The Archivist’s Nook: Digital Rebirth – Labor Collections at Catholic University

Boxes, microfilm reels, and guide books for the Powderly, Hayes, and Mitchell Papers, 2018. American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

The papers of Terence V. Powderly, John W. Hayes, and John Mitchell, three Gilded Age and Progressive Era labor leaders of national importance are now available online in digital format thanks to a partnership between The Catholic University of America (CUA) and ProQuest’s History Vault subscription service. Securing collections of notable Catholic labor leaders like Mitchell, Powderly, and Hayes was facilitated at CUA in the 1940s by labor priests, John A. Ryan, Francis J. Haas, and George G. Higgins, all of whose papers reside in the university’s archives. There were some advances in accessibility via microfilming in the 1970s and more recently with the creation of detailed finding aids and digital collections via the Washington Research Library Consortium (WRLC) of Powderly and Mitchell photographs since 2001. However, the current ProQuest digitization project, based on scanning the microfilm, culminates over seventy years of archival outreach.

Knights of Labor Pamphlet, 1889. T.V. Powderly Papers via the ProQuest History Vault.

Powderly, subject of a previous blog post, was the son of Irish immigrants, born in Carbondale, Pennsylvania, in 1849. He joined the International Union of Machinists and Blacksmiths in 1871 and the Scranton, Pennsylvania, Local Assembly of the Knights of Labor in 1876, where he rose to national leadership as Grand (later General) Master Workman, 1879-1893. He was also a progressive mayor of Scranton, 1878-1884. From 1897-1901, he was Commissioner General of Immigration, and thereafter held several other federal immigration or labor posts. After his death in 1924 Powderly’s papers were retained by various family members until his niece, Mary, donated them in 1941 to CUA through the influence of Msgr. Haas. They richly detail the organization of labor, immigration policy, and political patronage in late nineteenth and early twentieth century America. The correspondence and reports are treasure troves of primary source material while the photographs and lantern slides display a wealth of cultural imagery and geographical landmarks.  The microfilming project of 1974 (94 reels) was funded by the Microfilming Corporation of America and edited by John A. Turcheneske, Jr.

Parade in Honor of John Mitchell, Scranton, Pennsylvania, 1903. Mitchell Papers via the ProQuest History Vault.

John William Hayes was born in 1854 in Philadelphia to Irish immigrants. Working as a brakeman he lost his right arm in a railroad accident in 1878 and thereafter learned telegraphy. He joined the Knights in 1874, was elected to their General Executive Board in 1884, and became General Secretary Treasurer in 1888. He worked closely with Powderly until 1893 when Hayes joined with the socialists and populist agrarians to oust Powderly from leadership. Hayes remained in control of the fading Knights, who were losing out to the American Federation of Labor (AFL), first as General Secretary-Treasurer until 1902, then as General Master Workman until the closure of the Knights headquarters in Washington in 1916. The Hayes Papers (49 boxes; 24.5 linear feet) were donated to CUA by his family in 1943, the year after Hayes died, and are almost equally divided between official Knights of Labor correspondence and his personal affairs. They were microfilmed (15 reels) together with the Powderly Papers in 1974.

Mitchell, also subject of a previous blog post, was the legendary leader of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), born 1870 in Braidwood, Illinois. Orphaned at an early age, he worked as a coal miner. He was first a member of the Knights of Labor and then, successively, legislative agent, organizer, vice president and president of the fledgling UMWA.  His leadership in Anthracite Coal Strike of 1902 resulted in significant gains for coal miners and greater recognition for the UMWA. Mitchell was also vice president of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and member of various national, state, and local civic organizations. He died in 1919 and is buried in Scranton, Pennsylvania.  In 1942, Msgr. Haas contacted the Mitchell children and arranged for their father’s papers to be donated to the university. They include correspondence and meeting minutes regarding such watershed issues as standardized wages, safe working conditions, and collective bargaining. The Mitchell Papers, sans most clippings and many photographs, was microfilmed (55 reels) and a printed guide prepared by editor, John A Turcheneske, Jr., in 1975.

The promotional brochure for the ProQuest History Vault, 2018

ProQuest is well known in educational circles for curating an archive of billions of vetted, indexed documents connected via a variety of research communities. The ProQuest History Vault debuted in 2011 and is constantly adding new documentation of widely studied topics in American history. A particular strength is social movements, especially racial justice, women’s rights, and organized labor. The collections, with enhanced search features, can be purchased as a perpetual archive or as a subscription, providing research access for students and faculty to materials held at geographically dispersed archives. The Powderly, Hayes, and Mitchell papers are part of the module, ‘Labor Unions in the U.S., 1862-1974: Knights of Labor, AFL, CIO, and AFL-CIO,’ which include collections from the University of Maryland and the Wisconsin Historical Society. Because the History Vault digitization project scanned the 1970s microfilm, portions of the Powderly and Mitchell papers are not represented. Files deemed duplicative or unprocessed, but also printed materials and photographs that did not show up well on microfilm, were omitted. The non-microfilmed portions are so noted on the Powderly and Mitchell finding aids and remain open to traditional archival research, as is also the case with all the original materials. Additionally, and as mentioned above, many Mitchell and Powderly photographs are freely available online via WRLC.

For more information on ProQuest History Vault, visit the ProQuest History Vault webpage.

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: 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: 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”