Category Archives: African American History

The St. Malachy School Collection, St. Louis

When St. Malachy parish was founded in 1860, the Mill Creek neighborhood in which it was located was largely Irish.  By the early 20th century, the neighborhood formed the heart of a major African American neighborhood of St. Louis, with successful small businesses, churches, and a music scene helmed as the home base of Scott Joplin and Josephine Baker.

In 1941, the Archdiocese of St. Louis turned operation of the parish over to the Jesuit Fathers.  By this point, redlining and segregation had eroded the neighborhood, with the city neglecting to care for water, electricity, or deteriorating buildings.  It was in this environment that the Jesuits invited the Daughters of Charity, long established in the St. Louis area, to open a school.

The school operated from 1941 to 1959, although enrollment began to decline after 1947 when Archbishop Joseph Ritter enacted desegregation throughout the Catholic schools of the Archdiocese.  Prior to desegregation, the accounts in the collection written by Daughters of Charity depict a group of sisters trying their hardest under highly restricted circumstances, teaching in a substandard building with secondhand supplies and minimal assistance. 

Archbishop Ritter had advocated integration in the schools before the Supreme Court Brown v. Board decision, and the end of segregated schooling offered a happy ending for the children and their educations.  A 1957 account in the collection attested that “because the children of our families are now permitted to attend white schools, their families are moving into better neighborhoods.”  This did not mean that the old neighborhood saw an end to its neglect, however.  Whether it was described as “slum clearing” or “urban renewal,” the effect was the same when, in 1959, almost 20,000 residents were removed and much of the neighborhood – including St. Malachy Parish – was demolished.

From St. Louis Globe Democrat

The St. Malachy School collection is not large, just half an archival box that stacks three or four inches high.  The Daughters’ accounts reflect the challenges of the times in which they lived and served.  They show a strong awareness that their students were being shortchanged, both by the poverty of their neighborhood and the way in which their schools had been neglected for resources.  There is evident regret that they were unable to do more for their students: 

Sister Aurelia [Hogan] had trained her summer school catachumens well, and the neophtes [sic] followed suit.  The older boys brought out saw-horses on which they placed boards, making two long tables, while benches and chairs were quickly hauled forward.  The children, smaller ones first, formed in a single line leading toward the counter, at which seven W.P.A. [Works Progress Administration] colored workers dished up a steaming hot dinner.  We marveled at the order maintained, for though each child received his portion and immediately walked to his place, not one touched  a morsel until the entire table – about fifty children had been seated.  Then, with heads reverently bowed, they said Grace in unison, and ate dinner.  Poor hungry children!  Father informed us that this was the only “square” meal some of them got all day.  It was furnished in part by the W.P.A. surplus commodity program, while Father supplied the rest with whatever financial assistance he was able to procure from charitable benefactors.


Of classroom equipment there was none – no text-books, no blackboards nor chalk, no paper nor pencils.  So, with a fervent “Veni Sancte” in our hearts, we read and sang – anything to quell disorder, — until Father McHattie arrived to perform what was probably the hardest duty of his new position.  How his big, compassionate heart must have hurt as he quietly explained to the children that as we could accommodate only two hundred pupils, he was forced to send nearly half of them back to their former schools.  Then Father read a list of names and a sad, heartbroken crowd of youngsters followed him out of the room.

The narrative accounts of St. Malachy and the neighborhood all depict African Americans from a white point of view, but this does not mean that the collections are devoid of information that directly provides pieces of information about individual members of Mill Creek’s African American residents.  While there are no surviving class lists in the collection, programs of events provide names of students along with their graduating year.  Other publications reflect the pride of taking part in the school and parish communities and demonstrate a proud and successful Black Catholic parish.

Edition of a Parish newsletter, 1946
Commencement program, 1943

The collection also, perhaps most valuably, contains approximately 50 photographs that show the life of the school and of the Mill Creek neighborhood.  Among them are the joy that only comes from children. 

The collection is available here in the Archives for on-site research.  It is a candidate for digitization in the near future, and we hope to provide an update when that day arrives.  Based upon research need, we can create scans for remote use.  Please contact for more information or to schedule an appointment.

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Desegregation in Portsmouth, Virginia

This is the third of our three-part celebration for Black History Month 2022, focusing on elements of African American history within the Daughters of Charity archives collection.  The first part, on the Briscoe family of Emmitsburg, can be found here.  The second part on the St. Euphemia’s School Collection (Emmitsburg, MD) can be found here.

