The Archivist’s Nook: Philip Murray – A Pennsylvania Scot in Big Labor’s Court

Murray adorns the cover of Time magazine, a symbol of his national stature, on August 4, 1952. Time Magazine Online.

In 1904, a young coal miner in western Pennsylvania, terminated for fighting with his boss over fraudulent practices, was also evicted from his home and forced to leave town. He sadly observed the workingman “is alone. He has no organization to defend him. He has nowhere to go.”¹ Thereafter, this Catholic immigrant from Scotland, Philip Murray (1886-1952), devoted his life to unionism, becoming one of the most important labor leaders in twentieth century America. He served as Vice President of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), 1920-1942; second President of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), 1940-1952; and first President of the United Steel Workers of America (USWA), 1942-1952. He worked to form an alliance between industrial unions and the Democratic Party as well as smoothing relations with the older American Federation of Labor (AFL) leading to the merger of the AFL and CIO in 1955. He was also active in supporting civil rights and standing against Communism.

Resolution from a steel workers local in Monessen, PA, September 14, 1942, decrying the internecine Lewis-Murray conflict. Murray Papers, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

Murray was born May 25, 1886 in Blantyre, Scotland, to Irish immigrants William Murray and Rose Ann Layden. His father was a coal miner and his mother a weaver in a cotton mill who died when Murray was only aged two. His father soon remarried, to a Scottish woman, having eight children with her. Young Murray joined his father in the Scottish mines at age ten and went to union meetings with him. In 1902, they immigrated to the mining town of Irwin, near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Following the travails mentioned above, Murray was elected President of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) local in Horning in 1905, becoming a member of the UMWA’s International Board in 1912, President of District 5 covering western Pennsylvania in 1916, and International Vice President in 1920. An effective negotiator, he worked closely and loyally with UMWA President John L. Lewis through two difficult decades.

After the New Deal began in 1933, Murray successfully reorganized the UMWA and increased membership under federal legislation enabling collective bargaining. His vision of social justice derived from his family union tradition and Catholic faith, in line with papal encyclicals on the rights and responsibilities of both employers and workers. Murray was also Chairman of the Steel Workers’ Organizing Committee (SWOC), 1936-1942, and its successor, the United Steelworkers of America (USA), 1942-1952. After repudiating Franklin Roosevelt in the 1940 election, Lewis retired as President of the CIO, replaced by Murray, who promoted labor cooperation during the Second World War and supported Roosevelt’s reelection in 1944. In retaliation and after a bitter struggle, Lewis removed Murray as UMWA Vice President in 1942.

United Steelworkers of America, District #33 (Minnesota), Murray with members and officers, September 1943. Murray Papers, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

Murray was a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and directed the CIO to establish a Committee to Abolish Racial Discrimination. After the war, he opposed the Taft-Hartley Act that eliminated the closed shop and controversially expelled Communists from the CIO He married Elizabeth Lavery in 1910 and they had an adopted son. A naturalized American citizen since 1911 Murray nevertheless spoke with a Scottish accent and often wore a kilt. He died November 9, 1952 in San Francisco and is buried in Saint Anne’s Cemetery in the Pittsburgh suburb of Castle Shannon. A biographer observed Murray never “sought the spotlight and yet his contribution to the welfare of the unionized workers was great.”³ Catholic University houses the Philip Murray Papers, which includes a digitized photograph series, along with the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) Records, while additional related collections are at Pennsylvania State University (PSU) and the Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP).


¹Ronald W. Schatz. ‘Philip Murray and the Subordination of the Industrial Unions to the United States Government,’ Labor Leaders in America. Melvyn Dubofsky and Warren Van Tine (eds) Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1987, p. 236.

²Steven Rosswurm (ed.) The CIO’s Left-Led Unions. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1992.

³Juanita Ollie Duffay Tate. The Forgotten Labor Leader and Long Time Civil-Rights Advocate-Philip Murray. Greensboro, North Carolina: North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University Press, 1974, p. xi.

The Archivist’s Nook: Tending the Fields of Social Justice

Linna Eleanor Bresette, standard portrait of her, ca. 1930. American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.
Linna Eleanor Bresette, standard portrait of her, ca. 1930. American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

Linna Eleanor Bresette (1882-1960), was a teacher and pioneering social justice advocate in her native Kansas for nearly a decade before serving for thirty years as the field secretary of the Social Action Department (SAD) of the National Catholic Welfare Conference (now the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops). It was with the SAD that she worked with legendary labor priests John A. Ryan, Raymond McGowan, and George G. Higgins as a tireless field worker on behalf of the working poor regardless of race or gender.

Bresette was a teacher and later principal in the Topeka Public Schools. After Kansas granted voting rights to women in 1912, she became the first woman factory inspector and the first focused on women workers. After travelling the state observing labor conditions, she proposed the creation of an Industrial Welfare Commission. It was created by the legislature despite stiff employer resistance.  She became the Commission secretary, continuing her role as a fair but tough factory inspector, and also helping write minimum wage and child labor laws in Kansas. Inevitably, she made powerful enemies among employers, who joined together in 1921 to force her resignation, despite public protests on her behalf.

