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: Irish Love Letters from English Prisons

Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa (center). From the Fenian Brotherhood Records and O’Donovan Rossa Personal Papers.

“Moll my Love, why don’t you write to me every day? You know it pleases me to get your letters. Did you know the desire I used to have to hear from you before we were married, and did you know how little that desire has weakened you would write to me every day. After these times are passed it is possible they may leave us unable to write to each other.”

So wrote Irish Fenian leader Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa to his wife Mary Jane (“Moll” to him) while confined in an English prison. O’Donovan Rossa and several other Fenian leaders – including James Stephens, John O’Leary, and  Thomas Clarke Luby – were arrested by the British government and charged with treason in 1865. Their poor treatment while imprisoned was immortalized in his book “O’Donovan Rossa’s Prison Life: Six Years in Six English Prisons” in 1874.

Mary Jane and O’Donovan Rossa were married only a year when he was arrested, and their first child together was born 7 months afterwards. O’Donovan Rossa was by no means a model prisoner, and often lost letter and visiting privileges as a result. Mary Jane and their infant son were not permitted to visit until almost a year after the arrest, when little James was three months old. She sent a photograph of herself and the baby, which O’Donovan Rossa never received. After it was returned to her with a note explaining photographs were not permitted, she composed a poem:

Letter excerpt. Richmond Prison, September 25, 1865. From the Fenian Brotherhood Records and O’Donovan Rossa Personal Papers.

Was it much to ask them, Baby,
These rough menials of the Queen,
Was it much to ask to give him
This poor picture, form and mien,
Of the wife he loved, the little soul
He never yet had seen?

Here at the American Catholic Research Center and University Archives, the prison letters of O’Donovan Rossa to Mary Jane are full of longing and love, but also share details of his case and plans for her future. In a letter dated September 25, 1865, O’Donovan Rossa encouraged his wife to pawn his watch and chain to  fund her passage to America. She did, and made something of a sensation on a speaking tour describing the suffering of the Fenian prisoners and reading her nationalist poetry.

August 9, 1870, O’Donovan Rossa wrote a letter laying out his plan to give evidence before the Commission looking into his case. As he worried Mary Jane would not approve of this decision, he explained “I would not leave it in the gentlemen’s power to say that any refusal to give evidence was proof that the statements could not be substantiated.” Both Rossa and his wife had lost much of their hope that he would be released; as he wrote “I am really pleased Moll that you are so strong, that that sickness of expectation + hope deferred is left you, and that you have made up your mind for the worst, for it is only thus that you can act for the best.”

However, in 1870, O’Donovan Rossa and many other Fenians were pardoned with the understanding they could not return to England or Ireland for the remainder of their sentences. In a letter of December 28, 1870, before he knew exactly when he would be released, O’Donovan Rossa wrote one last tender note to his wife:

“I wish that these lines may find you well. Settle down for a few days or it may be a few weeks, but settle so to be ready to start up immediately, since you are willing to remarry one who has nothing to offer you but increased love.”

Jeremiah and Mary Jane “Moll” O’Donovan Rossa would go on to America together and had a total of thirteen children. Their descendants still live in the United States today.

Per the instructions, “The Convict’s writing to be confined to the ruled lines of these two pages,” but O’Donovan Rossa was often in trouble for writing too small and too much on his allocated prison paper. From the Fenian Brotherhood Records and O’Donovan Rossa Personal Papers.
Mary Jane O’Donovan Rossa. From Fáilte Romhat.

 

The Archivist’s Nook – Catholic Archives in the Digital Age: The Fate of Religious Order Archives

Franciscan Sister Mary Aquinas Kinskey, pictured teaching at CUA in the 1940s, received a special citation of honor from the U.S. Air Force Association in 1957 for her contributions to the advancement of air power in the interest of national security. She taught aerodynamics here at Catholic University during the Second World War.

