This semester I had the pleasure of processing the Cecilia Parker Woodson Collection, a set of papers donated to the Archives by Tierney O’Neil via Robert Andrews last year. We call this a collection, by the way, because these are not a full set of papers related to Cecilia Woodson, rather, they are a set of materials she, deceased 79 years now, curated herself.
Did I write Cecilia Parker Woodson? I meant to write Cecil. Cecil was what her husband, Walter, and all of her friends called her, because that is what she wanted to be called. And now, after reading the hundreds of letters written to her between 1891 and 1920, I feel like I know her too, though she died decades before I was born. The first set of letters Cecil saved were the love letters sent to her by her traveling salesman husband Walter, and they offer a wonderful window into late nineteenth century courtship practices and social life in their native Virginia and Washington, D.C.
One thing I would not call Cecil is “Dear Little Mama,” though most of the letters addressed to her in this collection open with just that salutation. The most voluminous correspondence in these collected papers are from Cecil’s daughter, Charlotte “Lottie” Virginia Woodson. Lottie left the family nest over on Monroe Street here in Brookland for Lima, Peru at the age of twenty-one. Cecil’s best friend Mary and her husband William Montavon, better known to Lottie as Aunt Mayme and Uncle Will, asked Cecil and Walter if they could take Lottie to Lima when Uncle Will was assigned a two-year diplomatic post there in 1916. Lottie was terribly eager to take the trip, and sailed off from New York City to Lima in February of that year. Her letters home chronicle the life of a young woman living in the foreign diplomatic set just before and during the First World War. There were teas, dinners, dances and decisions about the most appropriate footwear for the occasion, and Lottie writes “Dear Little Mama” about all of it. She even coyly describes her own courtship with another young diplomat, Victor Louis Tyree, who happened to also hail from Washington, D.C. The two were married in 1918 in Lima and made plans to move to La Paz, Bolivia afterward, when Victor was offered a better paying job with Denniston and Company after their marriage.
Dear reader, this story does not end well. I’ll admit that I teared up when I read the telegram dated July 31, 1918: “BABY GIRL TWENTY THIRD CHARLOTTE DIED TWENTY EIGHT PULMONARY HEMORRHAGE CAUSED BY MEASLES.” Charlotte was pregnant soon after her marriage and she died in La Paz, just after giving birth to Merle Virginia Tyree. Not a week later, baby Merle died as well. Victor writes a long letter to Cecil describing the birth and death in heartbreaking detail. The letter had been read so many times it is falling apart. After a handful of condolence letters, Cecil’s collection of correspondence pretty much ends, as if she just didn’t have the heart to save any more letters, or perhaps she received so few after that it didn’t seem worth it. She lived twenty-two more years, however, dying in 1940 at the age of 76.
Cecil saved the letters others wrote her, and she saved many beautiful photos of her family, as well as those Lottie sent her from Peru. But there is only one letter handwritten by the collector herself. And it appears to be a draft of a note she was going to send to her daughter to congratulate her on her engagement. “How can I relinquish my claim on you my own darling little girlie?,” she writes, “God bless you both and if your lives are spared, may you both in the years to come be as happy in each other as now.” There isn’t even a photograph of Cecil herself in the collection. Still, the strength and generosity of the woman emerge in the letters written to her and her life was a full one, tragedies and all.
You can view the finding aid to the Cecilia Parker Woodson Collection here:
The year 1919 could be termed a grim one. The First World War had ended in November, 1918, true, but the combatants were still taking measure of that frightful conflict. With more than 70 million people mobilized to fight, more than 16 million had died as a direct result of the war, with another 50 to 100 million dying as a result of the 1918 influenza pandemic. A “Red Scare” gripped the United States, as fear of communist agitation rippled through the country in the wake of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.
These more immediate happenings occurred in the context of long term changes in social and economic life that had accelerated during the previous century. The industrial revolutions transformed the nature of work, the landscape of cities, and the lives of peoples displaced by the changing economy. Pope Leo XIII had addressed the meaning of such changes for Catholics in his 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum, noting that “new developments industry, new techniques striking out on new paths, changed relations of employer and employee” had led to “a decline of morals and caused conflict to break forth.” Many Catholics in the United States and elsewhere sought to address how their religion might address social and economic transformation.
