The Archivist’s Nook: “Mother” Millar’s Mission – Catholic Women’s Service in WWI

The satchel and a sample of its contents.

Imagine you purchased a box of used books and found buried within a tattered satchel dating from the First World War. What would you do with it? This scenario played in the summer of 2016, when a thrift store benefiting an Alabama-based women’s shelter contacted the CUA Archives. Hidden within a box of cookbooks – donated by an unknown person – was an old satchel containing the personal diary, correspondence, pamphlets, medals, and photos belonging to one Margaret Millar. A figure long since known to the Archives, but whose personal effects were thought lost. The shelter generously donated the satchel and its contents!

“Mother Millar,” or Margaret Richards Millar, was the head of the “Women Workers” sent to France by the newly-formed National Catholic War Council (NCWC) as part of the Committee on Special War Activities.  Roughly a century ago, as the United States increased its role in the First World War, the NCWC – predecessor to today’s USCCB – organized social clubs for the American Expeditionary Force. Placed throughout Western Europe, these clubs were operated by female staff, and necessitated a strong-willed and well-connected person to get the project off the ground in war-ravaged Europe. Millar was just that person.

Margaret Millar in her NCWC outfit, ca. 1919.

Born in 1858 in Vermont to Jonas DeForest Richards and Harriet Bartlett Jarvis, Millar was the second of three children and only daughter. Her family was of a distinguished New England line, which included a maternal grandfather, William Jarvis, who served as Thomas Jefferson’s and James Madison’s envoy to Spain and Portugal. Her father, a New England Congregationalist pastor, decided late in life to move the family to the American South. Immediately following the end of the Civil War in 1865, the family relocated to Alabama, having purchased a cotton plantation in Wilcox County. Both Millar’s father and older brother who later served as Wyoming state governor, DeForest Richards, became involved in county and state politics, with the former serving in the State Legislature (1867-1872) and as interim president of the University of Alabama (1869-1870) and the latter as county sheriff and treasurer.

Millar was educated at home and ultimately obtained a degree from the Bradford Academy in Massachusetts in 1880. By that point, her family had relocated to the American West, settling in the Nebraska panhandle and the Wyoming Territory. Marrying Stocks Millar, a Scottish immigrant educated at the University of St. Andrews, she spent her married life on the Wyoming plains, where she developed a reputation as a generous hostess for army personnel stationed in the Territory. At this time, her younger brother, Bartlett Richards, became a prominent cattle baron near Chadron, Nebraska, ultimately running afoul of federal land law and being imprisoned under Theodore Roosevelt.

Millar’s NCWC Women Workers Patch.

When her husband passed away in 1890, she spent the next several years in France and Germany with their three children. In 1896, she converted to Catholicism alongside her son, future Jesuit Morehouse F. X. Millar (later a collaborator with CUA professor John A. Ryan). In 1918, as a representative of the American Bureau of Education, she was sent to France to recruit French women to attend college in the United States. Remembered for her charity towards the military in Wyoming and having already navigated war-torn France, Millar was a natural choice to lead the NCWC’s efforts in establishing service member clubs.

In the summer of 1918, she was sent back to France as a representative of the Committee on Special War Activities of the NCWC, in order to organize and supervise service clubs for American soldiers. She would open the Etoile Service Club in Paris that same year. In May 1919, she also was sent by the NCWC as the only American Catholic delegate to the International Congress of Women in Switzerland, serving alongside Jane Addams. Held concurrently with the Versailles Peace Conference, Millar felt challenged but firm in her beliefs as she wrote of an openness to discussion among the various parties assembled.

In October 1919, Millar was unexpectedly recalled to the United States by Rev. John Burke, head of the NCWC. This recall, following complaints by some of the women she supervised, led to protests by the majority of the service club staff and members of the American forces in France. As she prepared to depart the continent, Millar was inundated with letters and petitions from fighting to get her reinstated. In one such letter, a coworker writes:

The boys all love you as they do their own mother and they realize what your going will mean to them. My only desire to remain at the Club now, to work, for our boys is because it was your most beloved treasure of happiness for others and being the one thing that remains with us to express in unspoken language the good wrought for others by your love and kindness.

NCWC lay women workers stationed in France, ca. 1919.

While Millar appreciated the support, she did not return to Paris, but remained in Texas the following year, helping to organize the first conference of the National Council of Catholic Women (NCCW), held in 1920. An active member of the NCCW and NCWC for the remaining years of her life, Millar passed away in 1947.

