This August will mark the one hundredth anniversary of the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, which states that no citizen of the United States shall be denied the right to vote “on account of sex.”
The history of women’s suffrage is closely allied with the abolitionist and the temperance movements of the early 19th century—antebellum struggles in which women figured prominently (especially women guided by religious principles). In the aftermath of the Civil War, women’s suffrage gained momentum, but its activists were divided among several rival organizations: most notably, the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) and the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA). The 1890 founding of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) braided the NWSA and AWSA together—presenting a united front that propelled women’s rights agitation into a mass movement. Arguably, though, the more radical National Woman’s Party (NWP)—which was formed in 1916 and made the controversial decision to continue picketing the White House despite the war effort—played the decisive role in getting a constitutional amendment passed.
Although Christian goodwill informed much of the moral impetus behind reforms of the Progressive Era, that Christianity was often of a decidedly Protestant variety. The 19th and early 20th centuries were marked by fierce prejudice against Catholics, which was only exacerbated by the dramatic uptick in Irish, Italian, and Polish immigrants in the 1890s. The upshot: Catholics mirrored the wider trends of the Progressive Era in their own sphere.
The Catholic University of America (CUA) has direct ties to three of the above-listed organizations of Catholic laywomen. Brief overviews follow in chronological order.
The National Conference of Catholic Charities—today’s Catholic Charities USA—was founded on the campus of Catholic University in 1910. As Dr. Maria Mazzenga, Curator of the American Catholic History Research Center, notes in this 2017 blog post, “Catholic laywomen dominated the early membership.”
The International Federation of Catholic Alumnae (IFCA), founded in 1914, was headquartered in Washington, D.C. on the campus of CUA until the 1960s. Upon the completion of the IFCA finding aid in 2013, University Archivist and Head of Special Collections W. J. Shepherd explained IFCA’s “deep connections to Catholic University as benefactors”—most notably through the endowment of the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Chair in Education.
Meanwhile, the National Council of Catholic Women (NCCW) ran the National Catholic School of Social Service between 1921 and 1947—a women’s school which was officially folded into the men’s school at CUA after many years of parallel association. As we commemorate the centenary of women winning the vote, the NCCW, established in 1920, is also celebrating its one hundredth anniversary.
If you’ve been in the campus library this semester, you may have noticed that many of the museum pieces on display were quietly christened in recent weeks.
But since a four-by-six inch exhibit label can only accommodate so much information, the following is meant to give you a glimpse of the proverbial iceberg—of which each little white rectangle is only the tip.
ONE: JOHN LANCASTER SPALDING
John Lancaster Spalding (1840-1916) was one of the masterminds behind The Catholic University of America. A strong advocate of parochial schools, he played a decisive role in securing funds for the establishment of a national Catholic university in the United States—persuading the twenty-one-year-old heiress Mary Gwendolen Caldwell (1863-1909) to pledge $300,000 to the cause.
The bust of Spalding once gleamed in the niche where the smaller, darker bust of John K. Mullen has since been installed (apparently against the wishes of Spalding’s donor). Describing his intentions for the donation, Spalding’s nephew specifically requested on July 4th, 1935 that the University “place the bust in the niche in the library, there to remain.”
The prominent placement of the bust was important to the proud people of Peoria, where Spalding was appointed first bishop in 1876. Concerned that “[m]any priests have at different times and places commented on the fact that there is no memorial to him [Spalding] to be found in any of the main buildings of the University,” Spalding’s nephew—the Rev. Martin J. Spalding (1891-1960) of Chillicothe, Illinois—pulled some strings. Waiting around for the fireworks to start, he hatched the following plan in the same July 4th letter:
I have a brother, Mr. John L. Spalding, of Chicago, who for over thirty years has been connected with the Daprato Statuary Co. of Chicago, New York, Montreal, and Pietrasanta, Italy. With him I took up the matter of the cost of a life-size bust. […] Upon his death, my Most Reverend Uncle willed to Spalding Council, Knights of Columbus, in Peoria, the bust of himself and of which I know that he approved. The bust […] would be an exact copy of the one in the Knights of Columbus Hall in Peoria and made of Bianco P. Carrara marble. […] [It] would be made in Italy from a cast taken in Peoria.
Thanks to Sister Lea Stefancova (at the Archives and Museums of the Diocese of Peoria), we’ve established that the Spalding Council bust (from which CUA’s bust was copied) was executed by the Italian-born sculptor Leopold Bracony in 1900.
