Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A statue, and a young life

Mr. & Mrs. Conrad Stewart (Mary Therese) with MSMC President
Sister Rebecca Doan, CSJ, at the dedication of the new statue May 27, 1963.
LIKE A CHILLY WIND, a sad bit of MSMC history blew through today. And it has a strange connection to contemporary culture.

Let's go back 50 years or so to the early 1960s.

Freshman Rosalind Stewart, front
row center, in the 1960 yearbook.
Rosalind Stewart entered Mount St. Mary's College in the fall of 1959 intending to study nursing. She appears in the 1960 yearbook in her freshman group picture, a pretty, smiling girl with a dark-haired updo. She wasn't long at MSMC; sometime in the next year or two she left the Mount to become a flight attendant, or "stewardess" as they were called then. Air travel was still the domain of the wealthy, and jobs on passenger flights were considered the height of glamor and adventure for women.

The next mention we have of Rosalind in the archives is this sad note from the front page of the college newspaper on March 13, 1962:
Notice of Rosalind's death
in the Mount newspaper
The View staff joins with the student body in offering its sympathy to the family of Rosalind Stewart, former Mount student ('63) who was killed in a plane crash on March 1. … At the time of the plane crash she was completing her training as a stewardess, and would have been assigned to a regular flight.
The crash of American Airlines Flight 1 from New York to Los Angeles was, at the time, the worst air accident in U.S. history. A defect in the rudder control system put the Boeing 707 into a steep dive shortly after takeoff. It crashed in the marshes of Jamaica Bay and exploded into a ball of fire. Eighty-seven passengers and eight crew members were killed, including stewardess trainee Rosalind Stewart.

Although Rosalind was at the Mount only a short time, there is an enduring memorial to her just a few steps east of the Circle at Chalon. On May 27, 1963 – Mary's Day – a new statue of St. Thérèse of Lisieux was dedicated to her memory, donated by the Stewart family to replace the statue that had been destroyed in the Bel Air fire in November 1961, just a few months before Rosalind died.

And strangely, the plane crash endures in another kind of memorial. Not long ago an episode of the popular TV series "Mad Men" focused on the crash in "Flight 1." It explores the reaction at the Sterling Cooper agency to this national tragedy.

One look at the shrine of St. Thérèse is all you need, and you're there – a young life cut short, a national disaster, a grieving family. Next time you're near the Circle, visit St. Thérèse, take a look at the inscription and remember Rosalind.
In memory of Rosalind Stewart, Class of 1963, who, like St. Thérèse, loved the beauty of God's creation as revealed in flowers, trees and sky.  
Crash scene of Flight 1, March 1, 1962. Rosalind Stewart '63 was one of four
flight attendants who were killed in the disaster in Jamaica Bay, N.Y.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Countess Doheny's Lace Collection

A view of the Doheny Mansion rendered in needle lace. The fine mesh
in the background is the 
réseau of  point de Venise à réseau.
AS WE'VE NOTED BEFORE, lace making is a recurring theme for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, and, by extension for the last 89 years, Mount St. Mary's College.

Detail shows various lace patterns. 
We've had a chance recently to explore the background of a famous lace collection with another Mount connection, the lace of Countess Estelle Doheny. This originally comprised a set of sixteen place mats with a matching table runner, monogrammed CED. Created in the 1930s, these gossamer rectangles depicted four different views of the Doheny Mansion, rendered in a type of lace called point de Venise à réseau, a particularly delicate form of needle lace (réseau translates "netted" or "meshed"). Guests of the Dohenys enjoying dinner in the mansion were treated to a tablescape of incomparable richness and Victorian opulence.

Back in September, we received a query from Nancy Milks-Evans of Lace Legacy, Etc., a Covington, Wash.-based educator and expert in rare and antique laces.  She had read about the Doheny lace and wondered whether it had been auctioned along with Countess Doheny's rare book collection back in the late 1980s. Or did the Mount still have it?

The Doheny Docents do, in fact, have some of the lace safely stored away in No. 8 and bring it out on occasion for tours. (Much of the collection is evidently missing, whereabouts unknown.)

