The Archivist’s Nook: Catholic Patriots of the American Revolution

Charles Carroll of Carrollton, the only Catholic to sign the Declaration of Independence, One of Maryland’s two statues in the U.S. Capitol, Photo from Catholic Action magazine, February 1932, p. 7. National Catholic War Council Records, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.
Charles Carroll of Carrollton, the only Catholic to sign the Declaration of Independence, One of Maryland’s two statues in the U.S. Capitol, Photo from Catholic Action magazine, February 1932, p. 7. National Catholic War Council Records, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

Americans celebrating their independence from Great Britain on the Fourth of July seldom remember Catholic contributions to the national cause.  This is not surprising, as Catholics made up only an estimated one percent of the population of the nascent republic. Colonial America was generally prejudiced against Catholics and, with the notable exception of Pennsylvania, had enacted various civil and legal restrictions. As the American Revolution loomed, The Quebec Act of 1774 especially inflamed fears of an authoritarian alliance between the British Crown and the Vatican Pontiff to crush American liberties. Nevertheless, many Catholics rose to prominence in the front ranks of freedom’s struggle, despite their status as a distrusted and often proscribed minority.

A set of vestments that once belonged to Bishop John Carroll. They include chasuble, tunic, dalmatic, chalice veil, stole and maniples. Museum, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.
A set of orange vestments that once belonged to Bishop John Carroll. They include chasuble, tunic, dalmatic, chalice veil, stole and maniple. Museum, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

Among these Catholic Patriots of the Revolution were three remarkable members of the prominent Carroll family of Maryland. The preeminent Catholic patriot was Annapolis-born Charles Carroll of Carrollton (1737-1832), who risked both his liberty and fortune as the only Catholic to sign the Declaration of Independence. His cousin, John Carroll (1735-1815), born in nearby Upper Marlboro, was an ex Jesuit and one of the few Catholic priests in Maryland who would became the first American bishop in 1789. His story is told in the December 19, 1957 issue of the Treasure Chest comic book.

As patriots and Catholics, Charles and John answered the call of the Continental Congress to join Benjamin Franklin and Samuel Chase on an unsuccessful mission in 1776 to convince Catholic Quebec in Canada to remain neutral. John’s older brother, Daniel Carroll (1730-1796), served in the Continental Congress, signing the Articles of Confederation, and was one of only two Catholic signers of the U.S. Constitution, the other being Irish-born, Philadelphia merchant, Thomas Fitzsimons (1741-1811). Other important Catholic contributors include another Irish-born Philadelphia merchant, Stephen Moylan; Casimir Pulaski and Tadeusz Kosciuszko of Poland; and, of course, George Washington’s famed friend and protégé, the Marquis de Lafayette of France.

America’s first naval heroes, Fighting Celts of the Sea, Scottish-born John Paul Jones and Irish-born John Barry, U.S. Postage Stamp, 1 cent, December 15, 1936
America’s first naval heroes, Fighting Celts of the Sea, Scottish-born John Paul Jones and Irish-born John Barry, U.S. Postage Stamp, 1 cent, December 15, 1936

Perhaps the most significant Catholic military contributions to the war came from another Irish born merchant from Philadelphia, John Barry (1745-1803).  Along with his more famous friend and compatriot, John Paul Jones (1747-1792), Barry was a co-founder of American sea power. He was the first commissioned officer in the Continental Navy, the first to capture a British war vessel at sea, fought on land at the battles of Trenton and Princeton, authored an effective signal book for ships’ communication, fought the last naval battle of the war in 1783, and was President George Washington’s choice to head the U.S. Navy when formally created in 1794.  Barry’s exploits are colorfully recounted in the June 8, 1961 issue of the Treasure Chest comic as well as several statues and memorials, the most recent being at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis in 2014.

Cover of a print pamphlet of an address given by CUA Professor, Rev. Peter Guilday during the university’s celebration of the Washington Bicentennial, May 30, 1932. George Washington Bicentennial Collection, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.
Cover of a print pamphlet of an address given by CUA Professor, Rev. Peter Guilday during the university’s celebration of the Washington Bicentennial, May 30, 1932. George Washington Bicentennial Collection, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

President Washington paid tribute to American Catholics in 1790 as “faithful subjects of our free Government.” American Catholics have honored him and preserved the Catholic patriotic record, especially historian John Gilmary Shea (1822-1892), whose tireless research resulted in a multi-volume history of Catholics in the United States.  In 1932, as part of the bicentennial of Washington’s birth, the National Catholic celebration on Memorial Day at The Catholic University of America (CUA) welcomed nearly 60,000 at a military field mass and was broadcast nationally on radio. The celebrant, Michael J. Curley, Archbishop of Baltimore and CUA Chancellor, wore the pectoral cross of Bishop Carroll.  Finally, the American Bishops’ Committee on the Bicentennial in 1976 promoted ‘Liberty and Justice for all,’ an approach neither too adulatory nor too critical of American History.