P.S. The Spaldings were fond of family names. The donor’s brother (with the Daprato Statuary connection) seems to have been named after John Lancaster Spalding. Meanwhile, the donor, Martin J. Spalding, was presumably named after his uncle’s uncle: Archbishop of Baltimore Martin J. Spalding (1810-1872), who in 1834 became the first American to earn a doctorate in theology.
TWO: JOHN K. MULLEN OF DENVER
The white whale of my exhibit label project, the bronze likeness of the library’s namesake—John K. Mullen of Denver (1847-1929)—has proven to be a paradoxical alloy of the obvious and the obscure.
First, a little insight into my process. As I set about drafting each exhibit label, my first stop was always our internal museum collection database. In the case of the Mullen bust, though, the data fields for the donor, maker, date of gift, and date of execution had all been left blank. My next stop was the hard file—the physical folder with paper records, shelved in the climate-controlled closed stacks of Aquinas Hall. Oftentimes, the hard file will yield details (usually in the form of newspaper clippings or correspondence) which may not have been germane to the catalog record, but which nevertheless lend perspective. Not so with Mullen. Ironically, the hard file contained only the print-out of the electronic database record (with the same four blank fields) and some photographs of the bust in its current location.
So I went back to the source. Upon closer inspection of the bust—with flashlights—my colleague and I found that the underside of Mullen’s right shoulder bears the following inscription:
Fisher Leys 8/29/27
What seemed like a breakthrough, however, petered into a dead end—or a mostly dead end. Thanks to local historian Robert Malesky, we have a new lead on the sculptor; we have reason to believe she was a woman by the name of Eleanora Fisher Leys. According to Malesky, Leys also sculpted a bronze bust of Herbert Hoover around 1928. Census records—listing her occupation as “sculptress”—indicate that Mrs. Eleanora Leys (née Fisher) was born around 1905, which means she would have only been about 22 years old when she was working on the busts of Mullen and Hoover. She died in 1995, according to the Social Security Death Index.
Although we might assume the acquisition of the bust coincided with the construction of the new library (between 1925 and 1928)—especially since the date inscribed on the bust falls within that time frame—I haven’t found any records to support that assumption. Yet.
With the Dante bust, we have the exact inverse of the predicament with the John K. Mullen bust; in this case, the donor and the date of the gift are well-documented, but clues as to the maker and the date of execution are mired in a series of coincidences.
According to the April 2, 1930 issue of CUA’s student newspaper, The Tower, the same Italian club gave away a bust of Dante the year before; that bust was presented to Director of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra Maestro Arturo Toscanini (1867-1957) on March 25, 1930, during Georgetown University’s Founders Day celebration. The Tower article continues:
Following the reception, the members of the Il Circolo, through their Secretary, Mr. John Del Vecchio, presented to Signor Toscanini a beautiful Italian marble bust of Dante, executed by the prominent Florentine sculptor, Carlo Romanelli.
This coincidence has led some at CUA to speculate that our bust of Dante was also sculpted by Carlo Romanelli. Some online sources indicate that Carlo Alfred Romanelli (1872-1947) was the son of Italian sculptor Raffaello Romanelli (1856-1928); he studied with his father and with Augusto Rivalta at the Royal Academy of Art. According to the Smithsonian Institution Research Information System (SIRIS), Raffaello Romanelli sculpted the bust of Dante on Belle Isle in Detroit, Michigan.
Today, Il Circolo Italiano survives through its “daughter organization,” The Italian Cultural Society of Washington, D.C. (ICS). In an April 2007 issue of the ICS’s paper, Poche Parole, then-president Mr. Luigi De Luca mentions the “gift of a beautiful bust of Dante Alighieri.” He says, “Thanks to that gift, Dante keeps me company during my studies of Ancient Greek on the third floor of the John Mullen of Denver Library.”
The Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard University and a former United States Ambassador to the Holy See, Glendon has been labelled a modest “water-and-soap type” at one extreme and “the Pope’s bombshell” at the other (see Notes 1 and 2).
Much of the confusion about Glendon stems from the fact that she doesn’t blend in with her surroundings—either as a pro-lifer at Harvard or as a woman in the male-dominated circles of the legal profession and the Catholic Church.
