Below is just an excerpt—for the full story, including more on the Preuss family’s deep history in Lutheran education, read the Summer 2023 edition of the Forester.
As Elvira Preuss BA ’44 celebrated her 100th birthday on January 23 at the Lutheran Community Home in Seymour, IN, the vivacious centenarian with a sharp sense of humor looked back with gratitude on a long and fruitful life. Elvira attended Concordia Teachers College (Concordia-Chicago’s name from 1913 to 1979), earned a teaching degree, and pursued a 41-year teaching call that took her to classrooms in New York, Illinois, Texas and Indiana.
After graduating from high school in 1940, Elvira traveled the 227 miles from Seymour to the campus in River Forest. Her arrival coincided with a significant milestone in the College’s history: Elvira was among the first group of women to attend CTC, which had been an all-male institution since its establishment in 1864 as Addison Teachers Seminary.
Elvira remembers feeling nervous while playing “Solfeggietto” for her required piano audition prior to admission. In that era, all teachers-in-training at CTC were required to take music courses and demonstrate keyboard proficiency, an indication of music’s important role in Lutheran classroom education and religious tradition.
As campus culture adjusted to the new presence of women students, Elvira suspected that many members of the all-male faculty assumed that most women were “just out catching a fella,” rather than seeking to become excellent teachers. The male students, on the other hand, welcomed the arrival of their female classmates. Because women comprised a small percentage of the CTC student population, Elvira recalls with a grin, “there was competition over the limited supply of girls.”
The first women college students to arrive on campus lived under the watchful supervision of Miss Lulu Noess. A list of regulations for the residents of Girls’ Hall for the 1942-43 academic year, which Elvira has kept to this day, includes restrictions such as, “Beds must be made by 8:30 a.m. week-days and 12:30 p.m. on week-ends. They must be made neatly and uniformly with square corners.”
In the same period during which CTC was opening its doors for the first time to Elvira and her cohort of female students, four-year degrees were increasingly adopted as a minimum standard for educators in both religious-affiliated and secular schools. The Synod approved a fourth, noncompulsory college year in 1939. By 1940, about half of CTC students were completing four-year degrees.
Attending between 1940 and 1944, Elvira and her fellow CTC students felt the reverberations of a global conflict. She remembers that many of the "boys" left the campus and went to war; some never returned. The female students, she says, coped with a shortage of nylon stockings by mending runs with a crochet hook. Nearly 100 students contributed to a 1944 blood drive, one of many held on campus by the newly formed Concordia Defense Organization in support of war efforts. Despite the anxieties and pressures of the wartime era, Elvira and her fellow students continued to prepare themselves for their future teaching careers.