Her papers are available for research. The online finding aid may be found here, and a digital collection may be found here.

The Archivist’s Nook: From Manila to Madrid – Montavon’s Legal Department Goes Global

William Montavon, ca. 1940s.

In 1901, a young man named William F. Montavon (1874-1959) finished his studies at Catholic University in order to marry his wife, Mary Agnes Burrow. Little did he how the next 50 years would be a whirlwind of international travel, legal advocacy, and global upheaval. To understand the story of Montavon is to understand the story of the National Catholic Welfare Conference (NCWC) Legal Department. For 26 years, between 1925-1951, Montavon would serve as the director of the fledgling department, shaping its mission. For the American Catholic Church of the time, Montavon was regarded as “the Law.”

Montavon’s path to the NCWC was an indirect one. From 1902-1915, he served as the superintendent of schools in the Philippines. At the end of his tenure, he took an appointment as U.S. Commercial attaché to Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and Chile. From there he became the executive representative for the International Petroleum Company in Peru. Returning to the United States in 1925, he obtained the directorship of the Legal Department. With two decades experience abroad, Montavon was poised to turn the Legal Department’s focus from exclusively domestic issues to one contemplating the broader world.

Originally established in 1919 as a NCWC office, the Legal Department worked to track and advise Catholic dioceses and organizations on changes to state and federal law. It also served to represent the NCWC in the courts of law and public opinion. Among its most frequent areas of concern were (and continues to be) educational reform, tax policy, civil rights, immigration, and marital legislation. From the very beginning, the department has been at the forefront of legislative and legal battles over the role of parochial schools in the United States and their relations with both state and federal governments, including in the landmark Oregon School Case.

Flyer on the Spanish Civil War collected by Montavon.

Under Montavon’s directorship, the department expanded to include work on the behalf of Catholics abroad and the vulnerable domestically. The department entered into the complicated diplomatic situation surrounding the Mexican Cristero War (1926-1929) and its aftermath throughout the 1930s. Montavon himself traveled to Mexico to report on the situation of the Church in the countryside. This trip, and its ensuing report, was instrumental in the Mexican government’s decision to allow the return of the clergy and legal public worship. Pope Pius XI awarded Montavon the Knight Commander of the Order of St. Gregory the Great in 1929 for his work in Mexico.

This period also witnessed the department’s advising and reporting on the status of religious legislation and freedoms throughout the various Latin American republics, Haiti, and the Philippines. Through Montavon’s service as a NCWC News Service correspondent in Spain in 1931, the Legal Department soon became closely involved in Spanish events throughout the 1930s, in particular the Spanish Civil of 1936-1939.

The department also worked on domestic social policies, including the growing number of eugenics, sterilization, and birth control bills emerging in state legislatures across the country throughout the interwar period. Simultaneously, Montavon led efforts to oppose the enactment of a national quota system as specified in the Immigration Act of 1924. Questions of tax policy and draft enactment also emerged as pressing issues for the Church throughout Montavon’s tenure.

Massachusetts Senator David I. Walsh (left) with Montavon (right).

By the 1930s, with the Great Depression ongoing, the department kept its associates abreast of developments with governmental relief efforts and the changing role of the federal government in the economic and domestic spheres. Of particular import to the department was New Deal legislation that began to fundamentally impact both the social mission and employer status of the Church. In addition to supporting workforce relief efforts, the department closely followed developments in Social Security legislation and how it impacted clergy and Church staff. As the clouds of war gathered in the last half of the decade, the topic of Selective Service became of increasing importance to the NCWC as the draft status of seminarians remained uncertain. With Montavon testifying before Congress on numerous occasions, the department worked to better define the draft eligibility and social security expansion, as well as working to spread knowledge about the need for relief in war-torn parts of the world.

In the post-war period, the Legal Department continued much of its prior work, but took a greater role in civil rights and refugee legislation and legation. Montavon retired from the Legal Department in 1951, with countless well wishes arriving from dioceses across the country and world.

The Archives holds the following collections mentioned in this post:

The William Frederick Montavon Papers

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Office of General Counsel/Legal Department

The Archivist’s Nook: Read All About It – From Crime Reporter to Labor Advocate

Havana, Cuba, 1930: Harry Cyril Read (bottom right), Al Capone (back, second to right) Following an illness, Read had been ordered to spend several weeks in a warm climate by his doctor. When Capone learned of this, he invited himself along.

