The Archivist’s Nook: John Mitchell – Apostle of Labor

Contemporary newspaper depicting the people and events of the Anthracite Coal Strike, 1902. John Mitchell Papers, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.
Contemporary newspaper depicting the people and events of the Anthracite Coal Strike, 1902. John Mitchell Papers, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

May First is a date full of meaning as ‘May Day’, a traditional European spring festival, the Feast Day of St. Joseph the Worker for Roman Catholics, and International Workers’ Day for leftists. However one marks this day it is certainly an appropriate time to note one of the most important figures in American labor history, John Mitchell, whose archival papers, including an online digital collection of his photographs, are housed at Catholic University. If Terence V. Powderly can be called ‘Labor’s American Idol,’ Mitchell was widely recognized as The Apostle of Labor after he led the fledgling United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) union through one of history’s most significant strikes, the Anthracite Coal Strike of 1902. He also wrote two books, Organized Labor (1903) and The Wage Earner (1913), arguing capital and labor could work together if both were linked in prosperity.

Mitchell was born 4 February 1870 in the coal mining village of Braidwood, Illinois, to poor Irish immigrants. Orphaned at a young age, he had little opportunity for education, and by age 12 was working in the coal mines. He joined the Knights of Labor in 1885 and in 1890 was a founding member of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA). He became an international union organizer in 1897, working alongside the celebrated “Mother” Mary Harris Jones, before being elected UMWA Vice President that same year, and President in 1899. Union activity in this era was a risky business as coal operators controlled the mines, coal towns, and coal miners who were forced to endure horrible conditions and long hours. Miners were often paid with coupons that could only be redeemed at company stores at inflated prices and had to buy tools and supplies such as dynamite for blasting and oil for lamps. As UMWA president, Mitchell, with his priestly mien, worked to incorporate new workers from various immigrant groups, mostly Catholic, who showed their affection by nicknaming him ‘Johnnie da Mitch.’   Continue reading “The Archivist’s Nook: John Mitchell – Apostle of Labor”

The Archivist’s Nook: A Montana Missionary – His Life and Teeth

E.W.J. Lindesmith
E.W.J. Lindesmith

Since 1982, the Knights of Columbus Museum of New Haven, Connecticut has told the story of their fraternal organization’s history and Catholic heritage through the display of art and artifacts. From April 9th through September 18th of 2016, visitors can view “Mission of Faith: The Coming of the Gospel to America,” an exhibit featuring the missionaries who explored and evangelized the North American continent. The American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives here at The Catholic University of America contributed several objects to this exhibit, including mission tiles painted by the Sisters of Mercy in mid-19th century California, as well as items belonging to the intrepid Reverend Eli Washington John Lindesmith (1827 – 1922), a missionary and military chaplain stationed in the late 19th century at Fort Keogh, Montana. Check out the previous blog post, Sisters of Mercy Mission Tiles, for more details on the history and travels of our California mission artifacts.

This exhibit at the Knights of Columbus Museum gives us the opportunity to take a look at one of the Archives’ most dynamic and verbose characters, E.W.J. Lindesmith. As our History of the Museum Collection explains, he collected objects from the Sioux and Cheyenne, as well as preserved artifacts from his own life as a chaplain to soldiers of the Indian Wars (from altar stones and altar cards to his own extracted teeth!). With an eye to the future, he meticulously recorded his own stories and reflections to accompany each object.

Some of Lindesmith’s teeth and the Colgate & Co. Shaving Stick canister he saved them in.
Some of Lindesmith’s teeth and the Colgate & Co. Shaving Stick canister he saved them in.

One broken slate altar stone, currently on loan to the Knights of Columbus Museum exhibit, was given to Lindesmith by another Montana missionary. Why save a fragmented stone with a travel stained and ripped cover? According to Lindesmith:

“This stone was carried over many thousands of miles among whites, indians, soldiers, trappers, miners, explorers, and frontiersmen of every kind, on cars, boats, stages, and even muleback, and often afoot through almost impenetrable mountains, bluffs, coulees, rooks, canyons, forests, badlands, prairie and over rivers without bridges. — at all hours by day and night — not knowing at what minute they might fall into the hands of road agents or hostile indians by mistake.”

His reasoning for saving his pulled teeth is a bit briefer, but to the point: “I want to show the dentists some of their good work and some of their bad work.”