When the National Catholic War Council led by the United States bishops formed in 1917, their chief aim was to assist the millions of Catholics mobilizing for the First World War. However, when the war ended it became clear that a national Catholic organization designed to coordinate activities among the nation’s faithful would prove useful. In 1919 the bishops changed the name of their young organization to the National Catholic Welfare Council and began discussing a Catholic plan for postwar America.
The National Catholic War Council, like many social and religious groups of the time, was eager to offer a Catholic plan for postwar America of its own. In April of 1918 the bishops established a Committee for Reconstruction. The war ended on November 11, 1918, however, sooner than the Committee could forge their plan. The Committee’s secretary, Catholic charity expert Rev. John O’Grady had only the vaguest notions of what its plan should look like at that time. O’Grady, panicking in early December because he needed a plan immediately, turned to Father John A. Ryan, who had written a book on living wage issues and studied social reform extensively, to write a program. Ryan at first resisted then agreed and dictated the Program to a typist two days later. Ryan’s program was pushed quickly through the administrative structure of the War Council and approved by the Committee’s bishops. The program called for government insurance for the sick, unemployed and aged; labor’s participation in industrial management; public housing; unions’ right to organize, and a “living wage” for all workers. The Program’s publicist, Larkin Mead, set a release date for it: February 12, 1919, Abraham Lincoln’s birthday.
The Program was called then, and forever after would be called, the “Bishops’ Program for Social Reconstruction,” the implication being that it represented the entire church’s views on the remaking of America in the postwar era. That claim was disputed by some, because the War Council’s authority to issue such a sweeping statement on behalf of the whole church was questioned. Some Catholic prelates and business groups opposed the bishops’ plan on the grounds that it was too radical. William Cardinal O’Connell of Boston, for example, believed some aspects of the plan were “socialistic,” a word often used to describe what was viewed as too much government involvement in American society and the economy. Many Americans were inclined to share O’Connell’s suspicions; the Red Scare in particular heightened fears of “Bolshevik” plots. As the 1920s progressed, Americans’ lost their appetite for Progressive reform, and critics of the Bishops’ plan gained traction. The kind of reformism advised in the Bishops’ Program would not find an audience again until the economy slid into the Depression in the 1930s.
“The need of the Catholic Social worker no one will question. There should be no question of the need of the TRAINED social worker. Social Service is today a PROFESSION. Motive and intention can inspire—but without KNOWLEDGE they can never achieve.”
National Catholic School of Social Service pamphlet, 1932
In researching the history of the National Catholic School of Social Service at Catholic University (NCSSS), I came across a pamphlet, from which the above quote jumped out at me. The words “trained,” “profession,” and “knowledge” were all capitalized, as if to emphasize that those who performed in the social work field required these elements of preparation in order to practice their work properly. Today, of course, we know this to be true, as do the many students and faculty who form the University’s prestigious school of social service. But in 1932, social work was just coming into its own as a profession. The earliest settlement houses were founded in New York and Chicago in the late nineteenth century to address the problems of poverty engendered during the Industrial revolution. By 1913, there were hundreds of settlement houses across the United States toward addressing social problems. But the question of training individuals as professional social workers was still being hashed out. When, Dr. Abraham Flexner claimed in 1915 that social work was not a “profession because it lacked specific application of theoretical knowledge to solving human issues,” the professionalization of social work began in earnest. Catholic University’s NCSSS is an important part of that history of professionalization.
