Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Girls of Chicago's Providence High School . . . What Became of Them?

Providence High School - Chicago
 My mother, Gloria Kennelly, graduated from Chicago's Providence High School in 1942.  During that time period, Providence was a Catholic high school for girls.  She lived in the Garfield Park neighborhood, and so it was just a few blocks away on the opposite side of the park.  I wonder if she walked around the park or through it?

View Larger Map

My previous post about the home the Kennelly family rented for many years caused me to drag out the large cardboard box of photos I discovered on my closet shelf last summer and sift through it once again.  I always get bogged down looking through family photos. Time stands still as I pull my glasses to the end of my nose, tilt my head down so I can peer over them, and bring the photos up to within five inches of my face hoping to see some small clue that is hidden in it.  Invariably, I start to compare, sort, stack, and categorize only to find that even with my many, many categories, there are photos that don't really fit anywhere . . . or, conversely, fit everywhere.  What should I do?  So I gather them together, and, in true Scarlett O'Hara fashion, plan to deal with them tomorrow.

Well, tomorrow arrived.  Once again, I started to sort and stack. One of my stacks I mentally labeled as Providence High School.  As I pulled pile after pile of photos out of the box, the Providence stack grew larger. Naturally, my mother had not labeled any of the photos with names.  My curiousity about these girls grew as I saw them posing and laughing in photo after photo.  I love a photo set.  It seems to tell more of a story than a single photo, and I have shared photo sets before on this blog.

I wonder . . . whatever happened to them?  World War II was raging, the only eligible men were under 16 or over 40, and rationing of consumer goods had just begun. But in the faces of these 18 year old girls all you see is excitement and expectation for the life in front of them.  What were their lives like?  Happy or heartbreaking?  Exciting or wasted?  Do they have children or grandchildren who would cherish a glimpse into their grandma's past?  Are there 1942 graduates still around who could identify them?  Will you help me?

I present the Girls of Providence circa 1942

Coming out the front doors of Providence - March 1942. 

Compare to the photo above to discover the photographer for this photo. My mother, Gloria Kennelly, on far left.

 Watch those skirts, girls!

Chicago is the windy city.  Forget the hair . . . they're all smiles!

Let's take a break.   What else can we do?  Gloria Kennelly front right in plaid skirt.

Do you get a feel for personalities from this set?  Who is shy and who is gregarious?

Is the salute a sign of the times or are they saying, "Goodbye high school.  Hello life"

 On another day outside of Providence

The photo says February 1942, but this is not February in Chicago!  Gloria Kennelly, back row, center right.

Gloria Kennelly back row left.  Can you help me identify her friends?

Will I ever be able to identify them . .  or even a few of them?  In 1969, Providence merged with the all male St. Mel's becoming a co-ed school.The current school - Providence-St. Mel's is located in the original Providence building.  I called the school and inquired about their records.  They directed me to the alumni association, but it turns out that this is considered a "lost" period due to water damaged records.  They also suggested that I might try the Sisters of Providence, but I am not exactly sure how to do that. Did they have yearbooks? . . . I haven't found any yet, but I have a search saved to ebay just in case.  I do have a copy of the commencement program with the name of each graduate, but that doesn't match them to the girls in my photos.  I think the Beatles have the perfect song for this:

The 1942 Providence Commencement Program
Click to enlarge and read names

Click to enlarge and read names
Update! A 1940 yearbook has been found, and I have identified many of the girls - to the best of my ability.  Read my latest post to see the yearbook photos alongside the faces of the girls above.  With many thanks to Tony!


  1. I can't help you with your request to ID.

    But I look at those girls and in my mind's eye, I see them having slumber parties where they do each other's hair and nails.

    And grouped together - maybe smaller groups - getting ready for school dances.

    Love these photos. Thanks for sharing them.


  2. My guess is your mother would have walked through the park. In 1942 a young girl could walk through Garfield Park. Not so a decade and a half later when it was already becoming sketchy. Looks like your mom lived on Monroe, maybe about 3800 or so. I was at 4222 W. Washington -- not too much farther west. Many of my friends went to Providence. Later it became Providence St. Mel's. St. Mel's Church was on the SW corner of Washington and Kildare and the convent across the street from my house.

    Later in the fifties I went to the park with a friend and a man exposed himself to me! Afterwards I wasn't allowed to go any more. In the late 50s and early 60s Garfield Park became a place for turf wars as the East Garfield Park population became increasingly African American, followed by West Garfield Park in the early 60s. I believe there's an alumni association for former Providence students. Maybe you could post your request there with the link.

    1. She did live on Monroe - 3918. An earlier post I linked to shows her home which is still there. It looks like it was a great neighborhood. That is really so disheartening to hear how the neighborhood changed. It is still multiple blocks of visually beautiful homes - at least from the outside. All the ivy that covered the porch is gone, of course. The alumni association has no info for this period - water damaged. I have sent them what I have. My uncle was expected to go to St. Mel's but instead was sent to Bishop Quarters - I think he needed the discipline they offered.

  3. You may want to try the Joseph Cardinal Bernadin Archives and Records Center for the Archdiocese of Chicago, they may have more information in order to identify the rest of the girls in your pictures. Their website address is: and they are located near Holy Name Cathedral.

    Kev Varney
    Site Author
    Illinois High School Glory Days

    1. Sadly, I spoke with a lady at the archives, and she also said that this was considered a "lost" period. I'm hoping to find a yearbook one of these days - or better yet, a graduate who is still living. Thank you so much for your suggestion. I will keep the address since I have many Chicago relatives who attended Catholc schools.

  4. My mother was of that generation -- graduating in 1940. They were the girls who couldn't find any men to marry, much less date, because all of the men were away at war. My mother used to say that the only men available were either married or classified as 4-F. It was a tough time to come into adulthood.

    1. No one to look good for but the clothing styles were wonderful! I wish that look would come back, and my mother definitely had the figure for them - tall, & buxom with long legs!

  5. Starting off slowly with this, Margel. I have to admire your research ability and the talent you have for stitching it all together. The pictures are delightful (styles and personalities). The girls certainly looked like they enjoyed each other! Here is hoping you will discover happy things that happened to them during a difficult time in history! I liked the inclusion of the map, school photo and commencement program. Well done!

  6. Oops---forgot this part---she isn't in the best of health, but I will ask her this week if she recognizes any of the other girls.

  7. I hope your search proves successful!

  8. Loved the pictures. I am a graduated of the class of 1950 and It brought back memories seeing the school and pictures.