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The MEXICO CITY COLLEGE Story: The History: 1940 - 1963

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       The MCC football team, the “Aztecas,” was also formed in 1947 and was admitted to the most important American football conference in Mexico, the Liga Mayor.  Much of the financial support for the team came personally from Paul Murray, VP of MCC.  Of the local promoters, only “Dr. Murray had a credit card which they could use to bring a selected team down for the annual Aztec Bowl game.”  In 1949 the Aztecas won its first championship: the final match of that season was against the Pumas Dorados de la UNAM.4, See Note L for a history of football at MCC

     Sports at MCC usually commanded a full page in The MCC Collegian, occasionally two pages (titled “The Collegian Sports Parade”),Note L and fencing has always been a part of MCC sports.  In March, 1953, the Latin American Fencing Society of MCC was invited to become a member of the Associación de Esgrima del Distrito Federal en Funciones de Federación.  This organization is the most distinguished fencing association in Mexico, and its membership includes the best fencers in the country.  The Fencing Club has been under the leadership of Cambridge educated Spaniard Carlos M. Sagasta, MCC professor of Ancient History and Fencing Master.

     “The one thing that impresses me about Mexico City College,” says Sagasta, “is the fact that students seems to be here to study, not to play.” (The MCC Collegian, November 26, 1952)

       MCC excelled in courses of international relations and Latin American studies, art, creative writing and journalism. The campus was the only center in Latin America providing higher studies for the American student intent in Business Administration and Foreign Trade in Latin America.21

    The Art Department was inaugurated in January, 1947, at Calle San Luis Potosi 154, when Merle Wachter was the only art teacher, with six students. (Prior to this inauguration, Manuel Aguirre, the head librarian at the American School, served as the MCC Art Education instructor.) In 1951 the Art Department, with the addition of sculpture Professor German Cueto, and a student enrollment of 200, became the sole occupant of the building at 132 San Luis Potosi, on the corner of Insurgentes and Coahuita.  Justino Fernandez, a leading Orozco authority, also taught in the art department.  When the College moved to Km. 16, Professor Wachter headed an international staff of twelve professors and instructors, each specializing in some area of the fine arts.  Arnold Belkin taught mural techniques and art history, and painted many murals throughout Mexico. Many established artists have listed studying at Mexico City College, either for one quarter or for several years, in their bios.  Some would alternate in attending schools between MCC and the San Miguel de Allende Art Institute and Allende’s Escuela Universitaria de Bellas Artes.17   Stage Design was offered starting the Summer Quarter, 1956, when Richard Posner became Director of the Studio Stages.

     Merle Wachter received a honorary doctorate from the University in June, 1969. This was in recognition of his work not only at the University, but within the greater Mexican community. On September of the same year, Dr. Wachter took the position of Dean of the Graduate School, succeeding Dr. Richard Greenleaf.

       The Mexico City Writing Center, the first of its kind in Latin America and a branch of MCC, was founded in the summer of 1950 by Margaret Shedd, a California novelist (who in private life was Mrs. Oliver Kissick).  The Center was located at 136 Chiapas.  “About fifty student writers (from the U.S. and Mexico) have enrolled in each quarterly session.”1  Two years after its founding Miss Shedd initiated a joint project of the Center and the Rockefeller Foundation’s Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences.  The Project awarded five scholarships, worth $1500 apiece, to young Mexican writers.  The scholarships entitled their holders to two terms of study in the Writing Center.  Seventy-five candidates applied for the initial scholarships, and the Rockefeller Foundation indicated its willingness to continue the program for the young Mexican writers “over a period of three years, perhaps longer.”  Miss Shedd believed “that the young (MCC) students at the Center will richly benefit from their association with their gifted Mexican colleagues.”18

     The Center was next headed by Ted Robbins and Jerry Moss Olson, both published authors, with an international staff that included James Norman Schmidt and the Spanish-Mexican philosopher Ramón Xirau.  A unique feature of the Creative Writing department was the “Creative Two-Way Spanish-English Translation” class, supervised by Ramon Xirau and editor and author Donald Demarest of New York (The Dark Virgin: The Book of Our Lady of Guadalupe), emphasizing the two-way translation of things and images from one language to another.1 

     In December, 1950, the Writing Center, working with the MCC Studio Stages drama students under the direction of Earl Sennett, started bi-weekly radio shows on Station XEBS.  Half hour dramatic presentations were presented.  

