105 years since first journal

Library staff works to transcribe century-old school journals


Makenna Kramer

Sophomore Melanie Koch compares the transcription of a 1950s Mistress General’s journal entry to the original text. The school archives contain four journals each written by multiple Mistresses General that cover the years 1916-1966.

Makenna Kramer, Reporter

On the same day German forces agreed to an unconditional surrender and World War II ended in Europe, Convent of the Sacred Heart student M.L. Sullivan (’44) held the American flag in San Francisco while directing a student procession into the school chapel, according to a journal written by the Mistress General of the school at the time. 

Student and graduate interns, led by Library Department Chair Alyson Barrett and librarian Reba Sell, are working to transcribe and digitize hundreds of pages of journals, like the one depicting V-E Day, written by Convent Mistresses General between 1916 and 1966.  

 “The journals really are a wonderful snapshot of San Francisco and the school population,” Barrett said. “Different large and momentous dates in history are mentioned, but that’s woven in with students’ daily lives at the school.”

While archivists have uncovered the names of the past Mistresses General, a position much like the current school president, deciding whether or not to include them with the archives is complicated, according to Barett, as the journals were intended to be written anonymously. 

“When we think of a journal, we think of a personal journal, but that isn’t what these are,” Carolyn Osiek RSCJ, an archivist for the Society of the Sacred Heart, wrote in an email. “It’s the record of the events of the whole school, so it’s not meant to be personal.”

The journals document ordinary happenings at the school, with Mistresses General writing multiple entries each week, recording sports games, historical events and Mass attendance numbers. 

“The sheer amount of interesting information the journals hold is what has kept me working with them,” sophomore Ella Runneboom said. “It is fascinating to read about all the fun traditions and events like past Congés and religious ceremonies.” 

Although Convent still carries out many of the traditions depicted in the journals such as, feast days and the senior retreat, some interns say what has stood out to them most is the ways in which the school used to be different, like the frequency of religious events in the past. 

“Early in December some of the Fourth Academic had asked that the schedule be adjusted to permit daily attendance at Mass,” the Mistress General wrote on Feb. 7, 1951. “This was done so throughout December, January and through Lent.”

Another change Runneboom says she’s noticed is a decrease in school “strictness” over time. The journals contain examples of daily schedules and rules that give interns insights into patterns like these. 

“Students in the 1920s and ’30s had much of a more tight schedule and uniform requirement compared to today,” Runneboom said. “It is fascinating to read about the daily life of past students at Convent & Stuart Hall.”

While the Mother Williams Library recently opened to interns, Barrett says most of the initial transcribing work occurred virtually with students using photos of the journals to type the entries into Google Docs. 

“We were able to quickly take some photos with iPhones and put the images in Google Drive before the school shut down,” Barrett said about working off-campus during the initial COVID-19 shelter-in-place order. “That way students could work on the transcripts from those images while at home.”

The library staff plans to add the digitized journals to the existing school archive database, according to library intern Sarah Mahnke-Baum (’18). While the website is open to the public, Mahnke-Baum says making the archives available for current students is the primary focus of the project. 

“We want to make it more accessible for students to learn about the history of our school,” Mahnke-Baum said. “We’re working with the tech department to present the information in fun ways and we’re collecting relevant images to add to the transcripts.” 

The Mistresses’ General’s journals are one component of the larger school archives which contain hundreds of photos and documents stretching from the school’s founding to the modern-day. 

“There’s really just so much to learn,” Barrett said. “There’s the history of the RSCJ and of San Francisco and our new buildings and campuses layered on that. It’s all very exciting.”