Catholic religious orders hold a unique place in the European settlement of what is now the United States, indeed some of the earliest Catholic colonial settlers came as members of religious orders. The Jesuits, for example, founded in 1534 by the Spanish Ignatius of Loyola, was the first order to send missionaries to propagate the faith among Native Americans. Franciscans followed soon after. The record of the interactions between these two orders and the Native American populations forms an important record of the early encounter between the two groups.

Women religious, for their part, also settled in the territory that became the United States, with French Ursulines arriving in modern-day Louisiana in 1727 and Elizabeth Seton founding the Sisters of Charity (later the Daughters of Charity) in Maryland in 1809. These two orders played a unique role in the establishment of Catholic women’s presence in the U.S., and helped lay the foundations of the American Catholic education system.

Fortunately, we have well-cared for records and wonderful histories of much of the Jesuit, Franciscan, Ursuline, and Sisters/Daughters of Charity experience. But this is not the case for all religious orders and their records. Religious orders in the U.S. held different missions, locations, and administrators. Many held houses in multiple provinces and countries. As they have expanded and contracted over time, their archival records have experienced a range of fates.

Father Gilbert Hartke with a CUA student in an undated photo. Father Hartke was a member of the Dominican Order. He founded and headed the CUA Drama Department from 1937 – 1974, training and meeting many theater luminaries on the way. His papers are housed in the CUA Archives.

The Catholic Archives in the Digital Age: The Fate of Religious Order Archives Conference is the third in a series of conferences under the theme of how Catholic archives are evolving in the digital age. The specific focus arose as after the American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives worked with the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart in Baltimore to preserve their valuable archives as they moved from one location to another, will address aspects of the question of religious order archives in the United States. We figure Catholic University is a great place for such a conference–surrounded by religious houses from its origins, the University has historically served as a center of education for members of religious orders from around the country.

The free conference will be held on the CUA campus in the Pryzbyla Center on March 29th, 2017 and will feature a range of scholars and archivists of the American Catholic experience and archival stewards of religious order records. For the full schedule and to register, visit the website: http://iprcua.com/2017/03/29/the-fate-of-religious-order-archives/.   The conference is generously funded by the Our Sunday Visitor Institute, and sponsored by the American Catholic History Research Center/University Libraries, the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies, and the Department of Library and Information Science.

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: New Year’s Greetings from The Young Catholic Messenger

January 1, 1891, illustration of birds with a quote from Matthew 6: 26: “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” The Young Catholic Messenger Collection. American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

The Young Catholic Messenger, 1885-1970, was the premier publication of George Pflaum of Dayton, Ohio, who also produced the more famous though not so long-lived Treasure Chest of Fun and Fact, 1946-1972, subject of several other blog posts from The Archivist’s Nook. We thought highlighting the YCM would be a great way to start off the New Year, and also make an appeal for donations of missing issues, either print or digital copies, from the first forty years we need to complete our collection, especially the digital collection we are building online.

In the nineteenth century largely Protestant America was wary of the millions of Catholic immigrants coming to the United States. Parochial schools were not trusted to teach young Catholics to be proper Americans and many states passed constitutional amendments forbidding the use of tax money for their funding. Nevertheless, by the 1880s the American Catholic Church had a wide network of parishes and parochial schools to safeguard the religion and culture of Catholic ethnic groups. Most of the teachers were religious sisters and priorities in the classrooms beyond knowledge included piety and discipline. The growth of Catholic schooling naturally generated a Catholic educational publishing industry. The YCM was the inaugural publication of the Pflaum Publishing Company, which created religious and civic reading materials distributed to students in the Catholic parochial schools that later included the Junior Catholic Messenger, Our Little Messenger, and the aforementioned Treasure Chest of Fun and Fact.

