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Tuesday, March 5, 2024
The Observer

Saint Mary's SGA considering re-opening Clarissa Dalloway's Coffeehouse

In the summer of 1991, Peggy Abood (’92) penned the position paper that led to the founding of Clarissa Dalloway’s Coffeehouse. The clubhouse on Saint Mary’s campus served espresso-based drinks — a new creation at the time — and provided an essential student gathering space. Since then, Dalloway’s changed management, moved locations and eventually closed its doors. Saint Mary’s Student Government Association, however, is taking steps to bring Clarissa Dalloway’s back to campus.

SGA distributed a Google Form to gauge student interest in the reinstallation of Dalloway’s Coffeehouse on Sept. 11. Since then, junior Giavanna Paradiso, community committee co-chair, said 128 students have responded, with 99.2% saying they would consider attending events hosted at Dalloway’s.

Paradiso said SGA is moving forward with plans to bring the popular spot back to campus.

“We want to bring Dalloway's back and we want to make it a student space,” Paradiso said.

SGA has been discussing Dalloway’s since last year, Paradiso said, when president Olivia Allen and vice president Terra Nelson made bringing back the coffeehouse one of their goals while in office.

“It was one of the things that the [SGA] president and vice president had collectively decided they wanted to do this coming year,” Paradiso said. “And then I also wanted to do it, so it kind of worked out perfectly that our agendas coincided.”

Since then, the community committee has been gathering information from the administration, current students and alumnae, trying to understand how Dalloway’s operated in the past in order to prepare for its future. Paradiso said it will take some time for the coffeehouse to return to its full capacity.

“If Dalloway’s were to come back, it would be in the form of like small steps,” she said. “One of the things I want to do is post-game food … people are at Notre Dame all day, they go to the game, they’re standing in the stands and they get hungry. It would be things like nachos, fries, simple stuff. Start simple and then say, ‘OK, so that went well. Now we can do Thursday open-mic night, and students can come seen and read their poems and do whatever.’ So it would be incremental.”

The new Dalloway’s would offer Saint Mary’s students an on-campus social scene, Paradiso said.

“I think that if you actually look around Saint Mary's campus, there’s nowhere other than residence halls and the dining hall that are communal gathering spaces for students on our own campus,” Paradiso said. “There’s nothing where you can just all go and the purpose of the space is for students to feel in communion with one another.”

Senior Haley Mitchell, SGA chief of staff, said student government will take significant steps towards bringing Dalloway’s back once they receive more feedback from the student body.

“Once we get more feedback, we hope to have the facility to use for the students,” Mitchell said. “We are in the process of setting up meetings with our higher-ups to get the ball rolling on the whole process.”

When Abood originally wrote the position paper proposing the creation of an on-campus coffeehouse, she said some people questioned the reasoning behind her project.

“And I said, ‘Well because we need it, there’s got to be a place for kids to go on-campus for Saint Mary’s, so it’s not always so 100% Notre Dame focus,’” Abood said. “By the time I reached my senior year, I’d kind of run out of the charm of the dances and the dorm parties … I was very happy to be at Saint Mary’s and proud of going to school there and I wanted for the social life to be a little more vibrant and focused on campus instead of feeling like we always had to leave in order to have fun.”

She said in her mind, the coffeehouse would provide Saint Mary’s students with a space specific to the College, separate from the Notre Dame social scene.

“Saint Mary’s is extremely fortunate to be situated where it is and to have the long and illustrious history that it has,” Abood said. “Its founding by the Sisters of the Holy Cross and its relationship with Notre Dame from the beginning have been pivotal for the vibrancy of Saint Mary’s. But having said that, they’re two radically different institutions with completely different conditions. Notre Dame is a large research university that has very different aims and Saint Mary’s is wholly focused on the liberal arts experience for its students.”

All three of Abood’s brothers graduated from Notre Dame, along with several uncles and cousins. Abood said she didn’t create Dalloway’s to spite the University.

“I love Notre Dame,” she said. “It’s not about Notre Dame. That’s the whole thing, it’s that it’s about Saint Mary’s.”

Upon returning to campus in the fall, Abood said she went to Patrick White, an English professor and the associate dean of faculty at the time.