Perhaps the objects carried by Lindesmith for the longest time are his altar cards. These three simple cards are memory aids placed on the altar during mass for easy reference to prayers. Purchased in 1855, Lindesmith used them to practice celebrating mass as a seminary student and went on to utilize them for fifty-two years on all of his mission stations. Noting their stained and time-worn appearance, he explained: “Long ago I could have got better cards, but these were handy and I was attached to them and would not exchange them for the best that could be got.”

One the altar cards Lindesmith carried for fifty two years.
One the altar cards Lindesmith carried for fifty two years.

More of Lindesmith’s writings can be found in our digital exhibit showcasing his sermon notes on topics ranging from temperance to women’s rights, while additional biographic information is available in the finding aid to his personal papers. Through participating in the Knights of Columbus Museum’s exhibit, we hope to give a broader audience a glimpse into the vibrant life of this missionary, military chaplain, and frontiersman through the objects he carried.

The Archivist’s Nook: What the Heck is a Labor Priest?

Some labor priests were especially good at number crunching. This is John A. Ryan’s estimate for an average sized family of 5.7 in 1905 as published in his book, A Living Wage. His inclusion in the budget of intoxicating liquors and tobacco may or may not raise eyebrows today.
Some labor priests were especially good at number crunching. This is John A. Ryan’s estimate for an average sized family of 5.7 in 1905 as published in his book, A Living Wage. His inclusion in the budget of intoxicating liquors and tobacco may or may not raise eyebrows today.

Yes, a “labor priest” is a thing.  His origins can be found in the intersection of the rise of the modern working class in the nineteenth century and the issuance of the encyclical Rerum Novarum in 1891.  The labor priest usually materialized from a working class community, often with immigrant roots, and often possessed an organic awareness of issues affecting the people in those communities.  The late nineteenth and early twentieth century saw the rise of conflicts between employers and employees in the wake of industrialization in the United States, much of it centered on the question of whether employees could form unions and collectively bargain with employers through these organizations.  The CUA Archives has a very strong collection of materials related to Catholicism and labor, including rich collections related to three individuals known as “labor priests”: John Ryan, Francis Haas, and George Higgins.

The trailblazer of the labor priests was Monsignor John Ryan, a professor of moral theology and ethics at The Catholic University of America (CUA) from 1915 until 1939.  Ryan was electrified when he read the encyclical Rerum Novarum in the 1890s, noting that “The doctrine of state intervention which I had come to accept and which was sometimes denounced as ‘socialistic’ on those benighted days, I now read in a papal encyclical.”  Ryan drew inspiration from the encyclical to dream up a whole host of reforms aimed at improving the condition of the American worker.  Realizing that very little research had been done on what it actually took to survive economically in America, Ryan wrote “A Living Wage,” the first book published on the subject in 1906.  Ryan did extensive research into living wage issues, worker rights, and employer-employee obligations, and wrote a program of reform for the U.S. Bishops that was largely adopted during the New Deal years.  Later, he served on the Fair Employment Practices Commission and advised various individuals in the Roosevelt administration on workplace issues. Ryan’s papers are a rich chronicle of a progressive Catholic reformer in the early twentieth century.[i] Continue reading “The Archivist’s Nook: What the Heck is a Labor Priest?”

The Archivist’s Nook: African American History? You’re Standing On It

The Middleton House was the main house on the CUA property when it was a slave run plantation. Sold to the U.S. Catholic Bishops after the Civil War, the house served several purposes for the University until it was demolished in 1970.
The Middleton House was the main house on the CUA property when it was a slave run plantation. Sold to the U.S. Catholic Bishops after the Civil War, the house served several purposes for the University until it was demolished in 1970.

It’s African American History Month, and we’ve got all kinds of  African-American history here at The Catholic University of America.

In fact, you’re standing on it.  The original 65 acres purchased by the U.S. Catholic Bishops to found the University is rife with African American history.  It didn’t start out that way.  Initially, the first house built on the current CUA campus was built by Samuel Harrison Smith and Margaret Bayard Smith.  The Smiths were invited to settle in the young capital city in 1803 by President Thomas Jefferson and found the District’s first newspaper.  Later, the house passed on to James Middleton and his son Erasmus Middleton.  The Middleton family held it as a slave-run plantation, until the Emancipation Act of 1862 (the first emancipation act in the nation, by the way) liberated the slaves of Washington, D.C.  The house eventually became part of the CUA campus and was demolished in 1970.

