Mount Mary University Digital Collections

Sister Aloyse Hessburg

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Sister Aloyse and students on the Mount Mary campus, circa 1965
Source: Mount Mary University Archives
Sister Aloyse Hessburg was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and first attended Mount Mary College (now Mount Mary University) in 1949. After a year at Mount Mary, she decided to join the School Sisters of Notre Dame, who had been her instructors at Messmer High School; she first professed vows in Milwaukee in 1953. From 1951 through the early 1960s, she taught at primary and secondary schools in Beaver Dam, Milwaukee, and Appleton, Wisconsin, and Chicago, Illinois, taking Saturday and summer courses in art and textiles throughout the years.
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Memo regarding Sister Aloyse Hessburg's appointment to Mount Mary's fashion design program, October 10, 1965
Source: Mount Mary University Archives
She returned to Mount Mary and earned a bachelor’s degree in home economics in 1961 before being assigned there as a clothing and textiles instructor in 1963. This prompted her to earn a master’s degree in textiles from Drexel Institute of Technology (now Drexel University), Philadelphia, in 1965, at which point she was chosen to establish the nation’s first four-year fashion design program at Mount Mary (see appointment memo to the left).
Sister Aloyse Hessburg and Mount Mary students
Sister Aloyse Hessburg with students in classroom
Source: Mount Mary University Archvies
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Sister Aloyse Hessburg and Mount Mary students
Source: Mount Mary University Archives
The program started small – the first graduating class in 1969 had four students, and the first fashion show featured five designers and 10 pieces – but under Sister Aloyse’s leadership it grew in size and prominence. Sister Aloyse invited designers from New York, including Charles Kleibacker, to Mount Mary to help train the fashion design students, and she initiated connections with local manufacturers and New York merchandise buyers. Building close relationships with each student and with members of the fashion community was extremely important to her, and she firmly believed that every student was important, regardless of her talents. 
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Sister Aloyse (3rd Sister from left) at New York fashion show in 1966
Source: Mount Mary University Archives
Sister Aloyse’s own professional accomplishments benefited the fashion program as well. In 1966 she and her companions made the news across multiple states by attending the runway show for fashion designers Burke-Amey in New York City (see photo to the right). It was both an opportunity to publicize Mount Mary's new fashion program and an educational experience for the Sisters. In addition, Sister Aloyse had been working in Ron Amey's workroom before the show, and one of her designs ("a slim jacket and a simple, body-defining white wool dress," according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) appeared on the runway.
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Sister Aloyse Hessburg with the dress (Object ID #1967.01she designed and created for Mrs. Frances Howard Robb
Source: Mount Mary University Archives
Shortly thereafter, Sister Aloyse earned widespread praise in December 1967 when she designed, made, and fitted the dress worn by Mrs. Frances Howard Robb (wife of James Robb) at the White House wedding of her son Charles Robb to Lynda Bird Johnson. Mrs. Robb was thrilled to work with the soft-spoken and highly skilled Sister Aloyse on the design of her mother-of-the-groom dress. The reviews were fabulous and helped the Mount Mary fashion program gain national attention.  
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Sister Aloyse Hessburg in classroom with students
Source: Mount Mary University Archives
In addition to spending 43 years as an associate professor, Sister Aloyse served as chair of the fashion department, and throughout her time at Mount Mary she continued to enhance the fashion design program. She brought her students to the runways of Chicago, New York, and Paris, and to the studios of New York designers, including Bonnie Cashin. She stayed on top of technological advances by acquiring computers for the program early on. She also started the Historic Costume Collection, now known as the Fashion Archive, so students could gain hands-on experience with garments and accessories.  
After retiring in 2008, Sister Aloyse served as the executive director of Friends of Fashion, which supports the preservation and growth of Mount Mary’s Fashion Archive, until 2016. In 2013 she received the Gold Needle Award from Mount Mary in honor of her commitment to fashion excellence and her 50 years of dedication to the fashion design program.