The Archivist’s Nook: Farewell and Thanks for All the Files!

“To Build a Stronger Union of Oil Workers”, from the CIO collection, 1950

This week’s post is guest authored by Marielle Gage, a recent CUA graduate in Library Science.

Two years ago, I walked into the American Catholic Research Center and University Archives as a student worker. I thought I would like the job — I knew one of my new coworkers from class, and had approved of John Shepherd’s fine collection of New England Patriots’ memorabilia — but I was surprised by how much. At the time, I was finishing my Master’s in History, and was assuming I would continue on to the PhD. But unexpected circumstances, and my new job, made me reconsider, and this last year has seen me finish a second Master’s, this one in Library and Information Science, and searching for a position in the field of archives rather than academia.

More than once, I’ve been asked, “What is it you do at an archives, anyway?” Normally, I explain what an archive is, and that answers their curiosity, but sometimes I get a follow-up: “Okay, so that’s the use of an archive, but why do you do all day? Just wait for researchers?” That question is actually harder to answer than you might expect, not because there isn’t anything to respond with, but because there’s just so much, it’s hard to describe a “typical” day. There isn’t one, really.

Take just this last month, as I finish my time at ACUA. I’ve processed a collection, including moving files into acid-free boxes and folders and giving everything labels, as well as fully organizing it, coded the Electronic Archival Description for it (using html), created a preliminary listing for another collection, scanned images for independent researchers and CUA staff, updated records, introduced researchers to our archives and rules, pulled boxes, created PDFs of hundreds of pages of original documents, taken phone calls, compiled a list of previous commencement speakers by reviewing old commencement handouts, moved artwork from our stacks to the vault, and more. Sometimes I arrive at the archives not sure what I’m going to work on that day; and even if I think I do, that could change with a phone call from the Registrar or some other university office, or with the arrival of an unexpected researcher. In my two years here, I have very few memories of being idle or without anything to do, even for twenty minutes.

Marvel’s “Mother Teresa of Calcutta”, from the Co-Workers of Mother Teresa collection, 1984

Even more than keeping me busy and out of the proverbial pool halls, my work at ACUA has been incredibly rewarding. Contrary to any stereotypes of librarian-type students, I am very much a people person, and take great satisfaction in helping people along their way: especially if they are seeking information and knowledge. I wish sometimes I had the ability to read the final version of every researcher’s book or article assigned by their investigations here, and it makes my day when we are able to provide something above and beyond the expectations of our visitors. That’s not really to our credit, necessarily: our records really are amazing. Not just highly informative — such as our various labor collections or the USCCB files — by sometimes really fun; we have, for example, a copy of a comic book Marvel produced about Mother Teresa. Even if it is simply her biography (and not, as I was hoping, a team-up with The Incredible Hulk to defeat Professor Poverty) it’s still a delightful record of the cultural impact she had even during her lifetime. There’s dozens of more items and collections I could talk about, but that’s not the point here.

Really, the point is to thank Dr. Meagher, Dr. Mazzenga, Mr. Shepherd, Shane MacDonald, and everyone else at the Archives for such a wonderful opportunity. They took a chance on a bookish girl, knee-high to a grasshopper even in her twenties, and trusted that she would be an asset to their community. I hope I have paid back that trust at least partially, but truly I owe all of them a debt I may never be able to repay. I very much doubt I ever would have sought that second Master’s, or sought a career in this field, if I hadn’t worked here. Now, as I move on to (hopefully), bigger and better things, I’d like to take this final chance to wish them all the very best. So here’s to you, ACUA: may your donors be plentiful and your HVACs never leak.

The Archivist’s Nook: Catholic Textbooks Beyond the Classroom

Madonna Speller, Grade 7, 1960. Commission on American Citizenship Records, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

This week’s post is guest-authored by Austin Arminio, a graduate student in the field of Library and Information Science.

For the past three months, I worked on a project to digitize publications of the Commission on American Citizenship of The Catholic University of America. During the 1938 Golden Jubilee of The Catholic University of America (CUA), Pope Pius XI sent a letter of congratulations to the American hierarchy. In this letter, he also gave the church leaders an assignment to create a curriculum for Catholic school students giving special attention to civics, sociology, and economics. The Bishops heeded the call, prompting CUA to create the Commission on American Citizenship. The Commission’s goal was to develop a school curriculum that educated elementary students on how to be both good American citizens and moral Catholics.

