Bernadette Becker and Gladys Volp.
Bernadette Becker and Gladys Volp at work in the library, 1939.

Tales from the Archives: Early Female Staff Members

Today, women work at all levels of the university. But in the early years of St. Thomas, there were very few women on the staff of the then all-male college. In honor of Women's History Month and International Women’s Day (March 8), read about a few of the university's early female staff members.

A group of Sisters of St. Joseph at The Saint Paul Seminary, ca. 1940.

Some of the first women who worked on campus were a group from the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. Several sisters were assigned to St. Thomas and The Saint Paul Seminary around 1901 to manage the domestic departments. Among their duties were cooking, sewing and performing housekeeping duties for the priests and students who lived on campus. Two sisters, led by Sister Beatrice Gleason, were trained nurses who cared for injured and ill students in the college’s infirmary. Groups of sisters provided their services on the St. Thomas campus until 1943. The final group of sisters left the seminary in 1986.

Laywomen employed by St. Thomas did not appear in great numbers until after World War I. One of the first was Mary Griffin, who was hired in 1918 as St. Thomas’ first professionally trained librarian. During her eight-year tenure, she initiated the first organized library at the college. By the time she left the school in 1926, the library’s collection had grown to 8,000 books, which were classified using the Dewey Decimal System.

The Business Office was one of the campus offices which took the lead hiring women. Beginning in the 1920s, the office employed several women to work as cashiers and manage the school’s accounts. One such woman was Thelma MacCready, who was hired as the college’s accountant in 1925. MacCready managed the school’s finances using the Treasurer Office’s brand-new Burroughs Adding Machine, on which she had been specially trained to use.

The 1920s also brought more women to campus to work as secretaries and administrative assistants. Prior to this time, the college’s deans and presidents regularly employed recent graduates of St. Thomas to manage their offices. Agnes Brombach was a part of this wave of new hires. She came to campus in 1928 to serve as the secretary for then-president Father Matthew Schumacher. She proved so capable in this position that she stayed in it for the next 35 years working for four different St. Thomas presidents.

Women became more prevalent in managerial positions as the school moved toward the mid-20th century. Eileen Probst, for example, was hired in 1942 as the bookstore manager. She held this role for 23 years, overseeing more than 150 student workers during her tenure. Probst also planned and executed four location moves and the transition of the bookstore from a full-service to a self-service operation.