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FARRELL, Carolyn

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Photo courtesy: Telegraph Herald

FARRELL, Carolyn Kathlene (Sister). (Des Moines, IA--Dubuque, IA, June 14, 2020). MAYOR. Sister Farrell's work in civic affairs began in 1974 when then-mayor Allan Thoms asked her to serve on Dubuque's Civil Service Commission. In that role, she helped develop tests for police officer and firefighters which were not discriminatory toward women, but tested the skills for the job. (1) In 1977 Sister Farrell, a former principal of St. Patrick's Elementary School and director of continuing education and summer school at CLARKE COLLEGE, was the first woman to be elected to the Dubuque City Council. She was the top vote getter in both the primary and general election. (2) In 1980 she was appointed mayor of Dubuque during the time when council members chose the city's chief executive. It was her appointment over the more senior council member James BRADY that led to a change in local government.

Her service was at a time of economic trouble for the city. Jobs were lost in both the meatpacking and manufacturing areas. She worked with other community leaders to improve transportation by promoting the construction of a new bridge to Wisconsin and widening U.S. 61. (3)

In 1980 a question of whether she could remain mayor arose. Pope John Paul II asked Father Robert Drinan, a member of the United States Congress, to resign. Sister Farrell was asked whether the pope's decision affected her as well. She replied that the directive applied only to clerics and since she was not a cleric it had no effect upon her. She finished out her two year term, but did not run again. The pope's statement was later clarified and applied to religious sisters. (4)

Farrell served as a member of the Dubuque Civil Service Commission. In that role, she helped choose and develop tests for police officers and firefighters which did not discriminate against women. She also served on the Governor's Task Force for Iowa 2000, the Dubuque Child Care Center, Dubuque Fine Arts Society, and the League of Iowa Municipalities.

In 1981 Farrell was elected regional representative for the SISTERS OF CHARITY OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY (BVM). She remained in that position until 1987 when she moved to St. Paul to help establish the Women's Office. Sponsored by the Sisters of Charity, the organization worked to "alleviate oppression of women in the church and government." In 1991 she moved to Mundelein College in Chicago to serve as interim president while it merged with Loyola. She later became associate vice president with Loyola. (5)

In 2006 she returned to Dubuque as the director of the ROBERTA KUHN CENTER. (6)

Farrell was the associate vice president and director of the Ann Ida Gannon, BVM, Center for Women and Leadership Loyola University beginning in 1996; first coordinator of the Women's Office of the Sisters of Charity, BVM, and board member of the national Council for Research on Women, Greater Chicago Chapter of UNIFEM, and the Chicago Religious Leadership Network. (7)



1. Sisco, Becky, "Farrell Advanced the Cause of Women," Telegraph Herald, November 10, 2008, p. 65

2. Gilson, Donna. "Farrell Learned Much as Mayor," Telegraph Herald, August 26, 1991, p. 1

3. Sisco

4. Gilson. p. 3A

5. Ibid.

6. Sisco

7. "Carolyn Farrell, BVM," Gannon Center for Women and Leadership, Loyola University, Online: https://www.luc.edu/gannon/farrell.shtml