This is Our Parish, New Edition, 1952. Commission on American Citizenship Records, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

The Commission, founded by CUA faculty members Fr. Joseph M. Corrigan, Msgr. Francis J. Haas, and Msgr. George Johnson, went about creating textbooks to educate children on American history, literature, mathematics, citizenship, and Christian morals. Some of these works, such as the Madonna Speller series, would not be out of place in a public school, teaching writing, grammar, and spelling; while others like Faith and Our Freedom: This is Our Parish, dealt exclusively with Catholic religious teachings and how they apply to everyday life. Some books contained messages that were considered astonishing for their time. Faith and Freedom: These are Our People has the story of Eddie Patterson inviting his Chinese-American and African-American friends to his birthday party. While some of the language would be considered stereotypical today, CUA archivist Dr. Maria Mazzenga notes that at the time of the books publishing, Jim Crow and the Chinese Exclusion Act were still enforced.

During my time on this project, I was glad for the opportunity to create metadata and use a digital document repository such as Islandora, the software used by the Washington Research Libraries Consortium (WRLC). I had previously only worked with the scanning of documents, leaving the later steps to others, so it was interesting to deal with this part of the archival process. While it was time-consuming and required attention to detail using coding systems such as HTML and XML, the overall process was fairly simple. I believe that alone is an important and vital part of digital archiving. If these systems are to be adopted by libraries and archives, it is vital they be easy to use by both those who create them and those who use them for research.

A heartwarming scene, Faith and Freedom: This is Our Home, 1942, p. 26-27. American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

At the same time, this project made me painfully aware of the limitations of digital technology. This project, which only involved scanning 19 works, the longest of which was around 250 pages, took me almost three months to complete. In contrast, the actual creation of metadata and uploading the files to Islandora only took around two days. While obviously larger digitization projects would involve more than just one person working on scanning, it is clear to me time and resources are the main obstacles for digital archiving. To remedy this, institutions might instead benefit by only focusing on certain collections for online digitization. Those items that are most visually interesting, such as the brightly colored and illustrated CAC texts, are some of the best candidates for digitization, as they are likely to draw attention and interest to the larger collection.

The Archivist’s Nook: College Theology Society Offers a New Voice for Teaching Theology

Certificate of the Title Change of the College Theology Society, 1968

This week’s post is by Elizabeth Siniscalchi.

Theology had a marginal status as an academic discipline for undergraduates until the mid-twentieth century.  Most colleges and universities offered undergraduate courses that taught religion rather than theology, which incited clerics and members of religious orders to create a national organization, the College Theology Society in 1954.  CTS began as the Society of Catholic College Teachers of Sacred Doctrine until 1968 when they decided to become ecumenical and change their name.

They continue to grow today by building a community of theologians through regional and national meetings, annual conventions, and publications.  As a society, CTS exchanges ideas on the variety of ways that scholars can approach theology and religious studies as academic disciplines.  The CTS Records in the Archives at the Catholic University of America show the dynamics of CTS as they have sought to guide the direction in the interpretation of theology and religious studies for undergraduate students, as it aligns with Catholic values in colleges and universities.

Officers of the Society of Catholic College Teachers of Sacred Doctrine. Brother Luke, treasurer; Brother Alban of Mary, president; Most Reverend John M. Fearns, Auxiliary Bishop of New York; Reverend Thomas Donlan, former president; and Sister Rose Eileen, secretary, ca. 1955 (front left to right).

Directing such a path, however, has not been easy.  CTS tackled controversial issues such as autonomy and academic freedom, particularly in 1986 when tension arose with the doctrinal interpretations of Father Charles Curran at CUA.  CTS has initiated a dialogue with other theological societies such as the Council for the Society of Religion, the Joint Committee of Catholic Learned Societies and Scholars, and the International Federation of Catholic Universities in order to define the role of theology as a field that evolves.  Some of the CTS presidential letters in the CUA Archives show that CTS also contacted hierarchs, including Cardinal William W. Baum and Timothy Cardinal Manning as a way to bridge a few of the differences in opinions and perspectives among scholars and bishops.

Within the Society, the variety of perspectives is enriched as well by the extent of CTS members who consist of theology and religious studies professors and students from over 60 colleges and universities in America, Canada, and Europe.  CTS members met throughout the year in nearly every region of America to discuss theological issues that seem to affect the course curriculum from each member’s academic institution.