“Capone turned to me. His eyes were twinkling but some of their warmth was gone. ‘Is this a newspaper interview?’ he asked….He fell silent for a moment and then grinned broadly. “[Chicago City Sealer] Serritella says you’re one hundred percent and besides I like that Popeye comic in your newspaper. What do you want to know?’”

So recounts Harry Cyril Read of his first “interview” with gangster Al Capone, as reported in his unpublished manuscript Capone as I Knew Him. The time was 1929, Chicago was rocked by violence resulting from competition in the illegal liquor trade flourishing during Prohibition. It was mere weeks away from the infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, a fact not lost on Read when he would reflect on this initial meeting. Read, editor of one of the two leading newspapers of Chicago – the Chicago American – had decided to use his contacts to get the inside scoop on the man at the center of the escalating violence. His contacts came through.

Caption reads: “Three hoodlums with guns invaded a downtown Chicago garage on the night of Jan. 31, 1939, terrorized an attendant, cut the telephone wires and stole the American Newspaper Guild sound truck that had been publicizing the Hearst strike. They drove the truck into the river. The next morning coast guardsmen raised it with grappling hooks from twenty feet of water. (Photo by a striking Hearst photographer).

Harry Cyril Read was born in Chicago in 1892. Beginning with a job reporting for the Cheyenne Leader in Wyoming in 1912, Read’s career as a journalist would span three decades. While he would return to his hometown not long after 1912, the rest of the decade saw him set out on a variety of non-journalistic endeavors. In the intervening years, he would work a variety of industrial jobs, serve in the US Army in the First World War as a Sergeant Major of the 346th Tank Battalion, establish an advertising partnership, and earn a business degree from Northwestern University. In 1921, Read began working as a reporter for the Chicago American, one of two daily Chicago newspapers owned by William Hearst. An intrepid reporter, Read worked his way up the editor post of the newspaper by 1926, coinciding with the bloodiest period of the Prohibition-fueled gang wars in the Windy City. An aggressive newsman who sought to get to the bottom of the bloodshed, Read’s papers highlight numerous hours spent figuring out the politics, personalities, and patterns involved in the underworld. He collected fingerprint records, plotted gang crimes on a map, and plumbed the depths of his contacts for leads. An enterprising investigator, Read would even forge a tense, but cordial relationship with the infamous Al Capone in order to plumb the depths of the ongoing violence and political corruption rocking Chicago. At one point, Read would even go so far as to travel with the bootlegger to Florida and Cuba to maintain a working relationship and in search of a promised scoop. Along the way, he was able to provide details of Capone’s views and actions to the press.

With Capone’s arrest and sentencing for tax evasion in 1931 and the end of Prohibition not long after, the violence in Chicago began to ebb. Read continued to work as a reporter, but became increasingly involved in the labor struggles of the Great Depression. By the 1930s, the Congress of Industrial Organizations and its affiliate, the American Newspaper Guild, had organized Local 71, the Chicago Newspaper Guild. After layoffs in both of the Hearst-owned Chicago newspapers, the Guild called for a strike that began on December 4, 1938. As a leading member, Read was included in a suit filed by the Hearst papers to restrain strike activity in early 1939. The strike would not end until 1940. Despite the end of the strike, Read did not return to his former job, but instead began writing for several labor-affiliated newspapers including the United Auto Worker, the Wage Earner, and as editor of the Michigan CIO News.

Read (back row, second to left) meeting with President Dwight Eisenhower as a member of the President’s Committee for Traffic Safety, 1957.

In 1945, Read relocated to Washington, DC to accept a position as Assistant to the Secretary-Treasurer of the CIO. It is a position that he would continue to serve in for the rest of his working life, even transitioning with the merger of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and CIO in 1955. In his this capacity, Read represented the CIO at the United Nations Conference for International Organization in 1948 and at the World Federation of Trade Unions in Rome in 1948. While in Rome, Pope Pius XII received him in private audience. In light of his labor advocacy, Read served as a member of the Association of Catholic Trade Unionists, the Catholic Economic Association, the Catholic Labor Alliance, and the Catholic Inter-racial Council of Washington, DC. Furthermore, his later years were spent working on several books on politics, his experiences, and social commentary. He was also active on health and safety committees in Washington, D.C. being recognized posthumously by the National Safety Council. He passed away in 1957.

His wife, Lucy Read, donated the Harry Cyril Read Papers in 1958. They highlight the life and career of this enterprising journalist, labor and safety advocate, and author.