Public schools in the Commonwealth of Virginia were segregated from their creation in 1870.  The Catholic schools held the same policy.

The Daughters of Charity operated three schools in Portsmouth, Virginia in the Hampton Roads area:  St. Paul’s High School, St. Paul’s Elementary School, and Our Lady of Victory School.  On September 8, 1959, this system of segregation, at least in the Catholic schools, came to an end in Portsmouth.

Chapel at Our Lady of Victory School

Twenty new students sat for the entrance examination to St. Paul’s that year.  The examinations were graded anonymously, and those qualifying were admitted, with no regard to race.  Four African American students became the first students to attend a desegregated school in Portsmouth:  Sabine Gordon, Samson Clark, Edward LeBoeuf, and Richard King.

By almost all accounts, the integration of the schools went more smoothly than many in the Commonwealth, which took place after Brown v. Board and in the wake of “Massive Resistance.”  Virginia Klisiewicz, a former Daughter who taught at the school, attested in 2004: 

Apparently, the white children were, sort of, geared to acceptance, and the black children were geared to acceptance.  There wasn’t animosity on either side.  So, the first day of school, our kids went there – they just went to their classrooms – they would, you know, they were certainly oriented, and the white kids, they were happy with it.  I mean, that’s too idealistic, I suppose, and it seems strange that this would’ve worked out the way it did considering the feeling in the South; but it, was a smooth transition.

The high school at Our Lady of Victory closed in 1960.  The elementary school closed four years later.  In this same year, St. Paul’s was rechristened Portsmouth Catholic High School to reflect the consolidation of schools in the area.  An active alumni association for Our Lady of Victory School still holds reunions, and even kept in touch with their Daughter of Charity teachers through the rest of their lives.

In 1970, the Portsmouth Catholic School board reaffirmed its decisions and stood in the face of the “Massive Resistance” and the push by parents opposed to desegregation to send their children to Catholic schools to avoid integration.  In response, the school board announced that “As Christians, we refuse to allow our schools to become  a refuge for those who would flee integrated public schools.”  Father Thomas Caroluzza, board chair, said to the press “I don’t want to accuse people of using our schools as a refuge, but at this point in history, I think we should make things clear to all those interested in private, integrated education so we don’t play games.”

While many alumni have continued to speak highly of their education at Our Lady of Victory, almost certainly better than the segregated public schools offered by the Commonwealth, there is no ambiguity that the doctrine of “separate but equal” would never be true.  It is only through a charism of “service to all” – without distinction – that we can see everybody achieve. 

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The St. Euphemia’s School Collection

This is the second of our three-part celebration for Black History Month 2022, focusing on elements of African American history within the Daughters of Charity archives collection.  The first part, on the Briscoe family of Emmitsburg, can be found here.


[Quote from Provincial Annals, 1878]:  September 19.  A new school, under the name of St. Euphemia’s School, was opened in Emmitsburg for girls, and small boys.  Father White, the pastor, was determined to have the Sisters.

With this note from the Provincial Annals, 1878, a new ministry of the Daughters of Charity began in Emmitsburg, MD.  While this would seem to place the Sisters in competition with themselves and their own long-running St. Joseph’s Academy, St. Euphemia’s served those from the town of Emmitsburg who had different educational needs and financial situation from those who attended the boarding school.

Eight years later, in 1886, St. Euphemia’s began a parallel education program, under one roof but in two separate rooms:

[Sunday April 4, from the 1886 Annals] Sunday too in town Father White announced the opening of his colored school for Tuesday.  But who is to teach it?  The Sisters are next door, but they can hardly assume a new work, and of course, all contingent expenses in the absence of both superiors.  So then is a good deal of little sly laugh and talk as to how Fr. White’s zeal is going to make out.

From 1886, Black and white children were both taught by the same community of Sisters, under the same roof, but in separate spaces.  In 1944, the walls at last came down, integrating education in Frederick County for the first time.  The St. Euphemia’s collection in Emmitsburg is a notable record of both the administration of the school and a record of those students’ lives, both before and after the end of desegregation.

The School and Its Children

The school was located on Green Street, which was later called Depaul Street, in a two-story, brick building.  While St. Joseph’s Academy was a strictly girls’ school, St. Euphemia’s taught both boys and girls.

The 1887 school year is the first instance in which we have an exact number of students attending the school:  137 white students and 40 African American students.  In 1898, it was 183 white and 24 African American.  In 1900, we know it was 110 girls to 73 boys, with no information about the race of any student.