The advent of the U.S. involvement in the First World War in 1917 saw large scale mobilization of a variety of social groups toward addressing wartime problems, Catholics among them. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops organized specifically to address wartime needs of Catholics. They immediately realized that wartime workers—especially women who served to provide services to soldiers and those dislocated by war—needed training to perform effectively both overseas and stateside. The origins of NCSSS lay in the training of women for war and reconstruction efforts both at home and abroad. It would have been simple to train these women on the campus of Catholic University here in Washington, D.C., but the University still did not admit women in 1918, when it was decided by the U.S. Bishops that a training school for wartime social service would be created. So “Clifton” was established through the efforts of Fathers John J. Burke and William Kerby in 1918 in the Georgetown Heights area of Washington, D.C. for this purpose. Run by the National Council of Catholic Women, the school’s first dean/director was Maud Romana Cavanaugh, an ambitious and energetic woman who managed to open the school on November 25, 1918. Cavanaugh served as early faculty, along with Catholic University faculty members, such as Father John Ryan, Father John O’Grady, and Father Kerby, all well-known for adapting Catholic teaching to American social problems. The earliest classes included “Catholic Principles in Social Work,” “Relief of Poverty,” and “Public Health.” Kerby, in particular, worked on creating a body of teaching and thought that wove the emerging theory in social service with Catholic social thought.
It became clear that the school would have to move, as the Clifton lease was running out, and the location was nearly two miles from any transportation line, making travel to and from the house difficult. A second site was found by Father Burke and faculty member Agnes Regan in the Mount Pleasant section of Washington, D.C., and the new National Catholic School of Social Service was established there in 1921. With the move, the brief training sessions at Clifton were replaced with a two year graduate program in social work. Under the directorship of Anne Nicholson, a curriculum review took place and a standardized course was developed for the school. After NCSSS was admitted to the American Association of Schools of Social Work, enrollment began to rise.
Keep in mind that the students lived at the school. This was by design: faculty believed that the students would develop a deeper sense of community if they resided in the same house. These years were especially festive and sought to be inclusive toward the broader community. At Christmas, for example, the students held a party for dozens of children from local institutions, many from where the students had done their field work. The parties featured and afternoon of games, candy, toys, and a visit from Santa Claus. Groups of students often gathered around the parlor piano and sang. Teas, picnics, and barbecues were common. Guests were almost always present for Sunday evening candle-light suppers, and the school was known for its delicious and nutritious food. The faculty at the time, Agnes Regan, Fathers John Ryan and John Burke, loved to gather and play bridge in the evenings.
NCSSS held a formal connection to Catholic University’s graduate school, and students received their degrees from the University, but by the late 1930s, the connection became more explicit. A separate School of Social Service was established at Catholic University in 1934 for priests, religious and lay men. Laywomen were admitted into the University’s graduate programs in 1930. This resulted in a revamping of the school’s policies that ultimately integrated the administration and degree-awarding structure of NCSSS into the broader University academic policies. While the two programs in social work ran parallel for a number of years, conferring slightly different degrees to its graduates, in 1939 NCSSS merged with Catholic University’s School of Social Service. From that year forward, graduates of the program received the same degrees. Though the two entities remained physically separate for several more years, in 1947, they merged and took the name of the National Catholic School of Social Service. NCSSS found its new and current physical home in Bishop Shahan Hall, which was dedicated in 1950.
 Loretto Lawler, Full Circle: The Story of the National Catholic School of Social Service (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1951), 17-24.
November 9-10 of this month marks the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, also known as the “night of broken glass.” The Kristallnacht pogrom against Jews by German Stormtroopers and German civilians took place across Germany in 1938, and is often viewed as the beginning of the Holocaust for its escalation of Jewish social and political persecution into overt physical brutality. More than one thousand synagogues and Jewish businesses were destroyed, at least 91 Jews were killed, and 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to concentration camps. The pogrom was condemned by many around the world, from politicians to representatives of all faiths. U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt summoned home the American ambassador to Germany as a sign of U.S. disgust, saying he “could scarcely believe that such things could occur in a twentieth-century civilization.”
Not all Americans were critical of the Nazis’ activities against Jews. The German American Bund, for example, was a pro-Nazi organization established in the U.S. in 1936. More than 20,000 people attended a pro-Nazi rally organized by Bund leader Fritz Kuhn in February, 1939. Among Catholics, Father Charles Coughlin, the “radio priest,” was an anti-Semitic supporter of Nazi Germany with many millions of followers in the late 1930s. Anti-Judaism was in fact, widespread in the United States at the time.
