The College of St. Scholastica

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A Century of Saints

A remarkable group of women


Mother Scholastica Kerst in a Buggy in 1900In 1900, women were still 20 years away from being legally allowed to vote in elections, run for public office or serve on juries. Their economic freedom was severly limited and often tied to their marital status, and, through the institution, to their husband. Career options were limited. Women primarily worked in the home, as teachers or nurses, or in textile milss and garment shops. Women were frequently viewed by society through their relationships to others: as wives and mothers, and not as individuals. 

In addition, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there was an active anti-Catholic movement in the United States. The American Protective Association (APA) worked to restrict Catholic immigration, remove Catholic teachers and public officials, and spread (largely false) stories about "escaped" preists and nuns. The APA was particularly strong among Protestant German and Scandanavian immigrants, of which there were many in Duluth. In 1893, APA-affiliated Republicans swept the city council elections, winning all contests in which they ran a candidate. The council then blocked a second term for Bishop James McGolrick on the Library Board and prevented a land sale for the construction of a new Cathedral.

In spite of these cultural headwinds, the women of the Duluth Benedictines built a hospital that would grow into the region's largest employer (St. Mary's) and built a college that would grow to be nationally recognized as one of the best in the Midwest. While most women could not vote, these women held regular elections in which they determined their own leaders and chose their own path. The women of the Duluth Benedictines were also very well educated in a time when women's education was often seen as a waste of resources. These women were leaders, builders, community members, investors, and risk-takers in a time when women were expected by society to be seen and not heard.

The work of these women also helped to advance the cause of women's equality in this country. They participated in a broader movement toward the education of women and founded an institution that helped give young women a way to contribute to their communities in a way that wasn't possible in earlier times. The young women who were educated here in the early 20th century took the values they learned from the Duluth Benedictines and helped lead the country through the Great Depression, World War II, the civil rights movement of the 1960's and beyond. These young women learned to think for themselves, they learned how to treat people kindly, and they learned how to unlock the potential inside themselves, a tradition that continues to this day.

The Duluth Benedictines are truly a remarkable group of women. 


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