Nancy then presented us with a minor mystery of the kind we love. Back in 1975, Carolyn S. Murray of the Los Angeles Times produced a handful of articles about Chester Place, one of which was a short sidebar about the Doheny Lace collection. Ms. Murray quoted Gwen Krakeur, the widow of Martin Krakeur, owner of Beverly Hills' famed linen store Grande Maison de Blanc and the designer of the lace.

Mrs. Krakeur recalled that the lace had been made on the island of Burano, Italy. This couldn't be right, Nancy suggested, because this special kind of lace wasn't made there – the best point de Venise à réseau came from Brussels. Did we have any documentation?

Nothing like sales receipts or anything conclusive like that – but we did find something nearly as good: details in the master's thesis of Sister Mary Irene Flanagan, CSJ.

Sister Irene, a longtime Home Economics professor who earned her degree at San Jose State College in 1967, documented the architecture, furniture and contents of the Doheny Mansion. In the section about the dining room is a picture and her description of one of the place mats:
Designed in 1931 by Mr. Martin Krakeur of the Grande Maison de Blanc, the place mat represents one of four patterns that might well be termed the most beautiful lace sets in the world. ... This is an example of the most filmy and delicate of all point lace.
Sister Irene describes how the lace took more than three years to complete by handful of artisans. And here she solves the mystery:
The designs were minutely executed on graph paper and approved before being sent to Brussels. Here the finest lace makers took on the work of point de Venise à réseau.
And, wouldn't you know, Sister Irene attributes this information to none other than Gwen Krakeur, whom she interviewed  at 8 Chester Place on November 15, 1966.

Memories are tricky, and archives will often reveal bits of conflicting information, even from the same source. We seldom have scholarly research on hand to solve a mystery but this time we lucked out, and in the process have added a footnote to the Mount's story of lace.

The collection originally comprised four each of these four  designs
of the Doheny Mansion. Remaining pieces are shown on Docent tours.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Home Economics

Home economics senior Beverly McClure Dougherty '60
with an extravagantly frosted cake in Casa Margarita.
SOME OF US ARE OLD ENOUGH to have taken state-required home economics classes in middle school, a semester each of cooking and sewing. (Boys took "shop" – wood, metal, electrical, auto.) Among the army of local Home Ec teachers were many Mount alumnae.

The Department of Home Economics was one of the Mount's first, founded in 1932 by Sister Marguerite Ellard, CSJ.  It was a popular major from the 1940s well into the 1970s. Graduates were superbly qualified for two distinctive career tracks: credentialed Home Ec Teacher or Christian Wife and Mother. Yes, in those days the vocation of homemaker was considered every bit as important, if not more important, than teacher, nurse, or social worker.

We've been exploring our fascinating Home Ec archives the past couple of weeks, looking through decades of slides from the annual fashion show, where students showed off their smartly tailored dresses, suits and formal gowns. There are newspaper clippings, handwritten lecture notes from Pegi Parkinson '53 and records from the California Home Economics Association, in which the Mount frequently held leadership positions.

Far from earning a degree in housework, students were prepared to tackle societal issues affecting families and communities. Health and nutrition were key components as well: Sister Marguerite had been a member of the Mount's landmark cancer research department in the early 1950s, studying the effects of vitamins and diet on tumor growth. She no doubt brought her expertise to the Home Ec program, anticipating by decades the current interest in healthy eating.

The archives are comprehensive and well-organized, thanks to Sister Paulanne Munch, CSJ '55, whom we chatted with recently at Carondelet Center. Sister chaired Home Ec in the 1970s and 1980s assembled the collection when the department was folded into the Business Administration department the 1980s.  By then it encompassed fashion merchandising and public health.

For a complete listing of Home Economics holdings in the College Archives, go to our online archives catalog and click on the "anonymous user" link in the public catalog. Type in Home Economics (without quotes) in the search box. For photos, yearbooks and newspapers, visit our digital picture archives and search on "Home Economics" (with quotes.) Students and alumnae are welcome to visit the College Archives at Chalon and explore the physical collection firsthand.