The school had an agreement with Frederick County to receive local support as a school for African American students, since they were barred from attending public schools.  However, according to the Board minutes of 1918, St. Euphemia’s had not received this support for the year, and the financial records indicate this support had been paid sporadically since 1890.  Apparently, it was a task to pester the County on this matter, although it appears to have been distributed more consistently after 1927.  It should be noted that this support per African American student was a fraction of the County’s expenditures for white students.

St. Euphemia’s School Board Minutes, 1918

In the annual meeting of 1943, the Board minutes indicate that enrollment was down to four African American students.  Faced with a teacher shortage for a segregated African American classroom, the School instead made the decision to integrate and ensure that every student could get their elementary education.  Notably, it was the first school in Frederick County to integrate, 10 years before Brown v. Board

The Collection

The collection contains financial and Board documents of the school, the enrollment cards for the white students (valuable for genealogy), and several books of students’ schoolworks from the 1890s, completed as part of the Sisters exposition at the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893.  But the collection also contains the recorded memories of two African American alumni of the school who attended during the days of segregation, as well as some of the sisters.  In 2004, Sister Eleanor Casey made it a point to gather their memories, and they point to both the hope, drive, and self-empowerment that their teachers tried to instill, alongside the indignity and absurdity of segregation.

Kathleen Williams attended St. Euphemia’s in the 1920s and only passed away in 2016 at age 102.  She recalled the hard work that Sister Beata Bartling expected of her students:

Oh, if you didn’t know your spelling.  That was your homework at night.  You had to write each word 25 times.  And I never forgot my spelling.  I can still spell.  Marie [her daughter] has to ask me sometimes how to spell.  Oh, Lord, Sister Beata.  Oh, she was something else.

Mrs. Kathleen Richardson Williams, 2004

Despite this, it is worth noting that, while the archives currently holds nearly 250 report cards for white students at St. Euphemia’s, Sister Eleanor reported that, despite searching, neither she nor others were able to locate the report cards of the African American students.

Barbara Van Brakle Weedon remembers her family’s generational experience at St. Euphemia’s:

And, of course, my father was the youngest son and he had Sister Beata [Bartling] as one of the teachers.  And he always praised Sister Beata.  He was always so grateful because Sister Beata was determined.  She had such respect for the children that she was determined that they were worth something.  That they were going to learn.  That’s all, I remember him talking about Sister Beata, how grateful that he was.

At the same time, the policies of segregation still often applied to the school:

We were all in the one room no matter what grade we were.  And we were not allowed to drink from the water fountain.  We had our own little like an urn in the classroom.  And then we weren’t allowed to use the restrooms.  There was an outhouse outside that we used.  And I think some of the transients used to use the rest [sic] so my cousin and I, Kenny, we painted it.  Cleaned it up and painted it and put a lock on the door.  And that was our, that was our outside little restroom because we couldn’t use the inside.  Then for any of the school plays or anything we couldn’t be in any of [the] school plays.  And when we made our First Communion and Confirmation we always walked together at the end of the line.  So we were, we were separated.  But as kids you never thought it.  We were fortunate because we had good happy homes and I often wondered, you know, what it would be like for children who didn’t have a happy home to go to and to have to go through that all day…

Each interview also provides valuable family and regional history of the Emmitsburg, Gettysburg, and Mount St. Mary’s, particularly of their African American family members.

The End of St. Euphemia’s

In 1956, facing low enrollment, the Daughters closed St. Euphemia’s School and its sister institution, St. Anthony’s.  They were consolidated into Mother Seton School, which remains strong today as the flagship educational institution of the Daughters in Emmitsburg.

The building itself on Depaul Street was converted to apartments in 1985.

Ribbon from the opening of the Schoolhouse Apartments

The St. Euphemia’s collection contains valuable information for genealogists, but more importantly, for an era of education that, thankfully, we are moving past.  Racial segregation, particularly in the education that is meant to provide for the next generation, was, is, and always will be wrong.  What is valuable about this collection is that it provides voice to an institution and to the users of that institution, of Sisters both of their time and of those trying to provide a quality and fair education to a student population who could and would reach far beyond an unfair situation.  One final quote comes from Sister Angela Cool, 2005, and perfectly captures that dichotomy:

One day many years later when talking to my father about how terrible it was that we were separated.  He said, ‘If the Sisters had not taken them they would have had no education, those were the days of segregation, they could not go to the public school.’

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