappear.

Preservation Management also happens to be something we teach in the San Jose State University School of Library and Information Science (SJSU-SLIS), so it is a subject near and dear to our archivist's heart.

Keeping the Mount's treasures safe in the Coe Library is an interesting and challenging job.That there are archives and special collections in the library today we owe to our CSJ predecessors, who did what they could in the face of fire and flood, mold and bugs, and everything else that puts our "stuff" (the official archival term) at risk.

We thought we'd observe Preservation Week with a daily look at our favorite tools of the trade. And since it is Earth Day, the topic of the environment is a good starting point. We battle climate change -- right here in the archives. But not the kind that causes sea levels to rise and upsets polar bears. We mean in that cool, dry place where it's safe to keep books and paper.

Stability is the name of the game: a narrow temperature range around 70 or 72 degrees, and relative humidity around 40%.  Too much fluctuation breaks down the chemical bonds in paper and causes them to become brittle. Like most college and university libraries, we have lots and lots of brittle paper.

Above is the little hygrometer we check daily to keep an eye on our first-floor environment. There are more sophisticated models, but this $20 piece of equipment pays big dividends. If we keep the books cool, dry and happy, we don't have to spend money stabilizing them and restoring them later on.

Tomorrow we'll look at another fave tool -- acid-free boxes. If you're on the Chalon Campus this week, stop by and see these goodies in person!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Off the hill and into 'jail'

Student Body President Vincie
Ginevra, front and center, with other
Class of 1945 members (front) L-R, Helen
Fitzpatrick, Vincie, Phoebe Tours,
Arabella Barnes; (back) Blanche Van
Oort, Mary Albachten and
Margaret Thalken. 
VINCENTIA 'VINCIE' GINEVRA LESKO '45  paid a visit to the Chalon Campus and the College Archives today along with two of her six children, Matt and Stephanie, and Cindy Hizami of the Institutional Advancement office.

We love alumnae visits because we always learn something. Vincie did not disappoint.

A self-described "grumpy old lady" of 93, Mrs. Lesko was anything but. Asked if she could help identify people in photographs from the 1940s, she cheerfully flipped through a stack of pictures while Cindy hastily wrote down names on a sticky note.

Possessed of an impressive memory, Vincie also reminisced about her days at the wartime Mount, when blackout curtains and air raid drills were as much a part of student life as as chapel veils and kitchen raids.

Vincie was student body president her senior year, and like her predecessors during the war years presided over a close-knit class. Stephanie scanned a few of her mother's pictures, including this one of Vincie and a few of her classmates smiling behind bars below a sign reading "Santa Monica Jail." It was just an amusement park, or we're pretty sure they wouldn't look so pleased with themselves.

Slowly but surely, Vincie hiked all the way up the stone steps to Mary Chapel, recalling that it was built while her older sister Beatrice was a Mount student. (She graduated in 1941.) Then we took Vincie to the cafeteria and dined in the same room where she and her classmates ate their meals 70 years ago.

As we were going in, a trio of Mount students looked at us politely but curiously. When it was pointed out to them that Mrs. Lesko used to live in Brady Hall on the third floor near the elevator, they seemed a little shocked.

Yes, this will be you someday, we thought -- and we hope your memories will be as sharp as Vincie's when you look back. And we hope you enjoy your time here as much as she did. Finally, if you wind up in jail we hope it's one at an amusement park.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The 2013 Jubilarians

Jubilarian Sister Daniel Therese Flynn '60 with a beaming student
at Doheny graduation. Picture is probably from 2003.

IT'S ST. JOSEPH WEEK, the annual event honoring the patron saint of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and a time when we honor all the CSJs with strong ties to the College, especially those Sisters celebrating their anniversaries in the Order. They all continue to provide remarkable service long after ordinary people would be thinking about retirement. Here are some thumbnail sketches of the 2013 honorees from the archives of the CSJ Los Angeles Province and MSMC.

70 Years

Sister Monica Anne, RIP
  • Sr. Monica Anne Waldman. Supervisor of Student Dining Rooms 1950s and 1960s. She enjoyed working with and helping the Mount students. She passed away in November. 
  • Sr. Loretta Anne Bellue – Worked on both campuses in the 1980s and early '90s in the bookstore and was available as a driver to the sisters needing transportation.

60 Years

  • Sr. Teresa Avalos – After 25 years of ministry in Peru, she came to the Mount on sabbatical in 1988 and worked there in the late 1980s.
  • Sr. Daniel Therese Flynn '60  A Mount grad, she has been on the SPR faculty since 2000 as a writing and reading instructor at the Doheny Learning Resource Center. She currently serves as the COSA Chairperson.
  • Sr. Patricia Foster M'87 – A master's grad, Sister worked at the College from 1993 to 2004 as an administrative assistant in different departments. 
  • Sr. Kathleen Kelly '59  – This Mount graduate has held numerous roles including Vice President of the Doheny Campus and Dean of the Associate of Arts program.
  • Sr. Rose Leonard Stevling – After teaching at Doheny, Sister served as director of the Doheny Liberal Arts Program and director of Doheny Advisement Center in the 1980s.
  • Sr. Patricia Supple – Founder and director of the Chalon Library Media Center in the 1970s, Senior Board advisor and Carondelet Hall resident advisor.
Jubilarian Sister Patricia Supple, center, was advisor to the Senior Board
in 1979. She went by Sister Michael Patrick in those days.
Photo from Mount Archives Collection online,

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Chalon athletic field

Mark Daniels' master plan for the Mount in the late 1920s
incorporated a playing field just above Chalon Road.
THE SUBJECT OF SPORTS at the Mount comes up frequently, among other reasons because it is an obvious draw for high school seniors hunting for a college. Both campuses face limits on space, of course -- Doheny because it is surrounded by Downtown Los Angeles, and Chalon because it sits on a mountain.

The original master plan for the College, drawn up in 1927-28 by architect Mark Daniels, included a number of open spaces in spite of the limited amount of flat ground. A sketch of the plan, above, shows a large, round athletic field on the lowest piece of real estate on campus just off of Chalon Road.

Tillie Clem '37 fences
in the Circle in the '30s
Like much of the original plan it wasn't built, as expenses were drastically cut during the Great Depression  and Chalon's challenging terrain presented unforeseen difficulties. Twenty-five years later the CSJs broke ground for their House of Studies on the site of the proposed field.

That didn't mean that athletics weren't an important part of student life, however. For one thing, two years of physical education was a requirement for most college students until the 1970s. The Mount also offered Phys Ed as a major subject off and on until the 1960s. Archery and fencing were popular sports in the 1930s (and didn't require a lot of space), and after the pool went in in 1949 the college fronted competitive water ballet and swim teams. And there were plenty of other sports. The 1959-60 catalog lists the following lower-division P.E. activities: horseback riding, archery, dance, badminton, swimming, basketball, lifesaving/water safety, body mechanics, tennis, bowling, volleyball and golf.

In spite of its lack of a big gymnasium and other athletic facilities, Mount students had plenty of opportunities for sports. Maybe all it took was the willingness and interest by students to get involved. And those old state requirements sure didn't hurt!

Mount archers in their P.E. bloomers prepare to let fly. The location,
ca. 1936, is looking east, probably near where Rossiter Hall is now.