Fr. Freeman, Fr. Tkacik, Fr. Finn, Fr. Schwegel, Miss Bown, and Sr. Leontine (from left to right) at the second day of sessions of the Organizing Committee for the Missouri-Kansas Region, 1954

In the Washington, DC-Maryland region, for example, CTS members gather from Dumbarton College of Holy Cross, the Dominican House of Study, Immaculata College, Georgetown University, Mount St. Mary’s University, Catholic University, and Trinity College.  Additionally, CTS held a number of their national events in Washington, DC as early as their first national meeting in 1955 at Trinity College.  The national meetings, however, have not been limited to one city by any means, whether they took place in Chicago or Philadelphia, and the national meetings soon turned into Annual Conventions as of 1961.  The Annual Conventions have included noteworthy speakers such as David Tracy and Raimon Panikkar.

As a result of the Annual Conventions, CTS publishes an Annual Volume.  The Annual Volume is a collection of academic papers on the theme from an annual convention, but it considers papers that were not delivered as part of the proceedings as well.  The academic paper, Teologia De La Liberacion Y Marxismo by Enrique Dussel is just one of the typescript drafts that is in the CTS Records.  CTS also publishes an award-winning peer-reviewed journal, Horizons that includes articles, roundtables, and book reviews on a wide range of religious studies and theological topics and their intersection with other fields such as anthropology or ecology.

Delegates to the Second National Meeting at Notre Dame University, 1956

This year, CTS will host its sixty-third Annual Convention on June 4, 2017 at Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island where they will discuss American Catholicism in the 21st Century: Crossroads, Crisis, or Renewal?


Elizabeth Siniscalchi processed the CTS Records at the CUA Archives as a graduate student in Library and Information Science at the University of South Florida.  She works with texts and manuscripts in theology and religious studies.

The Archivist’s Nook: A Different Aria – Opera, NBC, and CUA

Costuming prep for The Juggler
Costuming prep for The Juggler. School of Music Records, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

This week’s post is guest authored by Marielle Gage, a CUA graduate student in History.

“My, how times have changed!”

Who hasn’t heard some variety of that phrase, if perhaps not in as stilted, “proper” phrasing as above? It’s often an overwrought sentiment, immediately followed by a “when I was your age…” or nostalgia of times past (that everyone complained about at the time) now seen through golden lenses. But in some cases, the sentiment is more than fair.

Take, for example, television. A hundred years ago, no one owned a television. Even thirty years later, during World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt relied on the radio, not television, to broadcast his “fireside chats” to the nation. And ten years after that, there were three regular channels broadcasting, one of which had no problem dedicating four Sunday afternoons to opera in the summer of 1959.

A scene from The Cage
A scene from The Cage. School of Music Records, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

That’s right. The same year the Grammy Awards were first broadcasted on NBC, that same station approved the broadcasting of four one-act operas, written by and starring CUA faculty, students, and alumni, at 12:30 pm on each of the four Sundays of May. The impetus wasn’t from the higher-ups within the National Broadcasting Channel, but rather from the National Council of Catholic Men, who had a partnership with NBC to broadcast, on radio and on television, a weekly “Catholic Hour” in which presenters could explain, examine, or defend the Catholic faith. CUA’s own Fulton J. Sheen was a frequent participate in the broadcasts; he and others would expound on themes such as the Virgin Mary, racism, the last words of Christ, labor, or marriage. Perhaps wishing to change up the formula, the NCCM commissioned the four one-act operas from CUA’s music department faculty in late 1958. While a couple of different themes were suggested (the early correspondence hints frequently of a retelling of Guadalupe, but is frustratingly vague on any details, and the idea was later dropped), the final four operas were: Dolcedo, the last day of an atheistic philosopher now in the care of nuns (music by Emerson Meyers, libretto by Dominic Rover, O.P.); The Cage, the story of an elevator operator who desperately wishes to travel, but feels trapped caring for his invalid and verbally abusive mother (music by George Thaddeus Jones, libretto by Leo Brady); The Decorator, a glimpse into the life of a middle-class mother trying so hard to be fashionable (music by Russell Woollen, libretto by Frank and Dorothy Getlein); and The Juggler, a retelling of the “clown of God” legend (music by William Graves, libretto by Arch Lustberg).

Filming Dolcedo. School of Music Records, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

While none of the operas, perhaps, are must-see classics (The Decorator, in particular, is a bit heavy-handed), it still must have been an adventure for the CUA students who participated and watched the productions. Unfortunately, little remains of any publicity or retrospectives within the CUA community concerning the operas. The surviving letters and photographs, then, remain a tantalizing glimpse at a curious moment in CUA’s musical history, and of American cultural history in general, from a time when it was not inconceivable that a portion of the American population would choose to spend their Sunday afternoons watching opera.