“And I barged into his office, and handed him the essay and said, ‘I want to do this,’” she said. “And he read it and said, ‘OK, how can I help? Let's, let's figure it out.’ He was really the person in the administration and the faculty who gave it legitimacy right from the beginning by saying, ‘OK, this is a good idea. Let's talk about what needs to happen to make it possible.’”

Abood read “Mrs. Dalloway” in a freshman year English class with Professor White, and said the Virginia Woolf novel inspired the coffeehouse’s naming.

“It’s a life-changing book, anything by Virginia Woolf is a life changing experience,” Abood said. “I was enchanted by the idea of this character who at once seems frivolous about her party, but as you go deeper into the book you realize how complex her life really is, and the older I get the more complex I see it and you realize that your whole life can come to you in a single day and a party isn’t just a party, it can be everything. And so it ends up that the coffee house was my party and all these years later, for what it was and who it made me, it was everything.”

Much of the support for Dalloway’s came from the student body, Abood said, and stressed the importance of student initiatives.

“The great thing about it is that there were lots of other people who were feeling like I was feeling and embraced the idea,” she said. “We put signs up all over campus, and we had a meeting for people who wanted to be volunteers. Dozens of people showed up. And so that was really gratifying.”

Abood said without the support of the student body, the coffehouse would not have been able to stay open.

"I mean, the whole reason why it was there to begin with was because of the students,” Abood said. “Once I got it going, the only reason it worked was because so many people were involved. And then all of the people who were volunteers brought their friends. Then it just became this bigger and bigger thing of people taking ownership in it. This is our thing, this is ours.”

In the end, Clarissa Dalloway’s served as much more than just a coffeehouse, Abood said, creating a space for Saint Mary’s students to appreciate their time together on campus.

“You have your most full appreciation of Saint Mary’s … when you realize that the time that you’re having with these women in this place is the greatest gift,” Abood said. “And that’s a huge part of why the coffeehouse was so important to me. It’s not just about a cappuccino.”

After Abood graduated in 1992, Dalloway’s moved from its original location near the Church of Our Lady of Loretto and Holy Cross Hall to where it currently stands on the Avenue. Katie and Molly White (’07), twin daughters of Professor White, were deeply involved in the “second generation” of Clarissa Dalloway’s, or D-Way’s

Katie White, now a Clare Boothe Luce assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Notre Dame, served as Dalloway's Operations Manager, and said Dalloway's hosted several events during the year, including a Christmas movie marathon, a dating game around Valentine's Day and a haunted house on Halloween. It was an especially popular venue for live performances from the Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame music scene, she said.

“We would do one live band a month,” White said. “Usually, this was student bands from Notre Dame or Saint Mary’s … this was usually inside, but during the fall and late, late spring, like right before graduation, we would have an outdoor concert. And we would basically set up all of our AV equipment outside. Occasionally we could get facilities to build one of those stand up things. And it was really fun.”

Photo courtesy of Meghan King Johnson.
Saint Mary's band The Sister Chain performing at Dalloway's, where they served as the entertainment on opening night. The debut The Sister Chain tape was recorded live at Dalloway's on Sept. 9, 1992, and the tapes sold for $5 a piece.

One of these bands was The Sister Chain, an acoustic, all-female ensemble of six Saint Mary’s students, who performed regularly at Dalloway’s, including at the coffeehouse’s opening night.

D-Way’s served not only as a spot for a cup of coffee and good music, White said, but as an important space dedicated to Saint Mary’s students.

“One of the big things that was great about Dalloway’s was that it was a place in the evenings you could go to that’s purpose was not studying,” White said. “Its purpose wasn’t even really like food or eating. It might have been coffee, but a lot of people just came to sit and hang out and be with Saint Mary’s women. And also it was a place that was really our own.”

Even with a full schedule of events slotted at Dalloway’s, White said her most lasting memories from the coffeehouse are the conversations she shared with friends while sitting in the worn leather armchairs.

"I really, really loved Dalloway’s," White said. "It was a community of people who were looking for something different on campus who didn’t necessarily go to Notre Dame every night of the week, or go out to bars on Thursday and Friday. It was for people who wanted to have a quiet cup of coffee with their girlfriends and talk about whatever."