During the Civil War, Fort Slemmer was established on the perimeter of campus.  One of 68 fortifications protecting the city during the war, the fort never saw action, but it did play its part in the Civil War. Continue reading “The Archivist’s Nook: African American History? You’re Standing On It”

The Archivist’s Nook: T.V. Powderly – Labor’s ‘American Idol’

Group portrait of leaders of the Knights of Labor, with Powderly prominent. T.V. Powderly Papers, The Catholic University of America (CUA).

January 22 is the birthday of Terence Vincent Powderly (1849-1924), a man not widely remembered in the twenty-first century, but a national celebrity, an ‘American Idol’ if you will, in the tumultuous era of the late nineteenth century. Born in Carbondale, Pennsylvania, to Irish-Catholic immigrants, Powderly was a reform minded Mayor of Scranton (1878-1884), head of the national Knights of Labor union (1879-1893), and federal bureaucrat (1897-1924).  He was also a supporter of Irish nationalism, serving in Clan na Gael, a secret Irish independence society, and the Irish Land League, a political organization supporting tenant farmers.

Labor friends and celebrities in old age: T.V. Powderly, Nineteenth-Century ‘American Idol’ with ‘Mother’ Mary Harris Jones, ‘The Miner’s Angel.’ Washington, D.C., 1909. T.V. Powderly Papers, The Catholic University of America (CUA).

A railroad worker, Powderly joined the Scranton Local Assembly of the Knights of Labor in 1876, assuming the national leadership as Grand (later General) Master Workman, 1879-1893. The Knights came into national prominence during his tenure, in part due to his rousing public oratory, peaking in national membership and influence in 1886. At this point, Powderly was so popular there were babies named for him. However, failures in several labor disputes and a divisive power struggle saw the Knights rapidly decline and Powderly removed by a cabal involving John William Hayes, whose papers are also at CUA. Perhaps Powderly’s greatest achievement, greatly aided by Cardinal James Gibbons of Baltimore, was to bring about reconciliation between the labor movement and the Roman Catholic Church that distrusted and disapproved of labor organizations due to their secretive and ritualistic activities.

Immigrants, both detailed aliens and regular employees, working in an Ellis Island kitchen, Dec. 18, 1901. T.V. Powderly Papers, The Catholic University of America (CUA).

Campaigning for the Republicans in the 1896 presidential campaign, Powderly was rewarded by President William McKinley with appointment as Commissioner General of Immigration. Powderly’s efforts to reform conditions at Ellis Island prompted President Theodore Roosevelt to dismiss him in 1902, though he was reinstated in 1906 as a Special Immigration Inspector.  Powderly next served as Chief of the Division of Information, U.S. Bureau of Immigration, 1907-1921, and as the U.S. Department of Labor’s Commissioner of Conciliation, 1921-1924. He was also author of Thirty Years a/Labor (1889) and his posthumous memoirs, The Path I Trod (1940). In 1999 was honored as an inductee into the U.S. Department of Labor’s Hall of Honor, joining figures such as rival Samuel Gompers and friend Mary Harris “Mother” Jones. Continue reading “The Archivist’s Nook: T.V. Powderly – Labor’s ‘American Idol’”

The Archivist’s Nook: For God and Country – American Catholics in the World War

Student Army Training Corps (SATC) at The Catholic University of America, 1918. University Records, CUA Archives.
Student Army Training Corps (SATC) at The Catholic University of America, 1918. University Records, CUA Archives.

Each year November 11 is a special day in which we honor the nation’s military veterans. A previous blog post examined the American Civil War (1861-1865) relative to the grounds of what would become The Catholic University of America (CUA) in Washington, D.C. This post looks at the role of American Catholics in The World War, subsequently known as World War I that raged exactly one hundred years ago. Not coincidentally, the records and papers of many of the Catholic organizations and individuals mentioned hereafter are deposited in the Archives of CUA. Continue reading “The Archivist’s Nook: For God and Country – American Catholics in the World War”

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: Putting Their Money Where Their Hearts Were

Bruce and Dorothy Abts Mohler at a formal event with an unnamed priest in 1949, the same year of their marriage. Though they had no children, they left a formidable financial and archival legacy. Photograph from the Dorothy Abts Mohler Papers, ACUA.
Bruce and Dorothy Abts Mohler at a formal event with an unnamed priest in 1949, the same year of their marriage. Though they had no children, they left a formidable financial and archival legacy. Dorothy Abts Mohler Papers, ACUA.