Generally speaking, American Catholics were not known for coming to the defense of Jews in the U.S. in the 1930s, though the two religious groups could certainly sympathize with each other given that both anti-Catholicism and anti-Jewish sentiment were quite widespread in the U.S. at the time.
In fact, Archives staff were surprised about a decade ago to find a damaged album labeled “Catholic Protest Against the Nazis—November 16, 1938.” The album was badly damaged and the audio could only be retrieved by employing a sound specialist, which we did, in 2007. The recording turned out to be a 27-minute condemnation of the Nazi actions against the Jews during Kristallnacht by several American Catholic bishops, the rector of Catholic University, and a former Democratic presidential candidate. The broadcast took place a week after the pogrom, with both CBS and NBS networks carrying it across the United States, and The New York Times reprinting its text on its front page. Now we know that while Coughlin’s anti-Semitism existed and flourished in the 1930s, there was also another group of Catholics, including several members of the Catholic hierarchy, who found the actions of the Nazis toward the Jews reprehensible and stated it publicly.
The Broadcast was organized by Father Maurice Sheehy, Assistant Professor in the Department of Religious Education at Catholic University and assistant to the Catholic University rector. Sheehy was an adept organizer who managed the university radio station, possessed many contacts within the church, in the Washington, D.C. community, and in national politics. Sheehy was joined in the broadcast by Archbishop John J. Mitty of San Francisco, California; Bishop John M. Gannon of Erie, Pennsylvania; Bishop Peter L. Ireton of Richmond, Virginia; former Democratic Presidential Candidate and Governor of New York, Alfred E. Smith, and Catholic University Rector, Monsignor Joseph M. Corrigan. The participants were selected to represent both lay Catholics (hence Smith’s inclusion) and clerical leaders’ unified view that the violence unleashed on Jews and Jewish property in Germany was immoral, contrary to Christian teaching and against American ideals of religious and civic freedom. They also compared the treatment of the Jews by the Germans to the persecutions of Catholics in Spain and Mexico.
Four days later, Father Charles Coughlin, the hugely popular Catholic “radio priest” from Michigan, went on the air to deliver a broadcast titled “Persecution – Jewish and Christian.” Claiming he would add his voice to those protesting the Nazi pogrom against Germany’s Jewish population of several days earlier, Coughlin instead offered a justification of the Nazi persecutions as a natural defense against an alleged Jewish-dominated communist movement. Coughlin also mocked the Catholic University-sponsored address of Archbishop John J. Mitty, referring to him sarcastically as the “Most intellectual Archbishop” and suggesting that the Catholic University broadcast participants cared more about the persecution of Jews than the welfare of Catholics.
The reactions to both broadcasts was substantial and intense, with hundreds of stories appearing in the media on each. The American Catholic History Classroom explores the broadcast, Coughlin’s response, and other documents here.
In 1986, Monsignor George Higgins wrote to his friend, Richard John Neuhaus, that it “would appear that we will simply have to agree to disagree agreeably about your report on the Synod,”¹ referring to their differing views of the 1985 Synod assessing Vatican II reforms. Theologian David Bentley Hart noted in 2006 that Neuhaus was “opinionated (definitely), but not at all spiteful or resentful towards those who disagree with him.”² Both priests were very active in public life, both held strong opinions about politics and religion, and neither stopped communicating with each other despite their differing views on the major issues of the day. Our new American Catholic History Classroom website explores the relationship between the two priests in the context of the times in which they lived.
Higgins was the older of the two men, born in 1916 in Chicago, and educated for the priesthood from his teenage years. He graduated from and eventually came to teach economics at The Catholic University of America, while serving as director of the Social Action Department, and later as Secretary for Research then Secretary for Special Concerns for what is today called the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Known as a “labor priest,” Higgins is most notable for his work representing the Bishops’ Conference on matters related to organized labor and interfaith relations. His work with Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers of America, as well as his work as a labor mediator in a variety of other labor-employer disputes is well known, and you can read more about those activities here on our website on Higgins, the Bishops, and the United Farm Workers of America.
