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The first alumnae

Looking Back: The story of Mount Saint Mary's Class of 1929

April 8, 2019

The first graduating class of Mount St. Mary’s College (the University's former name) lines up for a group portrait at St. Mary’s Academy at Slauson Ave. and Crenshaw Blvd. in Los Angeles, where the college met until the Chalon Campus could be occupied.
The first graduating class of Mount St. Mary’s College (the University's former name) lines up for a group portrait at St. Mary’s Academy at Slauson Ave. and Crenshaw Blvd. in Los Angeles, where the college met until the Chalon Campus could be occupied.

By Victoria McCargar, library archivist

Ten young women received a diploma that day. After four years at the tiny new school they braved the steep hike on a muddy fire road to be honored at the Mount’s first commencement exercises. On Sunday, June 16, 1929, the Mount had alumnae for the first time.

They were, above, from left, Mary O'Connor, Virginia Thompson, Catherine Coen, Dorothy Lieb, Olivia Zink, Davida Keppler, Inez Feeney, Mary Agnes Scannell, Eugenia Zink and Lilian May.

They had shared everything that goes into starting a new school: drawing up the charter for student government, fundraising (drama programs and musicals, choral concerts and candy sales). There was a new campus newsletter (Inter-Nos), clubs (Kappa Delta Chi sorority and Sodality of Mary) and community engagement (the St. Joseph Guild).

Students and family members unfurl an
Students and family members unfurl an "alumnae" flag at the first commencement ceremony on June 16, 1929.

Now, with diplomas in hand, the new alums moved on to their next charge: organizing.  

Shortly after commencement the Mount faculty honored them with a dinner, and following dessert came the inaugural meeting of the new Alumnae Association of Mount St. Mary’s College. At a meeting chaired by Keppler — newly retired from student government — Lieb was elected association president, along with Keppler as vice president and Scannell as secretary-treasurer.

The new alumnae didn’t waste time. By December 1929, they had a constitution, regular meetings at each other’s homes or at the Mount, and dues of a dollar a year. By June they had an initiation ceremony prepared for the Class of 1930’s seven graduates.

In the ensuing few years, the enduring charter of the Alumnae Association began to take shape. Meetings and small social gatherings provided a way for former classmates to continue to get together and at the same time support the Mount, which was growing and thriving in spite of the Great Depression. Teas, card parties, dinners and dances were held two or three times a year, with proceeds going to fund a new scholarship and construction on what would become the Chalon Campus.

Activities and member news were duly reported in Inter-Nos so distant members could keep up with their friends. The charter alumnae went on to jobs, careers, marriage and families, and in Virginia Thompson’s case, as a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet. But the connections forged in the intimacy of the young Mount endured for life.

The 1929 alumnae had one more first – as Golden Grads. In 1979, five of the eight surviving members returned to be honored by the Mount at events marking 50 years since the the first commencement.

No history of the first alumnae is complete without mentioning seven more women who earned bachelor’s degrees that June day – nuns who graduated privately, out of the public eye. No pictures exist, no commencement programs. Five were CSJs: Sisters Mary Killian Corbett, Anna Mary Dynn, Mary Mercedes Dwyer, Helen Bertille Ellard and Mary Timothy Spellacy.  Sisters Helen Bertille and Timothy went on to become professors at the Mount. Sister Killian was later Reverend Mother Killian, superior general of all the Carondelet sisters.

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