The Archivist’s Nook: “A Wonderful Tonic” – A Wartime Hollywood Romance

Wedding photo, 1936.

“My Sweetheart, today is your birthday. There is so much to say that I am not going to attempt to use words and paper and pencil. I think you know how I feel about our separation – and the war which caused it – and my prayers and hopes for our future.”

Thus begins a letter sent from the Department of National Defense in Ottawa, Canada to an address in Los Angeles, California. The author was Hollywood director and screenwriter John Farrow, who was wishing his wife, actress Maureen O’Sullivan, a happy birthday. Despite the challenges of distance and wartime censorship, the pair continuously worked to maintain regular contact on all topics, both good and ill.  

We have highlighted the life and career of Farrow in a previous post, but his relationship with O’Sullivan was but one of many topics covered. The Australian-born director and Irish-born actress married in 1936. They welcomed their first child, Michael, three years later in 1939. Almost immediately after his birth, the couple and their newborn experienced several years of separation and long-distance communication.

Sunday News, Oct. 1, 1939.

In August of that year, O’Sullivan traveled to the United Kingdom to film her latest feature. Unfortunately, the clouds of war were gathering on the Continent, and she soon found herself trapped in Britain. Her husband frantically sought safe passage for her return home. Both Farrow and MGM Studios worked to secure a flight or ship back for the actress, but passage was difficult as the uncertainties of the new conflict produced repeated cancellations. Ahead of one of the many canceled return trips, Farrow wrote to his wife:

“This letter is arriving by the plane that is bringing you back. To use the local vernacular – am I glad. I never realized before how much of a part you play in my life. In fact you are my life and I am thoroughly miserable without you.”

In the same letter, however, Farrow tells his wife that he wishes to heed the call to service. He would find an opportunity to follow this call, after O’Sullivan managed to return in late September. With the US not yet involved in the conflict and himself being a British subject, Farrow traveled to Vancouver in November 1939 to enlist in the Royal Canadian Navy. O’Sullivan remained behind in Los Angeles, taking care of their infant son and continuing her acting career.

In the coming years, Farrow would move around during his assignments with both the Canadian and British navies. He was stationed at various times in Ottawa, Nova Scotia, and Trinidad. Despite where he headed, his wife wrote to him frequently:

“My Dearest, what a wonderful treat I received last night. Two letters from my sweetheart….I can tell you I enjoyed every word. And after I finished reading them do you know what I did? I took all your letters, now a lovely big heap, and read through them too.”

The family reunited during a visit.

While O’Sullivan and Michael did manage to visit him – during one visit, John warned Maureen that she may be swamped by fans – the couple maintained most of their contact long-distance during his service. In addition to notes of affection, Farrow discussed his take on wartime events, O’Sullivan’s contract negotiations with the studio, and even explained the importance of mothers to young Michael. However, for Farrow, the most “wonderful tonic” for his melancholy at being apart happened to be his wife’s voice during their weekly phone calls:

“My sweetheart, wasn’t it fun to talk together. But for so long! I forget to reverse the charges so probably a month’s pay will go to the phone company. We are extravagant and must really discipline ourselves to a limit of say – 10 minutes. Yes? But anyway I have no regrets. It was so nice.”

Farrow would continue his service with the Canadian and British navies until he was invalided due to a contraction of typhus fever in January 1942. Throughout the remaining war years, he would be intermittently called back to service, while working on such wartime features as 1942’s Wake Island. A film for which Farrow received an Oscar nomination for direction.

A note Farrow sent to O’Sullivan.

While the separation of the war years weighed heavily on the couple, O’Sullivan and Farrow would remain married until his passing in 1963. They had seven children together over the following years, and remained active in both Hollywood and Catholic circles.

O’Sullivan, who donated the John Farrow Papers to the CUA Archives in 1978, kept the letters her husband sent her during the war years. Nestled between materials on his film career and involvement in religious societies, the wartime correspondence with his wife highlights a personal side of the famed director’s life that mattered deeply to him.

 

The Archivist’s Nook: On Presidents and Parades – Inaugurations in the Archives

Ticket to the 1937 Inauguration (John A. Ryan Papers)

Every four years, on an often cold and wet wintry day, thousands gather on the National Mall and along Constitution Avenue to witness the peaceful transfer of power, as one President steps down and another takes the oath of office. Being located in Washington, DC, the CUA Archives has naturally accumulated images and documents related to the preparations and events that occur before and on Inauguration Day. While we have a number of photos and articles taken by witnesses to the inaugural ceremonies of Presidents from Woodrow Wilson to Richard Nixon, the highlight of our inaugural materials are Taft’s inaugural in 1909 and Roosevelt’s second inaugural in 1937.