Neuhaus, born in 1936, spent many of his years as a young Lutheran pastor working in anti-war and pro-civil rights work before embracing more conservative religious views in the late 1970s, when he became increasingly critical of what he saw as mainline Protestant Christianity’s accommodation to American secular liberal politics. After the publication of his book The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America in 1984, Neuhaus became an increasingly influential conservative thinker on matters related to the intersection of religion and politics. By 1990, he decided to convert to Catholicism, and in 1991 he was ordained a priest. Increasingly associated with the conservative thought of his friends George Weigel and Michael Novak, Neuhaus was sought after by nationally prominent political conservatives by the late 1990s, advising individuals such as George W. Bush on how to address matters such as abortion and military engagement from a religious perspective.
Higgins and Neuhaus disagreed on the meanings of a variety of Catholic teachings related to the economy, politics, and labor unions. They never stopped corresponding when both were alive, however, and their dialogue offers a window into how two different Catholic public figures viewed the same world during their time.
Digital curation is a term that has come to reflect the work of many types of archivists and librarians: from Digital Archivist to Metadata Librarian, digital curation is involved. Curation is a word borrowed from the museum field as a way to underscore the fact that Archivists now interpret and select digital objects from their archival collections for presentation to the public, as opposed to simply housing and processing those objects.
The role of archivist-as-curator has been spurred on by archivists’ ability to both digitize materials and preserve digitally-born objects. This is because digital objects can be widely distributed by way of digital computing and the Internet. So the question then becomes one of how do archivists best digitally curate their materials? If digital curation is the way we select, contextualize, and manage digital content of our archives, here at the American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives, we curate in many ways and for many different types of users. With 208 online finding aids, 39 online collections, 28 online educational websites, 18 online exhibits, and selected materials in our web archive, we create greater access to our digital materials in the ways we situate them in these various contexts. Online finding aids are tools for researchers to get a sense of the scope and contents of collections, while our digital exhibits situate specific digital objects in selected themes and offer some interpretive material for understanding those objects.
The Difference Curation Makes: Working with Context
Perhaps the best way to illustrate the ways curation, context, and interpretation can work together to generate meaning around digital objects is with some examples.
Curation I: Image from the Terence V. Powderly Photographic Prints Collection. The image of what appears to be an opossum is dated by Powderly 1908, though it contains no other explanatory information, so staff labeled this simply “opossum” with that date we posted it as part of the Powderly Photo Collection.
Curation II: This image of President William Howard Taft is also part of the Terence Powderly Photographic Prints Collection. The photo, also taken by Powderly, is dated June 16, 1908 and labeled as Taft but contains no other information. Though we are uncertain as to the location, the setting suggests Washington, D.C., where Powderly lived and where Taft served as Secretary of War and advisor to President Theodore Roosevelt. We also know that Taft served as President of the United States from 1909-1913 and as Chief Justice of the United States from 1921-1930. Additionally, Powderly served in Washington, D.C. as Chief of the U.S. Immigration Bureau’s Division of Information from 1907-1921, a period within Taft’s term as President, so we can surmise that the two were acquainted.
Curation III: This is an image of the photo of President William Howard Taft with a cut out image of the opossum pasted onto it (early Photoshop!). This image is in a scrapbook of Powderly’s called “Family and General Photos.” Archives staff found this image and recalled seeing the opossum photo as well as the Taft image in the collection while processing it. It turns out that when Taft ran for President of the United States in 1908 he wanted to replicate the success of his predecessor, Theodore Roosevelt, in using an animal—the Teddy Bear—as a campaign promotional tool. So Taft’s campaign came up with “Billy Possum,” which became the candidate’s mascot. Powderly was probably having fun pasting “Billy Possum” onto a photo of his soon-to-be boss!
In short, the information offered by the collection creator, historical context, and the willingness, curiosity, and persistence of archives staff in piecing these bits of data together is the stuff of digital archival curation.
