The Archivist’s Nook: A Labor of Love – Lantern Slides of T.V. Powderly

“Railroad Train” Lantern Slide #11
“Railroad Train” Lantern Slide #11

A treasure trove of almost 2,000 lantern slides belonging to labor leader Terence Vincent Powderly (1849-1924) resides in our Archive. These transparent glass slides, also referred to as “magic” lantern slides, are an eclectic mix of images taken by amateur photographer Powderly as well as commercially produced images he purchased. As a native of Carbondale, Pennsylvania, Powderly incorporated many images of creeks and mountains of the keystone state – as well as the occasional coal mine – into the collection. True to his roots as a leader of the Knights of Labor, many images of industrial technology are included, especially of locomotives. There are monuments and works of art from around the world, as well as personal portraits of the Powderly family at their home in the Petworth neighborhood of Washington D.C.

Short History of Lantern Slides

To get a handle on this collection, we first look to the history of the lantern slide format and how it was used. Photographic lantern slides appeared about a decade after the invention of photography in the mid-1800s, although projectable hand painted images existed long before. At about 3.25 x 4 inches, lantern slides are physically made up of a negative printed onto a sheet of glass as a positive, transparent image. The image could then be painstakingly hand colored or matted to achieve the desired effect. Next, an additional sheet of glass was placed over the transparency, creating a glass “sandwich” to protect the surface of the photograph. Finally, the two sheets of glass were taped together, and could be inserted into a magic lantern for projection and viewing.

Lantern slides were used for two purposes: entertainment and education. The primary purpose of our USCCB Lantern Slide Collection was educational, as they accompanied presentations detailing the National Catholic Welfare Conference’s work with veterans of the First and Second World Wars in the United States. The diversity and sheer number of slides in Powderly’s collection suggest he used his slides both for entertainment and educational purposes depending on the setting. While the family portraits could have been used as the equivalent of “family home videos,” the images of industry could have been part of his work with the Knights of Labor.

These original lantern slide boxes are a little worse for wear!
These original lantern slide boxes are a little worse for wear!

Additional information on the history of lantern slides:

Taking Inventory

At some point prior to the arrival of the slides at the Archives in 2009, someone attempted to reorder the collection into simple thematic groups, such as “Stone Monuments,” “D.C. and World” and “People.” In the archival world, “respect des fonds” (preserving the original order of a group of records), is an important and fundamental principle. Often, the original order shows relationships and provides insight into how the records were accessed and used. Presumably, Powderly had his own numbered list so he could easily keep track of his collection. Since we do not have this original master list, we will be reconstructing it as we process this large collection. Going through each of the slides, we will record basic information such as the slide number and title. This is also a good time to take note of any damage the slides might have sustained.

“American Group, Albert Memorial, London” Lantern Slide #817
“American Group, Albert Memorial, London” Lantern Slide #817

Rehousing

After completing the list, if we find it is more valuable for researchers to have the slides in the original order, we will reorganize them to match Powderly’s original intent. When handling the slides, we wear powder-free nitrile gloves to protect the images from fingerprints and hand oils.  During this phase, we will also remove the slides from their crumbling containers and place them in archival, acid free boxes. Before doing so, each lantern slide will be carefully enfolded in a four-flap envelope to protect the surface of the image. Lantern slides are surprisingly heavy, so we place no more than 70 slides in a small box. Even then, these boxes are like bricks! As of this writing, we are a little under half way through rehousing the slides.

Additional information on the housing of lantern slides:

Digitizing

Once a collection is organized and rehoused, the next question is to determine whether or not to digitize. Some questions to ask before choosing to digitize could include: Are these materials unique? Will digitization promote access to these materials? Will digitization help preserve the collection? In our case, digitization is not a high priority as many of the same images have already been scanned from prints available through the Terence Vincent Powderly Photographic Prints Digital Collection. However, should we choose to pursue digitization, many wonderful resources are available online to guide us through the process.

“Trinity College, D.C.” Lantern Slide #917
“Trinity College, D.C.” Lantern Slide #917

Additional information on the digitization of lantern slides:

Last Thoughts

Lantern slides are an interesting format with a rich history and a few special concerns, such as sensitivity to light, fragility, heavy weight, and need of specific housing materials. By taking a systematic approach to the various steps of the project, our large collection belonging to Terence Vincent Powderly will continue to be organized and rehoused as time and resources permit. For additional information about the life and times of amateur photographer, slide maker, labor leader, and former mayor of Scranton T.V. Powderly, check out the finding aid of his manuscript collection.