While every inauguration is an historic occasion, the 1937 ceremonies stands out in our collections for being both the first swearing-in to occur on January 20 and the first to have a public benediction. And the person who delivered this first benediction was Msgr. John A. Ryan, CUA alumnus and professor. During the contentious election of 1936, Ryan had delivered a speech defending Roosevelt against the criticisms of radio host and Michigan priest Fr. Coughlin. Being a steady ally and faithful advisor to the President on matters of Catholic outreach and minimum wage advocacy, Ryan was invited by Roosevelt in early January to provide the inaugural prayer.

1909 Inaugural Parade (Powderly Photographic Print Collection)

Thanks to Ryan’s personal involvement in this inauguration – also providing the benediction at the 1945 ceremonies – the Archives possesses a number of documents from the beginning of the second Roosevelt administration. From the tickets and programs to the “President’s Platform” seating chart and a parking pass to get through security, Ryan kept the materials from the inaugural he helped bless.

As far as it being the first January inauguration, the Constitution originally specified that the President be sworn in on March 4. With travel much easier and concerns over the Lame Duck period in both Congress and the White House, the passage of the Twentieth Amendment occurred in 1933, moving Inauguration Day to its current date. The 1937 Inauguration thus marked the first time the oath-taking occurred on a blustery January day.

Of course, it was not the first frigid inauguration! Weather was clearly not a factor in determining the date of the presidential swearing-in. As witnessed in the Terence Powderly Photographic Prints collection, snow was a frequent backdrop to the March ceremonies. The 1909 Inauguration is a prime example that the later date did not guarantee a sunny day in Washington!

Powderly snapped the top photo of the National Treasury staged for the 1917 Inaugural Parade. I snapped the below photo at the same site for the 2017 Parade.

While Powderly worked on-and-off with Presidents from McKinley to Coolidge, his photographs highlight the spectator side of inaugural set-ups and parades. Present in his collection are images of the parades of both Taft (1909) and Wilson (1913, 1917).  The 1909 Inauguration, then held on March 4, witnessed a blizzard the night before. Dumping 10 inches of snow on the city, the storm threatened to cancel the outdoor events, including the traditional parade. While the weather forced the swearing-in to move indoors to the Senate chamber, thousands of city workers labored frantically to clear the parade route. Due to their hard work, the Inaugural Parade proceeded as normal, albeit with many snow drifts visible along the route. (Incidentally, this was also the last year any official Inaugural Ball was held until 1949. When Wilson took office in 1913, he found the concept of galas unbecoming and too expensive and none were held again until Truman’s inaugural.)

No matter the weather – rain, snow, or shine – or the political or social changes that occur, and with or without an accompanying dance, the route of the Inaugural Parade and process of oath-taking has remained a constant in American politics and Washington life.

You can view find out more about the individuals who provide this glimpse into past inaugurations here:

The Archivist’s Nook: All Dressed Up – On Turkeys and Tuxedos

Sorry, Mr. Turkey, but it would a social faux pas to decline the invitation this late.
Sorry, Mr. Turkey, but it would be a social faux pas to decline the invitation this late.

Over the next week, the campus will become rather quiet. Most students and staff will hop on various planes, trains, and automobiles on their way to family and feasts. Many readers may even have their own Thanksgiving traditions from watching football to volunteering at a soup kitchen. But would you spend Turkey Day attending a formal soiree after the big game? If you were a student at Catholic University in the 1920s, and had remained in DC, you may very well have. In fact, if you found yourself on the campus in the 1930s, you may also have witnessed bonfires and parades.

One of the earliest CUA social traditions often centered on Thanksgiving – the Utopian Club Annual Gala. Founded on March 14, 1923, the Utopian Club was one of several men’s social organizations that existed in the early twentieth century at CUA. Among its peers were the Senators Club, the Abbey Club, the Dod Noon Club, and (by 1935) the Cave Dwellers. All these organizations acted as fraternal and alumni societies, organizing formal galas and casual gatherings known as “smokers.”

Students posing at one of the 1930s galas.
Students posing at one of the 1930s galas.

