This Was St. Thomas

Take a look at the St. Thomas of the 1920s and 1930s

Faculty and students, October 1933

Despite the lingering effects of Black Tuesday and the effect of the Great Depression, St. Thomas enrolled 626 students during the 1933-34 academic year. Led by president Father James Moynihan, students paid $150 a year in tuition and $350 a year for room and board.

Debate Team (Robert Sheran, Abraham Kaplan, Owen McElmeel), 1936

Coached by public-speaking instructor Owen McElmeel, the debate teams from St. Thomas achieved prominence in the late 1920s and early 1930s, winning the national Pi Delta Kappa debate championships in 1928 and 1936. To better prepare them for regional and national competitions, McElmeel often sent his debaters on extensive educational and public-speaking tours. Team members would spend a month on the road traveling by train as far as California to compete against other colleges and universities.

Everett McGowan, circa 1920

A multitalented athlete, Everett McGowan lettered in football and baseball as a student at St. Thomas from 1919 to 1920. But he is best known for his speed-skating prowess. McGowan won the national and international speed skating championships in 1920 as an amateur. His success continued during a professional career in which he beat veteran speed skaters such as Norval Baptie in the 1921 Northwest Championship.

 Campus plan for St. Thomas, 1930

The first campus plan for St. Thomas was created in 1930 by Maginnis and Walsh Architects of Boston. While many of the elements of the plan were not realized, including the suggestion of a domed football stadium, the construction of Aquinas Hall and Albertus Magnus Hall (now the John R. Roach Center for the Liberal Arts) closely followed the architects’ suggestions.

Cadets marching in Memorial Day parade, 1917

More than 600 members of the St. Thomas Corps of Cadets marched in the 1917 Memorial Day parade through the streets of downtown St. Paul. This parade was one of numerous civic and patriotic demonstrations the cadets participated in during World War I. Often featured in these demonstrations was a huge service flag designating the more than 500 former St. Thomas students who served in the armed forces during the Great War.

 The Famous Gas House Tigers, 1926

The “Famous Gas House Tigers” organized on campus in the early 1920s as an intramural basketball team. The group quickly evolved into one of the most influential social organizations on campus. During the 1920s and 1930s, the Tigers were best known for organizing the biggest social event on campus, the initiation of freshmen at the annual Tiger Homecoming. The amateur variety show put on by the freshmen during the Tiger Homecoming was attended by many faculty, students, alumni and friends of the college and was the highlight of the event.

The Mr. Tommy, Ralph Antil, 1931

The winner of the first “Mr. Tommy” competition at St. Thomas was Ralph Antil. The contest to determine “Who is the most representative student” was held in the spring of 1931. Sponsored by the student newspaper, The Purple and Gray, this first contest did not require that the nominee be a senior. Nominees were required to show their popularity from endorsement by 10 students, to be participants in some extracurricular activity and have passing grades. Faculty members judged the eligibility of contest entrants before their names were put to a vote by the student body.

Ann Kenne, head of Special Collections at the O’Shaughnessy-Frey Library Center, has a master’s degree in library science from the University of Iowa.

Enhancing the collection: If you wish to donate scrapbooks, diaries and photographs of students that contribute to the history of St. Thomas, contact her at