The first national Catholic press in the U.S. formed in 1911 with the Catholic Press Association. Its purpose was to stabilize advertising services and to start a national news service, which it did, called the News Bureau. By 1915 it was gathering news and developing newsletters from Rome, London and Washington, D.C. as a subscription based service for its member publications, which were primarily diocesan and independent Catholic newspapers in the U.S. In 1919, just after the formation of the National Catholic Welfare Council (NCWC), today known as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the NCWC Press Department absorbed the function of the Catholic Press Association, stabilizing and promoting the dissemination of news of interest to Catholics nationally. Its aim was to publish news of national and international interest to Catholics in the United States—news that was often ignored in the mainstream press. Subscribers to the news service—local or special interest Catholic news outlets—would supplement their own content with the Press Department’s news, editorial features, and picture services in their own publications under the name NCWC News Service. The NCWC News Service changed its name in the 1960s to the National Catholic News Service or NC News, then again in 1986 to its current name, Catholic News Service (CNS) to reflect its mission to cover world news of relevance to Catholics.¹
This new national Catholic press focused on matters of interest to Catholics nationally, particularly those matters that the mainstream press ignored or reported from a non-Catholic and often anti-Catholic perspective. One 1922 NCWC News Sheet, for example, reported in October of that year that the Ku Klux Klan was asserting that “because Columbus was a Catholic,” Leif Ericson should be considered “the real discoverer of America.” The KKK’s view held that Columbus’s Catholicism disqualified him from a role in the history of European colonization, and that Leif Ericson’s Nordic background made him qualified for a special place in that history. The news sheet countered that in fact, Leif Ericson was a Catholic anyway so the KKK’s plan to dethrone Columbus based on religious grounds was futile—not an argument that would be seen in the mainstream press because the mainstream press freely expressed anti-Catholic sentiment as well. Other topics heavily covered by the Catholic press in these years concerned the persecution of priests and nuns in Mexico and the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939. Church figures in the U.S. felt that the U.S. government was not doing enough to counter anti-Catholic violence in the 1920s Cristero War, and in contrast with many non-Catholic Americans, were more sympathetic to the pro-Catholic Franco regime in Spain than they were to the Soviet backed Popular Front.²
Additionally, the NCWC News Service covered the Catholic angle of topics popular in mainstream media as well. In 1944, for example, the News Service reported on Japanese Catholic internees and on the ways the U.S. liberation of Guam resulted in the reopening of one of the island’s Catholic churches. A March, 1959 news release reported on John F. Kennedy’s assertion that “there is no conflict between being a Catholic and meeting your constitutional obligations as an officeholder.”³
With a current incarnation that is more global in reach than ever, almost every English language Catholic newspaper in the world uses CNS, including more than 200 American Catholic newspapers and websites, radio, and video broadcasters as well as news broadcasters in more than 60 countries. As an editorially independent and financially-self-sustaining division of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, CNS has created several media outlets, including Origins, the documentary service created in 1971 that chronicles the history of the church through full texts of speeches, encyclicals, and other documents. It offers online book reviews, as well as movie, television, and gaming reviews from a Catholic perspective as well. Finally, CNS provides images and news graphics in digital and print format and produces daily video from Washington and Rome.⁴
⁴ See “The N.C.W.C. News Sheet,” releases: October 30, 1922, Benedict Elder, “Ku Klux Show Ignorance In Proposal to Substitute Ericson for Columbus”; December 12, 1927 “Priest Hanged, Nun Is Shot In Mexico, Letters Reveal,” held at the USCCB archives which holds National Catholic Welfare Conference News Service/Catholic News Service archival records.
All you need is a computer–heck, all you need is a smartphone to do historical research these days. Three years ago, my colleague John Shepherd described our efforts in boutique digitization, which offered digital researchers several carefully selected sets of digital materials for use online. Since then, we have undertaken many more large-scale digitization projects for your historical edification.