Within its first year of life, the Utopian Club inaugurated a tradition of hosting an elaborate ball for its alumni and active members, as well as invited guests from the campus community. What began as a simple event in 1923, soon became one of the most anticipated social occasions of the academic year. The student press closely followed the announcements of the Utopian Club’s social engagements, waiting for its elected head, the “Supreme Utopian,” to announce the Ball’s date, venue, and ticket availability.

While these soirees technically had no fixed date, they were traditionally held in the ballroom of a local hotel on Thanksgiving evening following a CUA football game. Other events, such as the Abbey Club’s Tea Dance were often held the following Saturday. These activities were originally intended to liven up the moods of students who were unable to spend Thanksgiving back home. These dances, as the December 1, 1926 Tower put it, “officially [close] one of the most brilliant weekends that will be written into the historical archives of the C.U.  Thanksgiving weekend is always anticipated by those ‘left behind’ for the holiday. Days stuffed with sparkling dances, ardent music, a rousing football game, and dazzling girls, everything to make the existence of the stay-at-home a little easier to endure.”

Conga Line at the Homecoming Dance, ca. 1950s
Conga Line at the Homecoming Dance, ca. 1950s

The Senators Club, an alumni organization, soon began to hold its own Thanksgiving gala alongside the Utopian Club in 1928. By the 1930s, the Thanksgiving galas became closely associated with the Homecoming football game, held during the holiday weekend. Thus, the various social events of Thanksgiving weekend became ever more lively affairs as the 1930s wore on, with celebratory bonfires, jitterbug contests, freshmen pajama parades, and votes to determine the “handsomest man” and the man with the “biggest feet.” With the Tower also reporting multiple visits by motorcycle-bound police and impromptu parades through the Brookland neighborhood, the student population often clashed with the administration and alumni community over what forms of Homecoming spirit were acceptable.

Homecoming royalty was first selected in 1949. Pictured: 1967 Homecoming Queen and court.
Homecoming royalty was first selected in 1949. Pictured: 1967 Homecoming Queen and court.

By the 1940s, the Thanksgiving traditions of the previous decades began to fade. The dates of the dances and the Homecoming game itself eventually became movable, though soirees continued for years (and the Homecoming dance never fully vanished). The original founder of the galas, the Utopian Club, continued to thrive well into the 1980s, albeit under a new name. In 1956, in honor of its long-time mentor, Fr. Ignatius Smith, O.P, it adopted the name Sigma Pi Delta. A collection of the organization can be viewed in the Archives.

The Archivist’s Nook: The Night the Martians Came to Campus

Martian tripod, crossing the Potomac perhaps?
Martian tripod, crossing the Potomac perhaps?

On the night of October 30, 1938, a startling message went across the airwaves of America: “Ladies and gentlemen, I have a grave announcement to make. Incredible as it may seem, both the observations of science and the evidence of our eyes lead to the inescapable assumption that those strange beings who landed in the Jersey farmlands tonight are the vanguard of an invading army from the planet Mars.”

Adapted from H.G. Wells’s War of the Worlds, this Orson Welles radio drama stirred up quite the reaction in a nation worried about war and disaster. The infamy of this broadcast can be seen in the various headlines that followed on Halloween, 1938. Tales of a panic-stricken nation, mass evacuations and hospitalizations, and armed gangs hunting alien invaders are splashed across newspapers across the nation (and world). This broadcast not only has become a legend, but it staked out Welles as a master of dramatic adaptations.

New York Daily News headline, Oct. 31, 1938
New York Daily News headline, Oct. 31, 1938

Of course, the reports of mass hysteria have recently been questioned (see here and here), with the media hype playing more of a role in defining the legend than the actual response by listeners. Nevertheless, at the time of the broadcast, there is no doubt that many people were entertained and enjoyed the tension and terror the radio drama provided. There are even some people who had a bit of fun with the idea of a “Martian hoard” descending upon the nation.

For while it makes a good Halloween tale to imagine residents of Washington worried that they may soon be facing the aliens and their horrible tripod machines, we should remember that others did not give into fear but prepared to make a tongue-in-cheek stand against the “Monsters of Mars.” As reported by the Tower war correspondent, Paul Eldridge ’39, Catholic University students allegedly waged a pitched battle against the Martians.