The Archivist’s Nook: Meticulous Mittmen – CUA Boxing and the Undefeated 1938 Season

Boxing Team Drills
Boxing Team Drills. CUA Athletics Department, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

This week’s post was written by Dallas Grubbs, a graduate student in History.

More than four thousand people pack into the gym in what is now the Crough Center Architecture building. The gentleman are dressed in black tuxedos, the women in fine silk dresses. Murmurs of excitement fill the hall. These spectators have arrived more than two hours early to ensure their place at this most recent performance of “Eddie’s boys.” “Eddie’s boys,” by the way, are not an all-male a cappella group. They are, in fact, the fiercest boxers on the east coast.

The year is 1938. The decade has witnessed the rise of CUA’s “mittmen” to dominance under the tutelage of coach Edmund “Eddie” LaFond, who has guided his teams to almost forty wins in their last fifty bouts. These bouts, composed of three two-minute rounds, were undoubtedly the longest and most punishing six minutes in the lives of those lads who had to compete against “Eddie’s boys” in the packed arenas. Yet despite their successes, two goals continue to elude LaFond and his punishing pugilists. The first is an undefeated season. The second, an NCAA boxing championship. The year is 1938. And this year LaFond and his boys have decided that they’re going to have both. Continue reading “The Archivist’s Nook: Meticulous Mittmen – CUA Boxing and the Undefeated 1938 Season”

The Archivist’s Nook: Stirring the Irish Cauldron

“The Cork Landlords Stirring up a Devil’s Cauldron.” United Ireland, October 3, 1885. From the Irish Home Rule Political Cartoon Collection, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.
“The Cork Landlords Stirring up a Devil’s Cauldron.” United Ireland, October 3, 1885. From the Irish Home Rule Political Cartoon Collection, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

This week’s post is guest authored by Marielle Gage, a CUA graduate student in History.

Saint Patrick’s Day is a beloved holiday, but for many Irish-Americans their heritage intersects with their daily lives more than once a year. Whether you grew up amused or irritated by a certain cereal leprechaun, or found that friend who couldn’t tell the difference between a Mc- and a Mac- adorable or infuriating, life as an American of Irish descent is filled with constant awareness. Or, at least, my own has been. I think I knew about the Potato Famine before the American War of Independence, and I still have an instinctive, furious reaction if anyone ever dare suggest that Oliver Cromwell ever did a good thing in his life.

Interest (as well as pride) in Irish heritage and history is nothing unique or special about me; it has a long and rich tradition in the Irish-American community. Here, at the American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives, we house several historical collections directly dealing with Irish and Irish-American history. A particularly fun collection is the Ancient Order of the Hibernians (founded 1836), but in deference to the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising, a seminal moment in the march towards an autonomous Irish state, I will direct your attention to our various exhibits in honor of Irish Independence.

Prison Pass, April 6, 1869. Thomas C. Luby Papers, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.
Prison Pass, April 6, 1869. From the Thomas C. Luby Papers, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

First, we have our physical exhibit, organized by our wonderful Katherine Santa Ana, “Sworn to Be Free: Irish Nationalism 1860-1921,” currently on display in the May Gallery of Mullen Library (first floor). The exhibit shows a selection of items from our holdings: letters, Gaelic alphabet cards, political cartoons, photographs, medals, and more. “Sworn to Be Free” looks at the cause of Irish Independence from an American Irish viewpoint: some of our records come from Irish immigrants, but most come from first or second-generation descendants who still maintained keen affection and concern for their motherland. When the struggles for independence became fraught, Irish republicans often looked to their American brethren for material, intellectual, and spiritual support, and the exhibit highlights several Americans offering that support. For those unable to visit “Sworn to Be Free” in person (and if you can, you really should), there is an online version of the exhibit available.

United Irish League of America 5th Biennial National Convention Delegate Ribbon, September 7-28, 1910. From the Terence V. Powderly Papers, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.
United Irish League of America 5th Biennial National Convention Delegate Ribbon, September 7-28, 1910. From the Terence V. Powderly Papers, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

To complement the online exhibit,  we are offering a document-based online exhibit, “Exploring Irish Nationalism with ACUA: An Academic Resource”, for use of teachers, students, and the interested public who might wish to explore Irish independence (and CUA’s connection to it) deeper. Offering certain, select examples from the James Aloysius Geary Papers and the Thomas J. Shahan Papers, both housed at ACUA, this second online exhibit is intended to provide background for the Easter Rising and later War of Independence. Included in Geary’s papers, for example, are minutes and publications of The Friends of Irish Freedom, an American group that watched the Rising and subsequent events with great interest. Shahan preserved several issues of the Irish Bulletin, a publication of the Irish State during the war with Great Britain which often dedicated its pages to illustrating the crimes the English had committed against the Irish people. Impartial news it may not be, but they do serve as a reflection of very real opinions and attitudes present both in Ireland and in sympathetic Irish-Americans.