Among the archival collections housed at The Catholic University of America (CUA) are the papers of Bruce Monroe Mohler (1881-1967) and Dorothy Abts Mohler (1908-2000), two of the most remarkable people ever produced by the American Catholic Church. Both epitomized the active participation of the laity as each contributed a lifetime of humanitarian service in regard to the crucial issues of immigration (Bruce) and charity (Dorothy). In addition to this legacy of service to their Church, they not only left their aforementioned papers but also a stupendous financial bequest to the CUA Archives to collect and safeguard archival collections to promote the study of American Catholic history.

Bruce Mohler was an Ohio native and graduate of Ohio State University who worked for the Minnesota State Board of Health supervising sanitary conditions of public drinking water until released in 1918 to serve in the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) in the First World War. As an army major in France, he was in charge of engineers purifying drinking water for the troops. After the armistice, he was the army representative to the American Red Cross relief effort in Poland and after de-mobilization was Deputy Commissioner of the American Red Cross in Poland. As conflict raged between Poland and Bolshevik Russia, he heroically took a relief unit to the war torn city of Kiev, earning accolades for his efforts from both Poland and the United States. Continue reading “The Archivist’s Nook: Putting Their Money Where Their Hearts Were”

The Archivist’s Nook: Treasure Chest – Your Own Virtual Jesus

Although the 1950s are generally thought of as a White-bread decade, this picture clearly shows Jesus (Sacred Heart) as the humane Savior of all the world’s children. Treasure Chest, v. 14, n 20, June 9, 1959.
Although the 1950s are generally thought of as a White-bread decade, this picture clearly shows Jesus (Sacred Heart) as the humane Savior of all the world’s children. Treasure Chest, v. 14, n 20, June 9, 1959.

As the campus of The Catholic University of America (CUA) and surrounding D.C. community basks in the afterglow of a momentous papal visit and canonization of a new saint, it is not out of order to reflect upon the Christian Savior, Jesus Christ. Now, before anyone gets the notion this archivist is about to impersonate a theologian, let me assure you my mission is an archival one, to study appearances by the Son of God on the covers of the Treasure Chest of Fun and Fact comic book housed in the CUA Archives.

As any user of the Archives, and, indeed, readers of this blog know (see ‘Hark! The Digital Angel Comes!’), Treasure Chest was a Catholic comic book, with over five hundred issues, distributed to the American Catholic parochial school system from 1946 to 1972. Moreover, it is CUA’s most popular digital collection, with visually stunning covers, including one in ten of all covers (53 of 508) featuring images of Jesus.  The first verse of the 23rd Psalms tell us ‘The Lord is my Shepherd,’ but let’s reverse things and Shepherd the Lord through his various Treasure Chest incarnations by looking at some of the best examples. Continue reading “The Archivist’s Nook: Treasure Chest – Your Own Virtual Jesus”

The Archivist’s Nook: Get Off the Road to Digital Perdition

nun, slide projector and twenty-first century classroom with computers
Your grandmother’s Catholic school classroom has changed: Left, sister teaches with a slide projector in a Baltimore Catholic school, 1955. Right, a teacher in a fully-loaded Catholic school classroom in Covington, Kentucky, 2010.

… and come to this Conference!

Come all ye lovers of free things digital!  Teachers and archivists, archivists and teachers, we call you all.  The Catholic Archives in the Digital Age Conference takes place October 8-9, 2015 on the campus of The Catholic University of America.  And it’s FREE.

Perdition:  I don’t know how to digitize my collection materials. I don’t know how to get free online stuff for my classroom.

Let’s face it, resources are scarce—time, money, and staff are in short supply.  Most archivists would love to put their unrestricted materials online for researchers and teachers to use.  And most teachers don’t like spending hours online searching for excellent classroom resources.  But the fact is, archivists don’t usually have the time, staff, or equipment to make their materials widely available.  Teachers, for their part, don’t always know where to look for digital documents they can use in their Catholic history, religious studies, and theology classes. Continue reading “The Archivist’s Nook: Get Off the Road to Digital Perdition”