In the YCM’s early years the issues tended to be shorter and more literary in focus, while later on the number of pages per issue increased as more news and current events were included.  The YCM was published during the calendar year, January to December, through 1925, going from twenty-four issues a year to thirty-two. In 1926 they published a shortened volume, number 42, January – June, with twenty-four issues (again). This was followed by volume 43 with forty issues and aligned to the academic school year, September 1926 – June 1927. This was cut back to May in 1934-1935 and the issues numbers steadily declined until publication ceased in 1970, going down to thirty-eight issues in 1931-1932, thirty-seven in 1934-1935, thirty-six in 1940-1941, thirty-five in 1943-1944, thirty-four in 1944-1945, thirty-three in 1957-1958, thirty-two in 1961-1962, and only twenty-eight in the last year of 1969-1970.

The American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives of The Catholic University of America currently needs access to Young Catholic Messenger volumes 1-6, 1885-1890; volumes 8-24, 1892-1908; volumes 26-28, 1910-1912; and volumes 32-40, 1915-1925. We are open to receiving individual issues as well as full volumes for donation, loan for scanning, or links to copies scanned elsewhere. We are also willing to negotiate any reasonable fees required. For more information, please contact us via email at archives@mail.lib.cua.edu.

January 1, 1909, cover includes a New Year’s poem and an illustration of the flight of the Holy Family to Egypt. The Young Catholic Messenger Collection. American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.
January 1, 1913, New Year’s poem and photo of boy sled riding. The Young Catholic Messenger Collection. American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.
January 1, 1926, New Year’s poem, story, and illustration. The Young Catholic Messenger Collection. American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

The Archivist’s Nook: A Very Merry Christmas from the Fathers Hartke and Magner

In 1972, Rev. Magner’s Christmas card transports us all the way to Jerusalem.
In 1972, Rev. Magner’s Christmas card transports us all the way to Jerusalem.

In the history of The Catholic University of America, two priests are truly larger than life:  Father Gilbert V. Hartke (1907-1986) and Rev. Msgr. James Magner (1901-1995). Both men served the University community for decades: 28 years for Magner and 37 years for Hartke. Best known for running CUA’s theater program, CUA’s playhouse still bears Father Hartke’s name today, while Rev. Magner was renown on campus for leading world wide tours to such far flung places as Mexico, India, and even behind the Iron Curtain.

“May the joys of Christmas shine brightly for you throughout the New Year.” Signed Lady Bird Johnson and Lyndon B. Johnson, 1967.
“May the joys of Christmas shine brightly for you throughout the New Year.” Signed Lady Bird Johnson and Lyndon B. Johnson, 1967.

Nothing makes these big personalities more human and relatable than the several dozen Christmas cards they’ve left behind. Rev. Magner meticulously kept track of the names and addresses of each person he sent a Christmas card to every year. Here at the Archives, we have many copies of his personal cards from the 1940s to the early 1970s. His cards have a somewhat trademark style drawing on his adventures abroad; they usually involve a solo shot of this well-traveled priest in an exotic location. Some of our favorites include Japan, Costa Rica, Alaska, Jerusalem, and Ireland.

Although show-biz priest Fr. Hartke did not create signature personal Christmas cards, he certainly received them! He received not just one, but a total of five White House Christmas cards from then President Lyndon B. Johnson and First Lady “Lady Bird” Johnson. These large, gold framed Christmas prints showing White House winter scenes remain part of the Archive’s museum collection today.

Merry Christmas to our High Flying Friend!
Merry Christmas to our High Flying Friend!

While we were unable to locate a presidential Christmas card among Rev. Magner’s papers, he did get three impressive hand drawn cards from a devoted pair of ladies. Whoever they were, Helen and Betty really captured something of Rev. Magner’s glamorous, jet setting lifestyle. In one card, a Hawaiian shirt clad Magner climbs into an old fashioned cocktail while another depicts a fez wearing Magner flying a magic carpet and simultaneously smoking hookah.

Judging by their Christmas cards, these two priests effortlessly lead interesting and adventurous lives. These ephemeral items give a glimpse into the personal lives of two men who redefined their roles as priests and did great things for Catholic University in the process. Whether making and receiving Christmas cards or living life to the fullest, each of these men did it in their own memorable way. Merry Christmas from the Fathers Hartke and Magner!

