The Saint Louis University Historical Records provide glimpses into the inner workings of the early University rather than a seamless history of its development and administration. Over the years much has apparently been lost, and the contents of this collection, sketchy though they may be, serves as our closest link to the past of Saint Louis University.
The collection contains items dating from as early as 1639 to as late as 1966, with the earliest material being nineteenth-century copies of rare originals and the most recent transmittal letters accompanying gifts from donors. The bulk of the material spans the mid-nineteenth to very early twentieth centuries.
The fragmented nature of the collection, as well as the difficulty in imposing modern bureaucratic constructs on laissez-faire nineteenth-century University officers, whose duties often overlapped and who were as involved in mundane housekeeping tasks as in long-range policy planning, necessitated arranging series into a hierarchy of University administration functions and divisions, followed by the activities of the University community, by housekeeping records, and finally by record format. These format series are arranged alphabetically. The collection concludes with a series of non-University historical records that were for some reason mixed in with University records of a similar timeframe. These pertain to other Catholic educational institutions both in St. Louis and elsewhere.
It should be remembered that during the early period covered by these records the distinctions among the University as an educational institution, St. Francis Xavier (College) Church as a parish, and the Jesuits as a religious community were not at all clear-cut. Two examples of this are encountered in the Jesuitica and Financial Records Series. The Jesuitica Series is composed mainly of records that document the Jesuits' lives in religion and in community, yet a subseries on teaching, made up of lecture notes and bibliographies prepared by Jesuits, illuminates not only the content and method of classroom instruction but also the way that Jesuits filtered this teaching through their particular world view. The Financial Records Series, too, contains many volumes that appear to cover indiscriminately the financial affairs of the school, the church, the Missouri Province, individual Jesuit residences, and the Jesuit fathers and brothers themselves. A similar situation exists in the case of the financial records subseries of the Jesuitica and St. Francis Xavier (College) Church Series.
The largest and one of the most interesting of the series is that entitled Organizations, which encompasses everything from student clubs and church sodalities to the Alumni Association, thus chronicling the extracurricular social, religious, and academic activities of students and other members of the University community.
The second largest series, Jesuitica, and the third largest, Financial Records, have been touched upon above. Among the remaining series, the Student Records Series gives the names and addresses of students, the classes to which they were assigned, information on their families and courses of study, and their grades for both academic work and conduct. It also includes lists of absentees and of those leaving school, with sometimes pithy comments about the circumstances of these occurrences.
Other series of particular interest include Prefect Diaries, which consists of journals kept by the University prefects of discipline, studies, and small boys. They detail daily life at the school among students, the chief focus, as well as their Jesuit mentors. The Student Compositions Series, supplemented by similar items in the two series entitled Commencement and Literary Exercises, and Louisiana Purchase Exposition (World's Fair), demonstrates the differing levels of proficiency of students in various fields of study. The Letter Books Series, made up of correspondence from parents and guardians, University agents, and fellow Jesuits to University officials, is a gold mine of gleanings in the sociocultural and political history that serves as the background for the financial, academic, and religious matters under discussion.