Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Semester of Degree Completion


Thesis Director

Bonnie D. Irwin


The tradition of the legend of Mary Hawkins provides an example of how urban legends develop and circulate in a community. The legend is a part of a larger tradition of story telling and of urban legends such as "The Roommate's Death" which follow the same format. The legend is believed to be true, and many believe an actual event is the basis for the story. It is perpetuated by word of mouth, and like a ripple in a still body of water, it reaches beyond the campus and into the mainstream of the local community by means of the print media. Telling the story serves many functions for students at Eastern Illinois University and especially for those women living in Pemberton Hall, the oldest women's residence hall in Illinois. The legend taps into rules of society concerning roles of women. It also touches on anxieties held by people from every economical, political, gender and religious affiliation.

There is a value in the telling and hearing of the story that serves to recognize and address anxieties in human beings living in a society that is not always safe. The threat of personal harm or of injury and not being able to get help needed is recognized in the story. The legend also gives residents of Pemberton Hall and students of Eastern Illinois University, a sense of community identity. People enjoy telling the story to amuse and frighten one another. A legend such as this one, touches the lives of most people who hear it.