Neither exhibit is — or claims to be — the whole picture of Irish nationalism and Irish-American sympathy with it. But we have tried to highlight interesting individuals, events, and organizations. We hope our exhibits will not be the end of your curiosity, but the beginning.

The Archivist’s Nook: Married Priests – Crisis or Opportunity?

Mary Alma and James at Mass, “Mary Alma receives the Sign of Peace from her husband, 30 June 1982, The Leaven, ” James Parker Papers, The Catholic University of America (CUA).
Mary Alma and James at Mass, “Mary Alma receives the Sign of Peace from her husband,” 30 June 1982, The Leaven. James Parker Papers, The Catholic University of America (CUA).

This week’s post is guest authored by Marielle Gage, a CUA graduate student in History.

On Wednesday, 30 June 1982, Mary Alma Parker went to Mass. I do not know what the sermon was about, or what songs were sung, but I know she was there because a local newspaper reporter was there, and took her picture receiving communion from the officiating priest. This small, everyday event was hardly newsworthy, save that the celebrant was Reverend James Parker, her husband. He was the first married former Episcopalian clergyman in the United States to be ordained a Catholic priest. Under a program known as the Pastoral Provision, Rev. Parker had been accepted into the Church first as a convert and then as a consecrated priest. He remained deeply involved with the Provision, as well as the various conservative Episcopalian organizations he had associated with before his conversion, until his retirement in 2005. His papers, donated to ACUA by his wife, are a veritable treasure trove of information on the Pastoral Provision and the related Continuing Anglican movement.

“Episcopalians, Are You Unhappy?” Advertisement appealing to discontent within traditional Anglican circles, 18 April 1979, Albany Herald. James Parker Papers, The Catholic University of America (CUA).
“Episcopalians, Are You Unhappy?” Advertisement appealing to discontent within traditional Anglican circles, 18 April 1979, Albany Herald. James Parker Papers, The Catholic University of America (CUA).

The 1970’s had been a decade of crisis for the Episcopalian Church. Everything, it seemed to some, changed: the decade saw revision of the Book of Common Prayer, the easing of remarriage rules for the divorced, the ordination of women, and more. These issues’ passage into Episcopalian practice was met with consternation in more conservative circles. Some grit their teeth and bore it, some formed splinter groups that either petered out or limped on into the present day, but some took a more radical step: they returned to Rome. But these new converts specifically, the converting Episcopal churchmen presented a challenge to the Catholic Church. These men, who had been priests under their old religion, wished to continue their ministry under the new. But many of these men were married, as had been permitted in the Protestant sect, but emphatically was not in the Catholic. Could these men be somehow squeezed into the Church structure? The answer, tentatively, was yes. And thus the Pastoral Provision was born.

Parker Letter of Resignation Father Parker explains his resignation to his Episcopal parishioners, 20 April 1981. James Parker Papers, The Catholic University of America (CUA).
Parker Letter of Resignation. Father Parker explains his resignation to his Episcopal parishioners, 20 April 1981. James Parker Papers, The Catholic University of America (CUA).

Parker was heavily involved in the “Anglican Crisis” of the 70’s. As provincial of the Society of the Holy Cross an organization of Anglo Catholic priests Parker watched the radical departures from old practices with alarm: our collection reflects in particular his concerns surrounding women’s ordination. One particularly interesting item we received from Mary Alma is a journal he kept recording reactions he encountered on the topic. He also was an eyewitness to the 1977 St. Louis Congress, where the issue came to a head. Soon after, splinter groups began to separate themselves from the mainstream Episcopal Church, or look to join alternative Christian traditions. The Society of the Holy Cross elected Parker to represent their cause to the Catholic Church. While not everyone involved in the Society converted, Parker did, being ordained a Catholic priest on 29 June 1982. He continued to be involved in both the Continuing Anglican Movement he had left behind and the Pastoral Provision, serving for a long time as the secretary of Bernard Law (bishop of Springfield-Cape Girardeau at the time of Parker’s ordination), who had been appointed to oversee the Provision. His collection, which we have just finished processing, is an intriguing account of the ebbs and flows of ecumenical politics, the challenges of modernity, and the spiritual life of one remarkable priest.

