A bi-weekly column from the Office of the President

Graichen Gym, McCarthy Hall named for key women on campus

By: Margaret Dahlberg, Ph.D.
Date: Jul. 13th, 2018
As we continue our tour of named VCSU campus buildings, exploring both the building’s history and the person behind the name, we come next to Graichen Gymnasium. I was surprised to learn, in reading Dr. Welsh’s book “Cornerstones,” that Valley City Normal was the “first school in the state to establish a Department of Health and Physical education” in 1921. The program was first managed by a full-time school doctor and nurse, who were responsible for physical, mental, and dental exams. They also taught the classes in hygiene and physical education. The gymnasium which housed their work was built in 1923 under the leadership of President Allen; the building also supported a variety of athletic activities. In November 1923, the Daily Times Record’s editor described it as a “plain, handsome, and substantial structure.”

While a number of different women directed the physical education program at VCSU, the longest serving was Charlotte Graichen, who taught physical education at VCSU from 1938–76. She taught activity courses, kinesiology, anatomy, school health problems, and P.E. in the elementary grades. She also served as advisor for the Women’s Recreation Association, Cheerleaders, the Philos, and, briefly, for the Methodist Youth Movement. After retirement, she remained in Valley City. On January 15, 1977, the Gymnasium (later called “the Women’s Gym”) was named Graichen Gymnasium in honor of Miss Graichen, who had retired six months earlier.

Another building was also completed during President Allen’s tenure—the College High School. This building provided classrooms for junior and senior high school students; the K-6 portion of the model school remained in the east wing of McFarland Hall (now home to Enrollment Services, Registrar, Financial Aid, and Education faculty offices). Completed in 1930, the new high school featured asphalt tile floors with terrazzo borders, spacious classrooms, two large assembly rooms, and specialized classrooms for home economics, art, and industrial arts. The model school concept flourished at VCSU from the normal school days through 1965, when the campus school closed and the building was repurposed for offices and classrooms.

On May 28, 1968, the building was named in honor of Superintendent Margaret McCarthy, who directed the college training school from 1919–45. Surprisingly little is available about Miss McCarthy, considering her long tenure and the flourishing state of the model school under her direction. She co-authored a textbook on teaching reading, and, upon retirement, moved to Madelia, Minn., to live with her sisters, where cemetery records indicate she died in 1956.

Both these faculty members demonstrate the selfless commitment that many of our faculty and staff show today. Like many of the women teachers of their generation, Miss Graichen and Miss McCarthy did not marry, so the campus, their programs, and their students, became the active center of their lives, helping VCSU through the difficult depression years and World War II, when enrollments dropped, appropriations were limited, and the school operated on a minimum staff. And they supported the recovery, bringing VCSU back to a flourishing teacher’s college ready to move forward to meet the needs of the next generation.