In the broadcast, the military called on all observatories to watch Mars for further ships being launched. Unfortunately, Catholic University lacked the means to assist in this national scouting mission, with the campus observatory having been lost over a decade prior. Built in 1890, the Observatory burned down, coincidentally, on Halloween night, 1924. (The remainder of the telescope base can still be seen outside of Aquinas Hall today.) Without this warning system, Eldridge reports, the advance of Martian scouts into the Brookland neighborhood took the campus community by surprise. Fortunately, the Martians were distracted by “10 double-fudge sundaes” at a local diner. This gave the students enough time to mount a defensive perimeter, with the rear guard strategically placing themselves out of sight and “under each bed.”

Observatory, ca. 1910
Observatory, ca. 1910

With civilians evacuated to the chapel, Mr. Eldridge reports that the student defenders rallied and mounted several defenses. They mined the halls of campus buildings with mousetraps, located skates to create a mobile infantry, and erected barricades, constructed of “[l]ogic, history, Latin and Greek textbooks…because these were hard to get through.”

Fortunately, the invasion was swiftly ended, as the one-hour mark of the broadcast arrived. Despite the valiant efforts of the “Grand Army of Catholic University,” the invasion from Mars was ultimately halted by Earth’s bacteria (or the end of the broadcast). Welles informs us that the Martians were “slain, after all man’s defenses had failed, by the humblest thing that God in His wisdom put upon this earth.” In the mocking report that Eldridge issued, he reveals a student body both prepared to defend its campus and willing to laugh at itself.

Study this example well, for you never know if the Martians may return someday…

The Archivist’s Nook: Mother Teresa’s Archival Footprints

Eileen Egan and Mother Teresa, Catholic Relief Services Visit to Leper Families, 1958. American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.
Eileen Egan and Mother Teresa, Catholic Relief Services Visit to Leper Families, 1958. American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

On an October day in 1960, a small, sari-clad woman arrived in Las Vegas. It was her first visit to the United States and first time away from her adopted home in India in over 30 years. A former geography teacher and now head of her own order, the Missionaries of Charity, this unassuming nun known as Mother Teresa had arrived in a city she described as a perpetual light festival, or “Diwali.” While little known outside Kolkata (Calcutta) at the time, Teresa had been invited to address the National Council of Catholic Women annual conference. Sitting at a little booth during the conference, she addressed an endless series of questions about her sari, free service to the poor, and Albanian origins.

Months ahead of her trip, Teresa had written to her colleague, Eileen Egan: “Thank God I have plenty to do – otherwise I would be terrified of that big public. Being an Indian citizen, I will have to get an Indian passport.”¹ This one sentence encapsulates much of the relationship between Egan and Teresa, revealing personal elements of Teresa’s life and work, as well as the more mundane background work it took to continue her mission.

Egan and Teresa, ca. 1970s. Catholic Relief Services was instrumental in aiding and spreading Teresa’s mission and message across the world. American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.
Egan and Teresa, ca. 1970s. Catholic Relief Services was instrumental in aiding and spreading Teresa’s mission and message across the world. American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

Egan, a long-time peace activist and employee of Catholic Relief Services, had been a co-worker of this relatively unknown nun for five years at this point. In the 1940s, both Teresa and Egan each experienced a calling to aid those ravaged by poverty, disease, and conflict. While Egan put her organizational and journalistic skills towards refugee relief, Teresa began the initial steps in founding a new religious order devoted to tending the sick, poor, and dying. In 1955, they would meet for the first time in the streets of Kolkata. Out of this initial meeting, the two women would strike up a close association that would endure the following four decades.

Thanks to Egan’s donation, the Archives holds the records of this relationship in the Eileen Egan’s Mother Teresa Collection. Not only did Egan and Teresa correspond regularly, but Egan collected materials related to the life and work of Teresa and her order. Their personal and professional interactions are reflected through hundreds of handwritten letters, photographs, newspaper clippings, and more.

Not only can one glimpse letters discussing administrative duties and spiritual reflection from Teresa, one see the growth of her order and renown as the world became inspired by this quiet sister working in the streets. Among the various highlights are: photographs documenting the first Missionary house to open outside India, in Venezuela in 1965; letters preserved in which Teresa agrees to accept her first honorary degree at Catholic University in 1971; an autographed copy of Teresa’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech; and, letters from Sunday school students across the United States writing to the newly-minted Nobel laureate.

Mother Teresa playing with an abandoned child, Kolkata, 1960. American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.
Mother Teresa playing with an abandoned child, Kolkata, 1960. American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

For a scholar of Teresa and her order, the collection is rich in biographical insights. In addition, the Archives houses a second Mother Teresa collection – the Co-Workers of Mother Teresa in America. This collection, begun by Violet Collins, catalogs the history of the lay American and international volunteers working alongside the Missionaries of Charity. While this collection is less focused on Mother Teresa, it does provide a glimpse into the work of lay people inspired by her example.

