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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Observatory, ca. 1910
Observatory, ca. 1910

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

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

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

The Archivist’s Nook: The World is My Parish – James Magner

MagnerAd_1958
Advertisement for tour through Mexico and Guatemala, 1958.

One particular character looms large at the American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives: the Rev. Msgr. James Magner (1901-1995). Born in Illinois, he attended Saint Mary of the Lake Seminary, was ordained in 1926 and completed his higher education in Rome at the Urban College of the Propaganda Fidei and the Academy of Saint Thomas Aquinas. Magner joined The Catholic University of America community in 1940, where he held many roles over the years including Assistant Secretary Treasurer, Director of the University Press, and Vice Rector for Business and Finance, as well as occasionally lectured. Retiring in 1968, he gave 28 years of service to the University.

That short biography fails to encompass the wide-ranging interests and hobbies of this unique – dare I say quirky – priest. An avid traveler and collector, the Archives received his estate in 1995, including many museum objects brought back from abroad. As Magner explained in his memoirs, “Travel has been among the most rewarding experiences of my life. I have regarded it, not merely as a holiday or change from my regular occupations, but really an opportunity to broaden and deepen my knowledge of the world and its people.” His lifelong love of travel began in the 1930s, as he explored Mexico. In the 1940s, Magner began organizing and leading seminar group tours of Mexico for Catholic University students. Today, the Archive’s Magner Museum Collection includes over one hundred Pre-Columbian objects brought back from Mexico and several other Central and South American countries, a selection of which are currently on display in the Archive’s reading room.

A page from James Magner’s collection of Soviet stamps.
A page from James Magner’s collection of Soviet stamps.

In the 1950s, Magner expanded his travels and tours to all over the world. In July of 1951, he conducted a world tour utilizing the latest exciting development in commercial travel: the airplane. As he explains in his memoir My Faces & Places Volume II, 1929-1953:

“I undertook this tour around the world by air, as something of a stunt, but it turned out to be one of the most exciting and educational experiences in my life. It was like a review of the history of the great cultures of the world compressed into a page. I truly felt that I have gone Jules Verne one better.”

Upon his return, Magner gave a lecture, “Around the World in Forty Days”, on his experience. This lecture gives a tantalizing glimpse into the politics and headlines of the time, including the rising tensions in Palestine and between Pakistan and India.

Riding an elephant in India, 1978.
Riding an elephant in India, 1978.

By the 1960s, Magner had added quite the roster of countries to his summer tours, including many under the sway of the Soviet Union. Magner had personally been traveling within the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc since 1956. When asked why he made these daring trips, he explained he wanted to see for himself what was going on behind the Iron Curtain. These excursions occurred largely without incident, with one exception. Prior to his 1965 tour of Czechoslovakia, Poland, Russia, Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia, the Polish consular office initially declined to give Magner a visa. According to Magner, “apparently they feared that I might be on a secret mission or wondered why a Catholic priest had to go with the group.”

James Magner, priest, scholar, collector, traveler, and university administrator, retired to West Palm Beach, Florida in 1968. Not one to sit ideally by even if retired, he served two parishes in the area as a visiting priest, wrote his memoirs, and continued to amass a collection of books, art and artifacts. December 30, 1994, Rev. Msgr Magner passed away at the ripe old age of 93. He shared his experiences abroad not only with those he brought on his tours, but also the many attendees of his lectures where he often shared films of his travels. His legacy lives on at the Archives through his personal papers and museum objects as well as his donation of the historically significant Iturbide-Kearney Family Collection. On The Catholic University of America campus, a building bears his name in the Centennial Village residential community.

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.

Online Finding Aid Now Available: Commission on American Citizenship

The records of the Commission of American Citizenship of the Catholic University of America spans 1938 to 1970, consists of manuscripts (mostly correspondence) and the publications by the Commission, including guides for social teaching and textbooks for grade schools as well as periodicals for the youths and children. Special thanks to Yuki Yamazaki and Library School practicum student Taras Zvir for assistance in creating this finding aid.