On a personal note, I would like to pay tribute to one of my Patriot Catholic ancestors, the English born Thomas Ignatius Adams (1735-1776), an early settler at the Jesuit mission of Conewago in Pennsylvania and a soldier of the French and Indian War as well as the American Revolution.

The Archivist’s Nook: The First Catholic Action Hero

Photo-Young Burke-Paulists
Fr. John Burke, the young, vigorous, visionary priest ready to face the challenges of the twentieth century, ca. 1899. Paulist Archives.

June 6, 1875, is the birthday of the widely influential New York City born John Burke, a Catholic University of America (CUA) educated priest (.S.T.B. 1899; S.T.L., 1901) of the Missionary Society of St. Paul the Apostle, a religious community known as the Paulists. Burke saw a convergence of both American and Catholic values that inspired his visions of a national church. He was editor of The Catholic World, 1904-1922, where he promoted social reform via articles by CUA professors William J. Kerby and John A. Ryan. Burke also supported national organizations, helping establish the Catholic Press Association in 1911 and, in 1917, founding both the Chaplain’s Aid Association to supply priests for the military and the National Catholic War Council (NCWC), subject of an earlier blog post, to coordinate Catholic efforts with the government during the First World War. It’s not difficult to imagine why I call Burke, honored by church and state, The First Catholic Action Hero!

Fr. John Burke with board members of the National Council of Catholic Women, a group founded under his leadership as part of the NCWC, though now an independent entity in the twenty first century, 1920. USCCB Executive Department/Office of the General Secretary Records, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives of The Catholic University of America.
Fr. John Burke with board members of the National Council of Catholic Women, a group founded under his leadership as part of the NCWC, though now an independent entity in the twenty first century, 1920. USCCB Executive Department/Office of the General Secretary Records, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives of The Catholic University of America.

Burke directed operations that mobilized Catholic lay persons, monitored legislation, and undertook postwar reconstruction. He also created an ecumenical advisory group to the government on maintaining morality in military camps. The War Department thereafter recognized Burke with the Distinguished Service Medal. In 1919, and in succession to the War Council, the American hierarchy created the National Catholic Welfare Council (later Conference), also known (confusingly) as the NCWC, to promote Catholic social work, education, and immigration through a secretariat in Washington, D.C. headed by Burke as general secretary. The newly reconstituted NCWC immediately faced a major act of organized anti-Catholicism with the Oregon School Bill of 1922 declaring children could only attend public schools. Supported by the Ku Klux Klan, this was an assault against freedom of education in general and parochial schools in particular. Burke mobilized a broad spectrum of opposition, including the ACLU, and the U. S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled against the Oregon School Bill in 1925.

Mural by Polish born artist (who taught at CUA) Jan Henryk de Rosen of James, Cardinal Gibbons blessing Fr. John Burke at the USCCB Building, 4th Street, Washington, D.C., 2016, courtesy of Katherine Nuss, USCCB Information and Archive Services.

Having interacted with President Woodrow Wilson as head of the War Council, Burke engaged his successors in matters of import to American Catholics, ranging from congratulating Warren G. Harding for a 1922 speech on religious toleration to providing advice to Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover, respectively, over conflicts in Mexico in 1927 and Haiti in 1929. Burke was an enthusiastic supporters of Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal economic reforms. Burke actually wrote the drafts of several FDR letters to American prelates as well as the speech he gave at Notre Dame University in 1935. Most notably, Burke conferred with the President at the White House in August 1936 on how to deal with the stinging attacks that another Catholic priest, Charles Coughlin, was making against Roosevelt during the 1936 presidential campaign.

The Vatican recognized Burke’s work with an honorary Sacred Theology doctorate in 1927 and appointment as a domestic prelate (monsignor) in 1936, shortly before his death.  His sudden passing on October 30, 1936, shocked both the Catholic community and the nation and he was widely mourned. A collection of his personal papers is part of the Paulist Order’s archives, though research access is currently problematic at best. Fortunately, the records of both the National Catholic War Council and National Catholic Welfare Conference (now known as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) Office of the General Secretary), are housed and readily accessible at the CUA Archives.