Returning to Egan, however, provides further insight into Teresa’s time in Nevada. To calm herself before addressing the crowds gathered at the conference, Teresa requested a trip out into the surrounding desert. Sitting silently next a cactus, Egan reports that the future saint silently meditated until she felt ready to face her audience. Upon completing her contemplation, Teresa did finally collect a souvenir – “a few of the long cactus spines which were easily twined into a crown of thrones. This she took back to Calcutta as a tangible memento of Las Vegas. It was placed on the head of the crucified Christ hanging behind the altar in the novitiate chapel.”²

Those interested in exploring more of the insights Egan or the Co-Workers collections offer into the life of the saint or the work of those she inspired, can contact the Archives by emailing lib-archives@cua.edu.


¹ Eileen Egan, Such a Vision of the Street: Mother Teresa – The Spirit and the Work (Garden City, New York: Image Books, 1986) 134.

² Ibid., 137.

The Archivist’s Nook: Teacher, Rector, Soldier, Spy – A Photographic Tour of O’Connor’s Rome

Eisenhower leaving the North American College campus, as students and faculty watch below, 1959.
Eisenhower leaving the North American College campus, as students and faculty watch below, 1959.

“I am sorry that you did not travel from the College to the Ciampino airfield with the President in the helicopter; however, I have found, as I am sure you have, that riding in a helicopter is a questionable undertaking under any circumstances irrespective of who you are with,” wrote John McCone, future CIA Director, to Archbishop Martin J. O’Connor, rector of the North American College (NAC) in Rome. The occasion? The recent visit of President Eisenhower to the seminary in December 1959.

O’Connor escorting Mr. and Mrs. Nixon to an audience with Pope Paul VI, 1963. This was not Nixon’s first or last papal audience nor O’Connor’s first or last visit with Nixon.
O’Connor escorting Mr. and Mrs. Nixon to an audience with Pope Paul VI, 1963. This was not Nixon’s first or last papal audience nor O’Connor’s first or last visit with Nixon.

In the fall of 1959, the North American College in Rome celebrated its 100th anniversary. Founded in 1859 by Pope Pius IX, the Pontifical North American College had much to celebrate that year. Having been devastated during the Second World War, much like the surrounding city, the school had been in a precarious position just a decade prior. Now, it stood rebuilt on the Janiculum Hill, serving as a nexus point not only for seminarians, but also representatives of American power and the Vatican. And at the center of it all was Archbishop O’Connor.

Known as the Oakball, or Oaky, by his students and faculty, O’Connor (1900-1986) became the “second founder” of the NAC. [1] A native of Scranton, Pennsylvania, O’Connor was a World War I veteran, attended CUA and the NAC, served as an official press representative for Vatican II, and even became the first Papal Nuncio to Malta. Wrangling the assorted personalities, factions, and financial resources to rebuild the school and put it on stable footing was no easy task, but O’Connor proved capable of weathering the challenge. Continue reading “The Archivist’s Nook: Teacher, Rector, Soldier, Spy – A Photographic Tour of O’Connor’s Rome”

The Archivist’s Nook: Taking Flight in DC – The Story of Albert Zahm

Albert Zahm seated in a Curtiss Model D. (Courtesy: Wright Bros. Aeroplane Co.)
Albert Zahm seated in a Curtiss Model D. (Courtesy: Wright Bros. Aeroplane Co.)

Between 1910-1914, the world witnessed a true clash of the titans. On one side were the Wright Brothers and on the other was Glenn Curtis. The dispute centered on aviation patents. During this lengthy courtroom battle, a certain Dr. Albert Zahm acted as an expert witness on Curtiss’s behalf, testifying for a month. Being a pioneer of early aeronautics and long-time adviser to the Wrights, Zahm’s testimony on behalf of their rival added an additional layer of drama to the already-complicated dispute.

But let us back up a minute here. Who was Albert Zahm and what does CUA have to do with him? Not only was Zahm a CUA professor of Engineering and Mechanics from 1895-1908, he also constructed the first experimental wind tunnel in the United States on the campus, a building that still exists to this day. Continue reading “The Archivist’s Nook: Taking Flight in DC – The Story of Albert Zahm”