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”→
This week’s post is guest authored by Marielle Gage, a CUA graduate student in History.
Saint Patrick’s Day is a beloved holiday, but for many Irish-Americans their heritage intersects with their daily lives more than once a year. Whether you grew up amused or irritated by a certain cereal leprechaun, or found that friend who couldn’t tell the difference between a Mc- and a Mac- adorable or infuriating, life as an American of Irish descent is filled with constant awareness. Or, at least, my own has been. I think I knew about the Potato Famine before the American War of Independence, and I still have an instinctive, furious reaction if anyone ever dare suggest that Oliver Cromwell ever did a good thing in his life.
Interest (as well as pride) in Irish heritage and history is nothing unique or special about me; it has a long and rich tradition in the Irish-American community. Here, at the American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives, we house several historical collections directly dealing with Irish and Irish-American history. A particularly fun collection is the Ancient Order of the Hibernians (founded 1836), but in deference to the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising, a seminal moment in the march towards an autonomous Irish state, I will direct your attention to our various exhibits in honor of Irish Independence.
First, we have our physical exhibit, organized by our wonderful Katherine Santa Ana, “Sworn to Be Free: Irish Nationalism 1860-1921,” currently on display in the May Gallery of Mullen Library (first floor). The exhibit shows a selection of items from our holdings: letters, Gaelic alphabet cards, political cartoons, photographs, medals, and more. “Sworn to Be Free” looks at the cause of Irish Independence from an American Irish viewpoint: some of our records come from Irish immigrants, but most come from first or second-generation descendants who still maintained keen affection and concern for their motherland. When the struggles for independence became fraught, Irish republicans often looked to their American brethren for material, intellectual, and spiritual support, and the exhibit highlights several Americans offering that support. For those unable to visit “Sworn to Be Free” in person (and if you can, you really should), there is an online version of the exhibitavailable.
To complement the online exhibit, we are offering a document-based online exhibit, “Exploring Irish Nationalism with ACUA: An Academic Resource”, for use of teachers, students, and the interested public who might wish to explore Irish independence (and CUA’s connection to it) deeper. Offering certain, select examples from the James Aloysius Geary Papers and the Thomas J. Shahan Papers, both housed at ACUA, this second online exhibit is intended to provide background for the Easter Rising and later War of Independence. Included in Geary’s papers, for example, are minutes and publications of The Friends of Irish Freedom, an American group that watched the Rising and subsequent events with great interest. Shahan preserved several issues of the Irish Bulletin, a publication of the Irish State during the war with Great Britain which often dedicated its pages to illustrating the crimes the English had committed against the Irish people. Impartial news it may not be, but they do serve as a reflection of very real opinions and attitudes present both in Ireland and in sympathetic Irish-Americans.
Neither exhibit is — or claims to be — the whole picture of Irish nationalism and Irish-American sympathy with it. But we have tried to highlight interesting individuals, events, and organizations. We hope our exhibits will not be the end of your curiosity, but the beginning.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
It will therefore be no surprise The Archivist’s Nook returns to the Treasure Chest’s remarkable treasure trove to commemorate Easter, past, present, and future. From the first volume of the Treasure Chest in 1946, through the next twenty years, there was usually an annual issue with a cover marking an Easter related event. Occasionally, the Treasure Chest skipped a year, while other years had two Easter related covers. Overall, the most popular were scenes of the empty tomb with the resurrected Jesus Christ announcing his presence (6 occasions) or an angel or angels (3 times) proclaiming the good news to Christ’s followers. Also, there were usually no Easter related stories therein to march the covers, though there were sometimes short features such as ‘Easter Eggs You Can Make’ (April 1, 1947) and ‘Our Lady of Sorrows’ (April 8, 1954).
The Treasure Chest of the post Second Vatican Council era became more secular in outlook and appearance so that few religious scenes, including any depicting Easter related events, appeared in its last five years, 1967-1972. Sadly, this change of direction was perhaps a harbinger of the Treasure Chest’s ending. Gone, but most certainly not forgotten!
In the past year, our blog has highlighted the rich history of sports at CUA – the triumphs, challenges, and legends. But virtually all this coverage has focused on the men. Where are the women athletes? This absence highlights the relatively late start of women’s sports programs in American colleges. For the story of the female cardinals, when compared to their male counterparts, had its own unique challenges to overcome. And, despite its more recent origins, the history of women athletes at CUA is a fascinating tale of dedication and perseverance – qualities necessary for any athlete.