     Norman Mailer, Vance Bourjaily and John Steinbeck have lectured at the College, along with “Mexican playwright Rodolfo Usigli; Leopoldo Zea of the School of Philosophy and Letters of Mexico’s National University; José Luis Martinez, author of  Mexican Literature of the Twentieth Century; José García Ascot, poet, editor and translator; and Señora Maria de Leon Ortega, authority on Latin American folk music.”7,18  The “beat” generation icon and author, Jack Kerouac, briefly attended MCC.10

     Theatre had always been a part of MCC.  Dr. Helene Gaubert was the first to establish a Drama Workshop in the early 40s, assisted later by Rick Brown and Sandra Stewart.

      Earl Sennett, English and Drama instructor, was the 1949 founder and guiding light of the Studio Players.   Studio Players made its debut in August, 1949, when it staged the four Tennessee Williams one-act plays (that drew pious comments from Dean Murray) at the Bugambilia Club.  The one-act plays were directed by Ed Torrence, protégé of the famous New York director Margo Jones.  The staging was theatre-in-the-round, the first time theatre-in-the-round had been presented in Mexico. It was Glen Hughes of the University of Washington and Ms. Jones who separately developed this intimate form of theatre.  Sennett was also the director for the English colony Mexico City Players.  When Sennett left for New York in 1954, the Studio Players remained dormant until Dave Roberts, the new Speech and Drama instructor, revived the group. 
 
     Richard Posner became director of the campus’ Studio Stages in April, 1956.  His first production with Studio Stages was Miller’s A View From A Bridge, presented in May, 1956.  Five years later, the February 15, 1961 MCC Collegian wrote that The View “is still generally considered to be one of the best English-language productions ever given in the city.”   Posner founded the Fine Arts Committee in 1960 to stimulate interest in theatre activities at MCC.  He believed that the Studio Stage was potentially important for the MCC writing and art students, and established close cooperation between the Art Department (which offered a course in stage design), the library (which expanded its works on dramatic scripts), and the Writing Center (which encouraged its students to write scripts to be produced by the MCC dramatic group). 

     Posner, a New Yorker, joined the English Department in the summer of 1955 as a visiting professor teaching Writing for TV, and has been a special lecturer in the Writing Center.  He directed his first production in Mexico, Thornton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth, for the English speaking colony’s Players, A.C.   This off campus group was organized in 1951 and is the oldest of four major drama groups in Mexico devoted to English speaking plays. 

     Posner was a member of Elia Kazan’s and Lee Strasberg’s Actor’s Studio, and was a member of the New Dramatists (a playwright’s workshop), associate editor of the United Nations World and New York theatre reporter for Billboard  magazine.  He has written numerous short stories and dramatic scripts, which had earned him his appointment to the select New Dramatists group.

     Jack Natkin founded the MCC literary group, the Poet’s Voice readers’ theatre, during the 1959 Fall quarter. The group’s first productions were two dramatic readings: “The Microscopic Morality,” and “The Ants.”

    The late Professor William L. Sherman, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, a ’59 MCC graduate in History, co-authored (along with Meyer) The Course of Mexican History, still advertised as “the leading text book on Mexican history from the pre-Columbian periods to the present.”  It is now in its seventh edition.

    In 1950 “Mesoamerican Notes” No. 1, was published.  This treatise was founded by Robert Barlow who chaired the Department of Anthropology in 1949.  Barlow printed 350 copies of the first edition on a hand press in his home. It was trilingual (Náhuatl, Spanish and English) and included articles by Miguel Barrios, Frederick A. Peterson (who published, later, Ancient Mexico), and Professor Fernando Horcasitas. Professor Robert Barlow (1918-1951), anthropologist, also taught classical Nahuatl at the Escuela Nacional de Antropología.Note C    Numerous scholars, most from the U.S., used MCC as a base to pursue their field studies in pre-Columbian history, study and research.  It was the abundance of Mexico’s untapped pre-Columbian sites that gave MCC its reputation as a major center for pre-Columbian history, study and research in anthropological and archeological field studies.  The MCC archaeological department has been credited with the discovery and development of many archaeological sites.

     “In 1956 scholarly articles by members of the faculty were collected in a thick, bilingual volume, entitled Anthología MCC 1956, which the College presented as a contribution to the Seventh Mexican Book Fair (Feria del Libro).”2  A year later, MCC opened the Oaxaca Archaeological Research Center (Centro de Estudios Regionales).  MCC professors and students were instrumental in many archaeological discoveries, including the Yagul site near Oaxaca.

     Elena Picazo de Murray, wife of Dean Murray, assisted by Donlon Havenes formed the department of English for Mexicans in January, 1951.  It was located in its own building at Calle Jalapa 148, across the street from the MCC Art Center.  Within two years 1,300 students were enrolled in the day and evening classes that offered thirteen courses in English proficiency,1 with thirty classes and twenty-three instructors.  The Center offered club activities and social programs.  Her Spanish text book, Everyday Spanish: An Idiomatic Approach, is regarded as one of the best in the field, and has been used by countless American students at MCC, and adopted by several U.S. colleges and universities. 