The Archivist’s Nook: CUA + .EDU

A rendering of Francis Howard, the fifth Bishop of Covington, Kentucky
A rendering of Francis Howard, the fifth Bishop of Covington, Kentucky

When those familiar with The Catholic University of America think of this school, they may think of a national Catholic University, which it is. It also served as the center of Catholic education in the United States throughout the first half of the twentieth century. 

Back in the late-nineteenth century, a man named Thomas J. Conaty served as the Rector of CUA. Conaty established what would become the framework of the American Catholic school system during his years as rector, 1896-1903. He convened the first meeting of the Conference of Seminary Faculties and became the founding president of both the Association of Catholic Colleges and the Parish School Conference. It was Conaty’s vision to create a national organization that would embrace all levels of Catholic education. As fate would have it, he was promoted to Bishop of Monterey-Los Angeles before he could complete his plan.

At that point, Ohio-born Francis Howard grabbed the reigns of the fledgling organization from Bishop Conaty and ran with them. Howard forged it into the Catholic Education Association (“National” was added to the title in 1927), and became its first secretary, serving for 25 years. He managed the organization out of offices in Columbus Ohio until he became Bishop of Covington, Kentucky in 1923. Howard was also drafted to run the new National Catholic Welfare Conference’s Department of Education in 1919; he declined, but agreed to serve on the executive committee. If you are wondering why both a National Catholic Education Association and an NCWC Education Department were necessary, consider the following:  the early twentieth century saw several attempts to eliminate Catholic parochial schools through legal means by anti-Catholic forces in the U.S. Catholics in education needed someone to advocate for them. The Education Department, which was a bishop-run organization and therefore had the backing of the church’s highest authorities, was behind much of the effort to prevent the abolition of parochial schools. Though, like the NCEA, the Education Department conducted surveys and promoted Catholic education, its early years in particular were centered on monitoring legislation that affected Catholic schools. 

These Are Our People
“These Are Our People” is one of the many well-used elementary school textbooks created by the Commission on American Citizenship. Notice the image of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in the backdrop. (CUA Press, 1943)

In any case, after 1920 the leaders of the CEA, NCWC Education Department, and Catholic University were intermeshed. Howard did not want the association with the University, preferring to keep its autonomy. Not so with his successor, George Johnson, who also happened to chair the Catholic University Department of Education. Johnson took over the helm of the NCEA in 1929, serving until his death in 1944. Johnson oversaw the movement of the entire educational operation to Washington, D.C. as well as its adaptation to modern administrative and professional standards. 

Democracy was popular topic in the 1930s, as it seemed under siege due to competing ideologies of communism and fascism. Catholic University was asked by Pope Pius XI to oversee a project creating a course of study of democracy through the Catholic educational system. Monsignor Johnson was asked to head the project. The resulting Commission on American Citizenship quite literally transformed American Catholic education, through a series of textbooks that would dominate American Catholic school civic education from the 1940s through the 1970s. 

The consummate educator, Monsignor George Johnson loved his books
The consummate educator, Monsignor George Johnson loved his books

Johnson’s educational activities rippled outside of Catholic circles. He served as a member of the National Advisory Committee on Education appointed by President Hoover in 1929, and later on the Advisory Committee on Education appointed by President Roosevelt. He was a member of the Wartime Commission of the U.S. Office of Education, the Education Advisory Committee under the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs, Secretary of the American Council on Education. This list is not exhaustive–poor Monsignor Johnson must have been though. As he delivered the commencement address to the Trinity College class of 1944, he died at the age of 55. Adding further pathos to his demise while delivering the commencement speech, Johnson actually spoke the following lines: “the best, the truest, the most substantial advice that can be given to a Catholic graduate is this: Go forth and die. Die to yourself; die to the world; die to greed; die to calculating ambition… Die and you shall live, and live abundantly.”¹ 

The NCEA was in good hands with Johnson’s successor, Frederick Hochwalt, a topic for another post. Here is Johnson’s 1944 commencement speech and a short biography.


Sources:

Donald C. Horrigan, The Shaping of NCEA (Washington, D.C., n.d.).

John Augenstein, Christopher Kauffman, Robert Wister, One Hundred Years of Catholic Education: Historical Essays in Honor of the Centennial of the National Catholic Educational Association (Washington, D.C.: NCEA)

1 George Johnson, Apostle of Christian Education (Washington, D.C.: National Catholic Welfare Conference, 1944), 5, ACUA reference file, George Johnson.

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: 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”