By: Tevin Leachman and Claire McCann
Fontbonne was founded in 1923 by a woman who valued service and education: Mother St. John Fontbonne. She emphasized above all else eight core values: quality, respect, diversity, community, justice, service, faith, and Catholic presence. Fontbonne University was first founded as a college, rather than a university. Mother St. John Fontbonne founded Fontbonne under the vision and leadership of Sister Agnes Gonzaga Ryan, mother superior of the local community of CSJ’s. Mother St. John Fontbonne founded the order of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Lyon, France during the 18th century. It was originally designed to provide post-secondary education to women but evolved into the co-education institution we know today. This rich information on Fontbonne’s history was shared with us with two of our librarians, Brady Shuman and Rebecca van Kniest, as you will see below.
The beauty of Fontbonne’s history lives and breathes through the unique collection of archives our university holds. The archives consist of the historical events that occurred at Fontbonne, as well as diverse artifacts; each piece of the archive has an important story to tell. One of the most important resources that can be found includes the collection of former student publications. First published in October of 1926, “The Font” was the first of Fontbonne’s student publications, acting as the earliest predecessor to the current Griffin Roar. On May 21st, 1946, The Font grew in importance, being changed from an extracurricular activity to an actual course within the university curriculum. The Font and other Fontbonne publications have helped shape Fontbonne into the University it is today.
With that in mind the Griffin Roar is pleased to announce the launch of a new feature for our publication: The Roaring 20s, where we will regularly feature examples of past Fontbonne student publications. In doing so we pay respect to the past and tie it into Fontbonne’s future.
To gain more insight into our school’s history of student publications and the University’s archives as a whole, we interviewed the experts: Rebecca van Kniest and Brady Shuman, our knowledgeable library archivists. It only makes sense to showcase all that Fontbonne’s archives have to offer right before the Roaring 20s come around again. Our successful and substantive interview is featured below:
Why now (debuting the University’s archives)? What was the inspiration behind this launch?
BS: The archives are being launched because they have been part of the University for so long and they were sort of hidden and tucked away. We really want to push forward for the future.
What is in the archives? What is the coolest thing you have seen?
BS: The archives contain a lot of information; you can find granite from the original build and shovels from the groundbreaking of several Fontbonne buildings, including the library. Every time I go down there, I find something new and different.
Do you feel a personal connection with Alums/writers?
BS: I always do, I always imagine a little story about the person which may seem inappropriate *laughs.*
Why is it important for Fontbonne students/staff to know about the archives?
RK: It makes them ambassadors of Fontbonne; they can talk about the history of Fontbonne to inform others about what Fontbonne has to offer.
How do you want students/faculty to engage with it?
RK: We want to create a digital collection so that they can get a sense of what we have and we hope that this will get them to ask us questions out of curiosity.
What feedback have you received thus far?
BS: Good feedback [on social media]. People are curious about what else [the archives] have.
What, in your opinion, makes the Fontbonne archives distinct?
RK: Fontbonne has a rich history of programs over the years. We have an opportunity to use the archives to showcase the unique history.
In addition to these fantastic answers, we wanted to share other fun facts to help give you more information and context concerning our University’s archives. There are dehumidifiers in each room to help preserve the papers and other artifacts. Although the rooms were flooded back in 2012, there are still plenty of facts and papers about Fontbonne programs and departments. These archives pull together everyone’s interests and different majors. For example there are lots of details on the history of Fontbonne’s Theatre program. There are class pictures and graduation commencements, but there are a few gaps in random places. There is a Mark Twain collection, including older books. Also, there is CSJ collection containing history and pictures. The Archives’ index is extensive, existing in digital form as well as in an organized binder in the main storage room. No matter what you find down in the archives, it contains something interesting about our university’s rich history.
As Rebecca and Brady thank their former librarians, the Griffin Roar staff thanks Fontbonne’s former student writers who made their student publications special and connected to the community. The Font publications are cherished and have received well-deserved attention, so we suggest also looking into other prior publications, since Fontbonne students have been publishing for ninety-three years! You can find these publications and more archive information on the Jack C. Taylor website. On top of those resources, the Griffin Roar website has added a “Roaring 20s” tab to our header, to make it more accessible to whoever would like to dig into the archives and previous Fontbonne publications. We hope you explore the archives and past Fontbonne publications; they truly make Fontbonne University special!
Reach out and ask our interviewees questions; they would love that!
Rebecca van Kniest
Follow Fontbonne University’s Library and Archives on social media:
Facebook: Fontbonne Archives
The original publication of this story noted that Fontbonne was a university from the start, without including key facts about Mother St. John Fontbonne. It has since been updated on March 16th, 2019.