     In 1951, the university was accepted by the Texas Association of Colleges as an overseas institution.  Eight years later, on December 2, 1959, MCC received full membership in the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).

        In March, 1954, the college moved to 20 acres of land at Km. 16.5, Carretera Mexico-Toluca (Highway 15) and started expanding the existing physical buildings of what had been the Turf Country Club.  Spring classes started April 16, 1954, five months after the start of negotiations to buy this property.  The "Toluca Highway" is the continuation of the Paseo de la Reforma.

      The Turf Club was founded in 1946 by Axel Faber, a Danish businessman.  Land had been sold around the Club for residences for those who wanted to live near the Club. In 1954 MCC purchased the remaining 80,000 square meters along with the principal buildings (from Posada Mimosa Co., owner of the property). This area, situated on a prominence above the Valley of Mexico, has been witness to the birth and growth of Mexico. (See Note J)

      The small villages of Cuajimalpa, adjoining Contadero, and “out in the wilds” of Acopilco, were just two miles up the highway from the new campus, separated from the college by fields and small farms.  Contadero, described as “a quiet little Mexican village,” was the home of the Dean of Admissions and Registrar, Elizabeth Thomas de Lopez.   Overlooking Mexico City, these villages would also become a haven for adventurous (if not the beatnik and bohemian fringe) students on limited budgets and seeking a bucolic life style.  These students represented a minority of approximately a dozen and half students (less than 2 tenths of one percent of the total average late ‘50s population).   A few students lived adjacent to the campus in six- and eight-unit apartment houses on Avenida de los Volcanes, known as the “lower road,” beneath the campus. These units were originally built when the campus was the Turf Country Club.  In 1956 there were twenty-seven family groups, either married couples or brothers and sisters, attending MCC as students.

      By far, the vast majority of students either rented apartments or lived with a Mexican or American family in the metropolis.  There were no dormitories at MCC. "Most students living in Mexico City caught the MCC school bus — the "Toluca Rocket" — behind the fountain of Diana, the Huntress that was located in the center of the circular glorieta where ther broad avenue Paseo de la Reforma angles west and Chapultepec Park begins."16 The MCC bus departed every half hour to make the ten-mile trip up to the Campus.

       In 1959 the college became a member of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) and fully accredited in the United States.

      Financially, MCC survived into the mid-late 50s without worthy endowment, without government subsidy, with little foundation support:  it was almost wholly dependent upon tuition payments.2 (Summer, 1960, MCC received its first grant from the National Science Foundation providing scholarships for 10 students of archaeology to study at MCC.)9, Note K   “Dean Murray even mortgaged his home to support the school at one point.”Note B 

     It was the large veteran enrollment after WW II and the Korean War, and the progressive exodus of veterans and students from U.S. college campuses to one or more semesters of serious study at MCC that gave the college the financial stability and growth it needed.  A double-page spread on MCC and the new Korean Bill of Rights appeared in the September 8, 1952 issue of the Pacific Stars and Stripes (the official Army daily at Tokyo, Japan for the U.S. Forces in the Far East Command).  Within weeks the Registrar’s office was swamped by a deluge of letters and applications for admission. 

     By the end of 1946, WW II veterans constituted 33.5 percent of all 160 students, and by 1950 they comprised 69 percent of the 800-odd students.  By the Fall of 1956, veterans had dropped to 56 percent.  The veteran enrollment slowly declined thereafter, but the total enrollment remained high.2  A U.S. official from the Visa Department of the U.S. Embassy would arrive at the college to distribute $115 VA checks to the Vets.

     The tuition fee in 1957-58, which included a $10 medical fee, was $130 per quarter, up from $105 two years earlier.16

      One complaint during the ‘50s was that “faculty salaries are deplorably low.”  One of “the highest paid” faculty members in 1956, a Political Science Professor, received “$240 – and later, $260 – per month.”  “Competent members of the faculty have remained only because they are willing to make material sacrifices in order to live in or carry on research in Mexico.”2  

      Mexico, in the 40s and 50s, had much to offer.  Crawford Kilian summed it up when he wrote, “We could walk through the ruins of conquered empires, learn the subtleties of bullfighting, and begin to speak the language. Mexican food had substance and flavor, and light and color were more intense. . . . The streets and markets were so beautiful, the people so vivid, the sun so bright, and the air so clear that it seems impossibly romantic,” (as quoted by Mexico City writer Diana Anhalt in her “Bridging the Cultural Gap”).19

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