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: 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: CUA’s Silent Sentinel

Cardinal Gibbons and ex-President Theodore Roosevelt with warm greetings for each other in 1918. (CUA Archives)
Cardinal Gibbons and ex-President Theodore Roosevelt with warm greetings for each other in 1918. (CUA Archives)

James, Cardinal Gibbons was a key figure in American Catholic history as a major leader and spokesman of the Church during a tumultuous time of industrial growth, contentious immigration, and structural change in American society. He was also a founder and first Chancellor of The Catholic University of America (CUA), where his presence on campus is commemorated by Gibbons Hall (see image below). He also presides over the CUA campus in many guises, most notably as a marble bust in McMahon Hall and a large oil on canvas painting in Mullen Library.  There is also a small collection of his archival papers preserved in the CUA Archives and another, larger cache with the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

The future Cardinal was born in Baltimore to Irish immigrants on July 23, 1834 and received his priestly training at St. Charles College and High School and St. Mary’s Seminary. He was ordained in 1861, just in time to serve as a Civil War chaplain at Fort McHenry (already famous from the War of 1812), which was then a prison for both captured Confederate soldiers and Maryland civilians who were suspected rebel sympathizers. Continue reading “The Archivist’s Nook: CUA’s Silent Sentinel”

The Archivist’s Nook: Have You Been Served?

Archives Stacks
The stacks, epicenter of all reference questions.

Tucked away on the northern reaches of campus, one may expect the Archives to receive little in the way of visitors. One may imagine us as a group lost amongst stacks of record boxes, shunning outside contact. However, our little space is frequently called upon by University staff, students, and faculty, as well as scholars from across the country and world. Researchers as varied as middle school students to Yale professors to PBS documentarians grace us with visits and inquiries. But what do they ask of us and how do we handle reference questions?

Whether via phone, email, or letter, the CUA Archives receives a variety of reference questions from a spectrum of inquirers. As one can imagine, calls and email requests pour in from University offices, students, and alumni regarding the history of CUA or the broader Brookland neighborhood. But more than anything, as indicated in an earlier post, our collections dealing with the history of American Catholicism as well as labor history are a major draw for scholars outside the campus community. These two source bases provide a wealth of research material for scholars of American religious and labor history, not to mention those curious about genealogy or Catholicism in general. Continue reading “The Archivist’s Nook: Have You Been Served?”

The Archivist’s Nook: More Than You Imagine – The Archives at CUA

Photograph from the opening ceremony for the Archives at CUA, December 8, 1949, with, left to right, Patrick O'Boyle, Archbishop of DC and Chancellor of the University, Fr. Henry Browne, first CUA Archivist, and Wayne Grover, Archivist of the United States
Photograph from the opening ceremony for the Archives at CUA, December 8, 1949, with, left to right, Patrick O’Boyle, Archbishop of DC and Chancellor of the University, Fr. Henry Browne, first CUA Archivist, and Wayne Grover, Archivist of the United States

Though there was a museum at The Catholic University of America (CUA) going back to the university’s founding in the late 19th century, the Archives at CUA originated much later as shortly before World War II Msgr. Francis Haas began collecting the papers of important Catholic labor leaders such as Terence Powderly, head of the Knights of Labor (1879-1893), and John Mitchell, president of the United Mine Workers of America (1898-1908). These papers were stored in Mullen Library, but there was no staff to organize nor rooms where researchers might examine them. After the war, history faculty, particularly Rev. John Tracy Ellis, worried that university history and of Catholic Americans generally was being lost through neglect of vital records and papers.

As a result of Ellis’ advocacy, a committee that included Msgr. Edward Jordan (the vice rector), Mr. Eugene Willging (acting director of the library), and Rev. Henry Browne, was formed to establish an archives envisioned as the “memory” of the university, a depository for collection of the nation’s Catholic leaders and important organizations, and a resource for the history of Catholics in the American labor movement. The Archives officially opened on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (December 8, 1949) in an impressive ceremony that included Wayne Grover, archivist of the United States; Archbishop O’Boyle, chancellor of the university; Ernst Posner, archivist of American University and a seminal theorist of archives; Philip Brooks, president of the Society of American Archivists; and Dr. Guy Ford Stanton, executive director of the American Historical Association (see photograph above). They spoke of the importance of archives in the preservation of culture, and, specifically, of the Catholic Church’s long tradition as a keeper of historical records.   Continue reading “The Archivist’s Nook: More Than You Imagine – The Archives at CUA”