The Archivist’s Nook: A Few Leaves from St. Rose’s on Pearl Harbor Day

“Schools At War: A Report to the Nation” was a report that schools around the country filed with the Office of Education and the Wartime Commission during the war. This is the cover of St. Rose’s 1943 submission.
“Schools At War: A Report to the Nation” was filed with the Office of Education and the Wartime Commission during the war. This is the cover of St. Rose’s 1943 submission.

About a month after the United States entered the Second World War, The Young Catholic Messenger, a weekly magazine that could be found on the shelves of Catholic school libraries throughout the country, published an article titled “United We Stand.” The article pledged that Catholics would support the war effort and outlined ways young people could “do their part for victory.” Catholic youth could make “crusades of prayer, sacrifice, Masses and Communions for victory and peace and for our soldiers and the leaders of the country.”¹

This braiding of Catholicism and Americanism occurred over and over again among youth on the home front. It marked a break from the past in that earlier Catholic proclamations of Americanness were often made defensively, amid Protestant accusations that Catholics weren’t fit for American institutions because of their membership in a hierarchical organization headed by the pope. Instead, during the war, a newly confident Catholic Americanism emerged in Catholic educational institutions and popular culture across the country as Catholics were fully enlisted in the effort to win the war.²

As noted in a previous blog post, Pope Pius XI requested that the Catholic University of America establish a series of educational materials that would promote Christian and democratic principles in the wake of rising totalitarian regimes in Europe. The result was the Commission on American Citizenship, which established a series of civic texts blending Catholic teaching and democratic principles and used in thousands of Catholic schools across the country from the early 1940s through the 1970s. This blending of American national identity with Catholic identity found new forms across the U.S. during the Second World War.

St. Rose’s Victory Corps in formation, 1943.
St. Rose’s Victory Corps in formation, 1943.

St. Rose’s Technical School records contain a gem of an artifact related to this new blending of Catholicism and Americanism in youth culture that is a fitting offering for Pearl Harbor Day. St. Rose’s was established in 1868 for female orphans. After 1895 it was incorporated as school for female students over 14 years of age to learn trades considered suitable for women at the time, namely, “plain and fancy sewing, dressmaking, and the responsible duties of practical housekeeping.” Between the late nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries, the young women remained at the school until they were twenty-one, “at which time they are thoroughly competent to make an honest independent living.” Indeed, one history noted, “our graduates make splendid business women, and they conduct large establishments in all the large cities.”³

Unfortunately, we do not have testimony from the students of St. Rose’s to corroborate such claims. We do know that a classical and business high school curriculum was added to the “technical” curriculum of the earlier period. And we have a student created journal from 1943, a full year into the Second World War. “Schools at War, A Report to the Nation” was a report on war-related student activities that took place in the school during the war. The report reflects the characteristic blending of Catholicism and Americanism we see among young Catholics on the home front during the war.

St. Rose students show off their “Books are Weapons” display.
St. Rose’s students show off their “Books are Weapons” display.

The report itself was dedicated to the “Immaculate Mother of God, the Patroness of the United States, the Ideal and Inspiration of every student at St. Rose.” The St. Rose Victory Corps centered many activities around war service. Like many Americans, they prolonged use of their clothing by mending and darning. They saved scrap materials such as old keys, cans, rubber and fat—all in short supply due to war rationing. Like many American youth, they made slippers and bandages for soldiers, donated blood, and collected garments for refugees. Using the title, “Books are Weapons,” they created a school display for National Catholic Book Week, claiming “books shape lives of free people,” no doubt to contrast with Nazi book burnings of the 1930s. The report and its wartime brand of Catholic Americanism can be viewed in its entirety here.


¹Young Catholic Messenger, January 9, 1942, accessible via American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives: http://cuislandora.wrlc.org/islandora/object/achc-ycm%3A23/datastream/PDF/view

²Maria Mazzenga, “More Democracy, More Religion, Baltimore’s Schools, Religious Pluralism and the Second World War,” in One Hundred Years of Catholic Education, John Augenstein, Christopher J. Kauffman, Robert J. Wister, eds. (National Catholic Education Association, 2003), 199-219.