The Archivist’s Nook: From the Pew to Our Living Rooms – Broadcasting the Mass

Rev. Frederick R. McManus performing a Television Age Mass, 1960s, McManus Papers, ACUA.
Rev. Frederick R. McManus performing a Television Age Mass, 1960s, McManus Papers, ACUA.

This week’s post is guest authored by Chelsy Tracz, a CUA graduate student in Theology.

The twentieth century witnessed an explosion in the growth, development, power and influence of various forms of media in our world. While we might be most familiar with the digital revolution—which we, as archivists, are working to take full advantage of—the explosion of radio and television preceded the rise of the internet.

The development of radio and the advent of television didn’t just change the landscape of American popular culture, but had such influence that even the Catholic Church had to reckon with this new form of communication.

The highly influential Msgr. Frederick Richard McManus (1923-2005) was one of the many leaders of the Church that offered guidance about these new forms of media. Having received both his bachelor’s and doctoral degrees from The Catholic University of America (CUA), he later returned to CUA, serving as the Dean of Canon Law from 1958 to 1993. McManus is most notable for his leadership in the twentieth century Liturgical Movement and for his role as peritus (or expert) on Sacred Liturgy at the Second Vatican Council. He would prove to be integral in implementing the reforms of Vatican II in the liturgy of the United States, celebrating the first official English-language Mass in 1964. Continue reading “The Archivist’s Nook: From the Pew to Our Living Rooms – Broadcasting the Mass”

The Archivist’s Nook: If This Table Had Ears!

The Table, up close and personal, photo by Angela Geosits, 8-13-2015.
The Table, up close and personal, photo by Angela Geosits, 8-13-2015.

This week’s post is guest authored by Angela Geosits, archives assistant and doctoral student in English.

Any visitor to McMahon Hall is likely familiar with the massive marble table which dominates the central foyer. Set between the two great staircases out of the flow of foot traffic, this stately table blends in with the neutral colors of the space and feels as if it has always been there. But contrary to all expectations, this 2 ½ ton marble table is surprisingly well traveled, and even enjoyed a misspent youth loitering in the lobby of Loew’s Capitol Theatre, the last surviving Broadway vaudeville house. Some traces of this thespian origin can be seen in the detailed carvings of Comedy and Tragedy on the table’s supports.

But how on earth did our table get from a vaudeville theatre in New York City to an academic building at Catholic University in Washington, DC? The story begins in the winter of 1967, when the roof of the Army surplus theater the Drama Department had been using as their performance space collapsed under a heavy load of snow. Enthusiastic fundraising efforts began in order to fill the desperate need for a new stage. CUA Drama alumnus Ed McMahon (no relation to Monsignor James McMahon for whom the building is named) knew the Loews and organized a special benefit for the CUA Drama Department on the last night of performances at the Capitol Theatre. Continue reading “The Archivist’s Nook: If This Table Had Ears!”

The Archivist’s Nook: Legion of Decency Keeping the Big Screen Clean

Cleopatra, 1963
Cleopatra (1963), scourge of the National Legion of Decency [source: wikimedia commons]

This week’s post is guest authored by Vitalina A. Nova, Archives assistant and LIS graduate.

Regardless of your opinion of Motion Pictures Association of America (MPAA) movie ratings, you’re likely familiar with them and know the MPAA reviews film content to determine suitability for specific audiences. What you’re less likely to know is that the indignation which led to the formation of the MPAA’s predecessor, the Hays Code, also led to the formation of the National Legion of Decency, a Catholic interest group with similar goals.

The Hays Code imposed restrictions on the film industry beginning in the early 1930s, aiming to align content on the big screen with moral standards codified as the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors Association (MPPDA) Don’ts and Be Carefuls.  The Hays code was replaced by the MPAA in 1968.  The full list of Don’ts and Be Carefuls is available from the School of Media Arts at the Santa Barbara City College.

In contrast, the National Legion of Decency maintained an interest in advising the American public on the morality of films long after the Hays Code went out of use.  Formed in 1933, the Legion was initially composed of religious and laity of Jewish and Christian faiths concerned that exposure to immoral material harmed viewers’ quality of character.  Censurable material included the discussion or depiction of childbirth, immodest dress, and a lack of ultimate judgment on characters’ questionable behavior (as defined by the Legion).  Continue reading “The Archivist’s Nook: Legion of Decency Keeping the Big Screen Clean”