Until 1950, female undergraduates attending classes at CUA were not officially enrolled through the University, but rather were technically students of the Catholic Sisters College or Trinity College. Thus, it may come as little surprise that there is hardly a mention in our records of women athletes prior to the 1950s. Indeed, throughout the 1950s, women’s athletics at CUA largely consisted of the cheerleading squad and the occasional intramural competition between the resident sororities. By 1959, a women’s sports department was established, which offered dance instruction and ping-pong and badminton tournaments. Though women’s access to the athletic facilities was largely limited to two 90-minute blocks on Monday and Wednesday evenings. Continue reading “The Archivist’s Nook: On the Origins of Women’s Sports at CUA”→
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?”→
“I very much fear they will not reach Washington whole, for they are extra brittle from age and exposure” wrote Sister Mary B. Russell (1834 – 1912), the leader of the Sisters of Mercy in California, in a letter dated May 10th 1893. Sister Mary was referring to twenty-three large roof tiles that the Sisters of Mercy of San Francisco, California shipped to the fledgling CUA for inclusion in their archaeological museum. Sister Mary might well be surprised that twenty-two of her tiles still survive today, 123 years later!
These roof tiles are precious. Each one came from a different Spanish mission in California, all of which were established by Franciscan priests between 1769 and 1833. Each tile was painted by a Sister of Mercy pupil with an image of the mission from which it came, and almost all bear the Sister of Mercy red seal, “to testify to their authenticity,” as Sister Mary explained.
When Sister Mary was unable to obtain a tile for the Mission of San Rafael, she instead sent a stump from one of the pear trees planted there by the Franciscans. Painted with the image of the tree it came from, the stump is inscribed: “Pear trees, 100 years old, 3 feet in diameter and 65 ft. high; planted by Franciscan fathers at Mission of San Rafael. Cut down in 1891 to make way for the Odd Fellows’ Building.” That building, or lodge, of the Order of Odd Fellows burned down in the 1950’s. However, that stump can still be found in the museum collection of the Archives.
Some of the tiles are no longer with The Catholic University of America, but have gone on to be displayed across the United States. In 2005, the Sisters of Mercy based in Auburn, California reached out to the Archives to request a loan of the tiles for display in the traveling exhibit: “Women & Spirit: Catholic Sisters in California.” Nine of the tiles remain with them on long-term loan, and the Mission San Luis Rey tile from San Diego can be viewed on the exhibit’s website. In 2014, another nine of the tiles were given to the Mercy Heritage Center in Belmont, North Carolina for eventual display in their 3,000 square foot exhibition space (which was still being built at the time). It seems fitting that over 100 years after Sister Mary B. Russell generously gave these tiles to The Catholic University of America, the University can return the favor by sharing these cultural artifacts with the Sisters of Mercy today.
Here at the Archives, we still have four tiles depicting Mission San Miguel, Mission Santa Clara, Mission San Gabriel, and Mission San Buenaventura. Mission San Miguel is currently on display in our Archives Reading Room in Aquinas 101. Stop by soon though, as by mid-March this tile will be on temporary loan to the Knights of Columbus Museum in New Haven, Connecticut for the upcoming exhibit “Mission of Faith: The Coming of the Gospel to America.”
In Sister Mary B. Russell’s letter of 1893, she practically explains that if the tiles are “smashed entirely” en route to CUA, they can be “pieced with plaster of Paris.” All but one of the tiles has survived to the 21st century. It is impressive to reflect on the longevity of these tiles, the miles they’ve traveled, and the people who have seen them since they were first painted by Sister Mary’s pupils in mid 19th century California.
Roman Catholic convert, author, and Hollywood movie director, John Villiers Farrow, combined zest for adventure, appreciation for family, and a longing for faith. He was born on February 10, 1904 in Sydney, Australia. His father, a soldier in the Australian Army, survived the First World War, although his mother died at a young age. Farrow went to sea as a youth and was somewhat of a roving adventurer before reaching San Francisco, California, in 1923. By 1927, he was in Hollywood, where nautical expertise and nascent writing abilities resulted in work as a film script consultant and technical adviser.
Farrow worked for several Hollywood studios before leaving to write for a number of movies in England. He also visited French Tahiti in the South Pacific, where he wrote a Tahitian language dictionary and a novel Laughter Ends. Returning to Hollywood in 1933, he was arrested on a false passport and expired visa and given five years probation (he became an American citizen in 1947). He continued writing and published Damien the Leper in 1937, which went through multiple reprints and was translated into several languages. He later wrote Pageant of the Popes, and a biography of Sir Thomas More. Continue reading “The Archivist’s Nook: John V. Farrow – Hollywood Catholic”→
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.