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BRRR! Feeling like an Icy-Blue Demon these days? Let Special Collections and Archives show you the ropes of Antarctic living!

by Andrea Bainbridge 1/9/2013 9:14:00 AM

Special Collections and Archives has acquired several new items that reveal what life is like on the coldest continent (Chicago in January?), and celebrate the intrepid spirit Mary Alice McWhinnie, c. 1970sof Antarctic researcher, Mary Alice McWhinnie. A “Double Demon” and long-time DPU faculty member, McWhinnie made a number of trips to Antarctica, and is renowned for her research on the tiny, shrimp-like krill. In 1974, she and Sister Mary Odile Cahoon broke ground as the first women to “over-winter” in Antarctica, spending much of the year in McMurdo Sound. Special Collections’ recent acquisitions include scientific notes and communications from that 1974 trip, as well as Ernest Shackleton’s two-volume The Heart of the Antarctic, and The South Polar Times.

L-R: Mary Alice McWhinnie, Sr. Mary Odile Cahoon and Dennis Schenborn in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica, 1974.DePaul had a small collection of McWhinnie’s papers when alumnus Dennis Schenborn, former McWhinnie student and member of her 1974 research team, donated additional photographs, notes, and communications documenting their scientific work, close quarters, and daily life inSouth Polar Times, (frontispiece detail) a cold place. Long, cold months away from home had inspired another crew in 1902 to create The South Polar Times, “for the sole edification of our small company of explorers in the ‘Discovery,’ then held fast in the Antarctic ice.” The Times was produced regularly during their stint in Antarctica, and published when the crew returned to civilization. A four-volume inside-joke, its creators knew the rest of the world might not understand all of its illustrations, humor, and stories, but opted not to enlighten us, feeling “how much would still be missed, and how impossible it is to explain the spirit of our comradeship, or the great intimacy…it would be cruel to dissect our Polar jokes.”

Even without explanation, The Times is a testament to the mental fortitude of its creators, and the hardships they endured for months in an inhospitable land. Shackleton’s The Heart of the Antarctic offers an equally stark view of life there, noting, “We brought back with us from the journey towards the Pole vivid memories of how it feels to be intensely, fiercely hungry. During the period November 15, 1908 to February 23, 1909, we had but one full meal.” The same volume includes reflections on “semi-raw” horse-meat breakfasts, strategies for fairly dividing food rations, and whether you can indeed convince yourself that half a biscuit is more than half a biscuit.

"Entertaining the penguins", Heart of the Antarctic
Find out more about these remarkable journeys, and people, in DePaul’s Special Collections and Archives Department; Richardson Library, Room 314. Open to all members of the DePaul community and the public, M-F; 9am-5pm. Questions? Email us at:

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1/9/2013 10:55:04 AM

Dr. McWhinnie holds a special place in history. She is the first woman in documented history to set foot in Antarctica and without question the first woman to winter-over (with Dr. Mary Cahoon) on that dark, frozen continent. Her 1974 DePaul project kicked open the door for women to participate in Antarctic exploration and research.

Dennis Schenborn

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