Twice she has been the very first woman in her role; in 1968, she became the first woman to serve on the faculty of Boston College Law School, and in 1995, the first woman to head a papal delegation (3). On the latter occasion, The Irish Times reported:
“The slight, blond 56 year old Harvard Law professor does not match any stereotypes. With a background in civil rights in Mississippi and an interest in new economic approaches to the third world, she is a feminist and she is a radical, but she is not a radical feminist” (4).
Ironically, the one label that faithfully describes Glendon is the very thing that makes her so “iconoclastic” (5). She is first and foremost a devout Catholic.
Nowhere is Glendon more of a misfit than in American politics; she routinely self-identifies as politically “homeless” (6). As a champion of Catholic social teaching, her views often straddle progressive and conservative party platforms—rendering her inscrutable to many Americans accustomed to thinking in binary.
Leading the Holy See’s delegation to Beijing for the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in September of 1995 was a turning point for Glendon—not to mention a historic moment for the Catholic Church. That September in Beijing marked both the first time a woman had been appointed to represent the Vatican and the first time a Holy See delegation had been composed of a majority of women (14 out of 22 members).
For Glendon, Beijing was at once the culmination of her pro-life activism (rooted in Catholic social teaching and comparative law scholarship) and the springboard for her subsequent papal and presidential appointments. During the George W. Bush administration, Glendon was asked to serve on the U.S. President’s Council on Bioethics (2001-2004) and was later appointed U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See (2008-2009). Meanwhile, in 2004, Glendon was appointed President of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences (PASS)—becoming only the second woman ever to occupy such a high-ranking post in the Catholic Church’s hierarchy (7).
Beijing raised Glendon’s profile beyond Boston in dramatic fashion. Journalists reporting on the 1995 Women’s Conference relish her emergence as a foil for another prominent blonde American woman: then-First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, who made a cameo appearance at the Conference.
Other journalists take it upon themselves to reconcile Glendon’s appearance with her anomalous backstory. A front page article in Catholic Exponent attempts to scuff up the popular, whitewashed portrait of Glendon—one that leaps to conclusions based on her blonde hair and her ivy league office—by divulging some of the messy details of her personal life:
“She knows problems of single and working mothers first hand. After a civil marriage in the 1960s ended in divorce when her daughter Elizabeth was 2, she was a single mother for three years before she married attorney Edward R. Lev, who is Jewish, in a Catholic ceremony in 1970. They had a daughter, Katherine, in 1971, and adopted another daughter, Sarah, a Korean orphan, in 1973” (8).
Complicating Glendon in this way preemptively dispels the holier-than-thou air of which she has sometimes been accused by those to whom she comes across as prim.
The Catholic University Archives holds a number of collections related to women’s organizations and famous figures like Mother Teresa, but markedly few that document the careers of individual Catholic laywomen. The Mary Ann Glendon Papers fill that gap—providing valuable insight into the Boston Catholic intellectual milieu; American politics; the development of neoconservative Catholic thought; the Church’s position on so-called women’s issues; and the life of a contemporary.
To learn more about the Mary Ann Glendon Papers, please see the newly-created Finding Aid.
Cesare De Carlo, “Mary Ann la tradizionalista sfida Hillary la liberal,” il Resto del Carlino (Bologna, Italy), September 4, 1995.
Paul Sheehan, “Pope’s bombshell,” The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, Australia), June 1-2, 2002; and Paul Gray, “The Pope’s Bombshell,” discovery (Melbourne, Australia), June 27, 2002.
“Mary Ann Glendon Named 1st Woman Professor at BC,” The Berkshire Eagle (Pittsfield, MA), May 6, 1968.
Lorna Siggins, “Straight talker on the Vatican team looks to “third millennium feminism,”” The Irish Times (Dublin, Ireland), September 9, 1995.
James Loeffler, “How Mike Pompeo’s Professors Hijacked a Scholarly Debate: Human rights and the academic right,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, July 31, 2019.
Dick Lehr, “Writing her own party line: Recruited by the Vatican, rebuffed by Bush, the Harvard Law prof defies definition,” The Boston Globe, December 11, 1996.
The first predated Glendon’s appointment by less than a year: Letizia Pani Ermini, President of the Pontifical Academy of Archaeology.
Cindy Wooden, “Harvard prof heads Vatican delegation to Beijing,” Catholic Exponent (Youngstown, Ohio), September 8th, 1995.