³Sister Rose, “St. Rose’s Technical School History,” 1909, 14; in Catholic Charities DC, St. Rose Reference File, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives, Catholic University, Washington, D.C.

“Saint Rose to Observe 75th Jubilee,” Catholic Review, April 30, 1943.

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: Social Media from the Stacks

Social media can be a powerful tool for libraries, archives, and museums to create a branded, collaborative online presence. But where to begin? Before diving head first into the latest social media trends, cultural heritage institutions must first ask several questions, such as: What are we hoping to achieve by using social media? Who will be creating the content? Who is our intended audience? Nina Simon, author of Museum 2.0 blog and The Participatory Museum, presents three simple steps to crafting a basic social media plan:

Part 1. Define your goals.
Part 2. Define your resources and boundaries.
Part 3. Develop the ideas and explain the plan.¹

Know your hashtags and your audience! Instagram post from @CUAarchives
Know your hashtags and your audience! Instagram post from @CUAarchives

Start with the basics of who you are and what you want to achieve. For example, the Australian Museum first defined their social media strategy in 2009 after participating in a staff wide workshop, where they developed a vision statement: “To inspire the exploration of nature and cultures through sharing; engaging; building relationships and influencing, while adapting our organizational culture”². Goals could include reaching new audiences and encouraging the growth of online communities around your institution.

Next, evaluate what resources are needed to achieve these goals. Understandably, short-staffed institutions often find themselves overwhelmed at the prospect of maintaining a vibrant social media profile. Here at the American Catholic Research Center and University Archives, we each take turns writing posts for this blog. This not only distributes the workload, but also creates a variety of content and perspectives! There are also many resources and articles available online that give great recommendations and tips to make the most of what you have. Here are just a few:

Once you have a few ideas, it is now time to develop them further and write them down. The Australian Museum utilized a simple blog post to present the main findings of their workshop. Through a clearly articulated strategy, museums are able to explain to the entire staff as well as stakeholders the value of participating in social media.

Here at the Archives, knowing the potential audiences for this blog and how to reach them plays an important role in our social media plan. With about 400 personal papers and organizational records, 100 University records collections, and 5,000 museum objects, we have a range of material that appeals to many different groups. Our blog post content reflects this diversity, as we address topics not only relating to CUA’s history, but to labor leaders, the World Wars, comic books, library science, and much more! We pinpoint the audience most likely to appreciate a particular blog post – whether that be the CUA community, particular dioceses located around the country, or other DC area archives – and market the blog directly to them. This could be by tagging potentially interested institutions on Twitter or Instagram, adding relevant hashtags, emailing directly or via a listserv, and whatever else we can think of!

Showcase anniversaries and other dates important to your institution. Twitter post from @CUAarchives
Showcase anniversaries and other dates important to your institution. Twitter post from @CUAarchives

As the Museum Assessment Program’s Social Media Handbook explains, “Starting social media can be overwhelming, but remember that at its heart, social media is not actually about technology. Rather, it’s all about conversation and story telling. If you have a good story to share, people will want to listen and respond.” Museums, archives, and libraries have moved towards a new identity: one of dialogue, collaboration, and community. Social media plays a key role in portraying this identity, as cultural heritage institutions around the world create new narratives and two-way conversations with their audiences. By carefully evaluating their goals and resources, even the smallest archive can utilize social media to give their institution a face and personality to share with the world online.

Peruse our own social media content here:


¹Simon, N. (2009, June 9). How to develop a (small-scale) social media plan. [Blog Post]. Museum 2.0. Retrieved from http://museumtwo.blogspot.com/2009/06/how-to-develop-small-scale-social-media.html

²Kelly, L. (2009, Nov. 19). The museum’s social media strategy. [Blog Post]. Australian Museum. Retrieved from http://australianmuseum.net.au/blogpost/museullaneous/the-museums-social-media-strategy

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…