An excerpt relating to Bresette’s 1931 Pilgrimage to Rome from the story about her in the September 23, 1953 issue of the Treasure Chest of Fun and Fact comic book, America Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.
An excerpt relating to Bresette’s 1931 Pilgrimage to Rome from the story about her in the September 23, 1953 issue of the Treasure Chest of Fun and Fact comic book, America Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

Bresette had already achieved stature as a social justice advocate so she received numerous job offers, including from the federal government and the National Catholic Welfare Conference (NCWC) headed by the redoubtable John Burke, CSP, in Washington, D.C. She accepted the position of field secretary from the latter’s Social Action Department (SAD). She had been an active Catholic in Kansas, having been president of an organization of Catholic women. She also helped organize parish classes and evening schools for Mexicans who increasingly came to the United States looking for work after the 1910 revolution in their country.

With the SAD, Bresette thrived on grass roots efforts in the field, living up to her job title, as she traveled the country, over thirty states and thousands of miles, promoting social justice for workers. She became known as “The Workingman’s Friend” and also “The Workingwoman’s Friend” as she organized diocesan councils of Catholic women, Catholic summer schools for women, and regional meetings of the Catholic Conference on Industrial Problems (CCIP). Her enthusiasm and humor are on display in a 1930 letter¹ she wrote from the Los Angeles CCIP meeting to her boss, Rev. John A. Ryan, stating the conference ‘was great!”, but also referring to a bad speaker with “I deserve to be fired for putting that man Deeney on the Program.”

An example of the pioneering work of Bresette, a pamphlet of her 1928 survey of Mexicans in the U.S., National Catholic Welfare Conference (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops), Social Action Department Records, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.
An example of the pioneering work of Bresette, a pamphlet of her 1928 survey of Mexicans in the U.S., National Catholic Welfare Conference (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops), Social Action Department Records, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

Bresette notably organized conferences on African-Americans and Mexican laborers. In fact, she conducted the first Catholic social study on Mexicans in the United States in 1928².  She also helped found the Priests’ Institutes on the Encyclicals to educate lay and clerical Catholics on the Papal Encyclicals oriented to social justice, most notably Rerum Novarum and Quadragesimo Anno. Additionally, she was involved with the American Association of Social Work, Catholic Association for International Peace (CAIP), National Conference of Catholic Charities (now Catholic Charities USA), National Conference of Social Work, National Council of Catholic Women (NCCW), and the White House Conferences on Children and Youth.  

Although largely forgotten in the twenty-first century, Bresette was honored in her time, receiving the Immaculata Medal from Conception College in 1941, an honorary doctorate from Rosary College in 1947, and Papal Pro Eclesia et Pontifice, also in 1947. An unmarried laywoman, her retirement at age 69 in 1951 was lamented by the NCWC who gave a reception in her honor.³ She died at her home in Kansas City in 1960. Her legacy is preserved at The Catholic University of America (CUA) Archives in the records of the Social Action Department and a story on her in a 1953 issue4 of the Treasure Chest of Fun and Fact comic book. Additionally, Michael Barga has a fine entry on her at the Social Welfare History Project site.


¹Bresette to Ryan, April 2, 1930, John A. Ryan Papers, box 4, folder 37.

²Mexicans in the United States, 1928, Social Action Department (SAD) Records, box 68, folder 5.

³Administration: Personnel File, 1951, Executive Department/Office of the General Secretary, box 4, folder 13.

4‘Catholics in Action,’ February 26, 1953, Vol. 8, No. 13, pp 28-33, Treasure Chest of Fun and Fact Comic Book Collection, box 7, folder 13.

The Archivist’s Nook: Putting Their Money Where Their Hearts Were

Bruce and Dorothy Abts Mohler at a formal event with an unnamed priest in 1949, the same year of their marriage. Though they had no children, they left a formidable financial and archival legacy. Photograph from the Dorothy Abts Mohler Papers, ACUA.
Bruce and Dorothy Abts Mohler at a formal event with an unnamed priest in 1949, the same year of their marriage. Though they had no children, they left a formidable financial and archival legacy. Dorothy Abts Mohler Papers, ACUA.

Among the archival collections housed at The Catholic University of America (CUA) are the papers of Bruce Monroe Mohler (1881-1967) and Dorothy Abts Mohler (1908-2000), two of the most remarkable people ever produced by the American Catholic Church. Both epitomized the active participation of the laity as each contributed a lifetime of humanitarian service in regard to the crucial issues of immigration (Bruce) and charity (Dorothy). In addition to this legacy of service to their Church, they not only left their aforementioned papers but also a stupendous financial bequest to the CUA Archives to collect and safeguard archival collections to promote the study of American Catholic history.

Bruce Mohler was an Ohio native and graduate of Ohio State University who worked for the Minnesota State Board of Health supervising sanitary conditions of public drinking water until released in 1918 to serve in the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) in the First World War. As an army major in France, he was in charge of engineers purifying drinking water for the troops. After the armistice, he was the army representative to the American Red Cross relief effort in Poland and after de-mobilization was Deputy Commissioner of the American Red Cross in Poland. As conflict raged between Poland and Bolshevik Russia, he heroically took a relief unit to the war torn city of Kiev, earning accolades for his efforts from both Poland and the United States. Continue reading “The Archivist’s Nook: Putting Their Money Where Their Hearts Were”