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Saint Mary’s professor compiles history of Michiana women

| Monday, August 31, 2015

Last Wednesday, IU South Bend Civil Rights Heritage Center opened the exhibit “Celebrating South Bend Women: 150 Years of Leadership, Service and Achievement.” The exhibit showcased 21 women, including Sister M. Madeleva Wolff, Saint Mary’s president, 1934-1961.

Professor of communication studies Terri Russ’ was asked to contribute to the event because of her work starting the “Michiana Women Leaders Project” in the spring of 2014. The project is a partnership between Russ and the History Museum in South Bend.

Russ, along with a committee of the League of Women Voters, selected the 21 women showcased in the exhibit last Wednesday. Russ said she referred Sister Madeleva Wolff to the exhibit because of the strong influence Wolff’s teachings and writings have personally on her since teaching at Saint Mary’s.

“I feel that the changes and advances she made in the College have helped not only to make the College what it is today but also to make it more widely known in the community,” Russ said.

All of the narratives in the exhibit are a product of Russ’ research and writing, either compiled from her interviews or from archival research for those women who have passed.

“The [Michiana Women Leaders] Project is an ongoing living history project, and the exhibit [Wednesday] night was the first of what I hope will be an annual event,” she said.

The exhibit received such a positive response, that Russ said, she is moving up her project timeline and hopes to release a webpage in the next month.

Russ said her project compiles oral histories of women leaders in the area as defined by community members, who refer women to the project to be interviewed.

“Because of their age, I prioritized interviewing older women in the beginning and am working on expanding my participants now,” she said. “Each interview is transcribed and eventually the recordings themselves will be made available for the general public as part of a digital archive.”

Russ said she was inspired to start “The Michiana Women Leaders Project” after being invited to speak at the monthly League of Women Voters lunch on the topic of Feminism in the spring of 2014.

During the lunch discussion, Russ said, several individuals shared their stories of fighting oppression through marching for civil rights in the 60s and equal rights in the 70s.

Russ said, “In looking around the room, I realized there was a wealth of interesting and important stories that needed and deserved to be told. At the moment ‘The Michiana Women Leaders Project’ was born.”

After meeting with the History Museum in the summer of 2014, Russ said she was shocked to learn that they had nothing documenting how women have contributed to the growth and development of South Bend.

Russ continues to interview Michiana women and is in the process of writing her first book, which will come from the project.

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About Haleigh Ehmsen

A senior at Saint Mary's, Haleigh is majoring in Communication Studies and English Literature & Writing. She serves as the Saint Mary's editor and enjoys coffee, guacamole and good books.

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