As of March 2018, the Archives hosts 42 collections online amounting to hundreds of thousands of pages of materials. I should note at the outset that the word “collection” is used deliberately here. A “collection” is a set of digital objects put on the web without any kind of accompanying interpretive information. This is in contrast with our online digital “exhibits” and digital “educational resources,” but these are distinguished from collections, as they are interpretively selected and posted with particular audiences in mind (say, high school students and teachers).
In sum, our digital collections are put online with only basic identification information (archivists call this metadata; at its sparest this means the date, collection, creator and search tags are posted with the object). Contrary to what many people believe today, we cannot digitize everything in our archive—it would take years to digitize the millions of objects in our collections and frankly, we don’t have the staff time or the server space for such a project! This means that we must make decisions on what we decide to digitize. Key factors in our decision to digitize collection materials include fragility, demand, and historical import.
Fragility was a key factor in one of our first digitization projects, that of the Fenian Brotherhood. Established in Ireland in 1858 as the Irish Republican Brotherhood, their American branch was known by 1859 as the ‘Fenians,’ with the avowed purpose of overthrowing British rule in Ireland and establishing an Irish Republic. The Fenians in the United States grew to include over 50,000 members and hundreds of thousands of sympathizers by the end of the Civil War. However, rocked by internal factionalism and opposed by the formidable military power of the British Empire, they never came close to achieving their aims. We chose to digitize this collection in 2003 due in part to its fragility. It is well-used and much of the paper in collection is thin and extremely fragile. Hence, digitizing the Fenian Brotherhood collection is partly a preservation measure—the fewer hands that touch the actual materials, the longer it will last. The online collection is still widely used and freely available to anyone with an internet connection; it is our third most used digital collection.
You may be wondering, hmmm, if that fancy set of papers is number three, what is the Archives’ most popular digital collection? Well, that would be The Treasure Chest of Fun and Fact, of course. Treasure Chest was an American Catholic comic book published from 1946 through 1972, available exclusively in Catholic schools throughout the United States. We digitized the Treasure Chest back in 2004 because we suspected that a Catholic comic book would be appealing to many audiences, though it too has its fragile aspects, comic books tend to have thin pages that tear easily, so that was also a factor. Treasure Chest has consistently been a chart topper as far as online use.
As noted, we have many digital collections available for public use online. These collections were digitized and made available for free through the joint efforts of the Archives and the Washington Research Libraries Consortium. Using another model, the Archives teamed up with the ProQuest History Vault to digitize several collections related to U.S. labor history, an area where our materials are particularly strong. ProQuest curates an archive of billions of vetted, indexed documents connected through a variety of research communities. Debuting in 2011, the ProQuest History Vault is constantly adding new primary sources related to 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 Terence Powderly, John W. Hayes, and John 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 as well as the Catholic University Archives.
There are many ways to connect the present with the past. One of the easiest is through physical objects, such as, say, informing students on the history of the physical space of their university campus. The Archives worked with Campus Ministry this past November on an event which had students playing trivia, doing a campus scavenger hunt, and watching National Treasure, a heist film involving a search for a treasure hidden by the American Founding Fathers. The event, inspired by the film and thus dubbed “National Treasure” itself, had students exploring the Catholic University campus for prizes while learning about the layers of history embedded on the campus itself.
Indeed, the National Treasure reference is not really that far off the mark. Take the first structure built in 1803 on what is now the University campus, Sidney. Sidney, after the political theorist Algernon Sidney, was built and occupied by Margaret Bayard Smith and her husband, Samuel Harrison Smith, who was invited to move to the District of Columbia by then President Thomas Jefferson in order to publish the city’s first newspaper, The National Intelligencer, which he did. Jefferson, James and Dolley Madison, and other political luminaries visited Sidney back in the early days of Washington, D.C. Later, the house was sold to the Middleton family, and in 1887, to the founders of the Catholic University.
The scavenger hunt/trivia night involved exploration of some of the earliest physical aspects of the campus, including two of CUA’s founders: Mary Gwendoline Caldwell’s eponymous Caldwell Hall and its cornerstone, laid in 1888, as well as the ginormous marble statue of Leo XIII that found itself in the foyer of McMahon Hall when it was constructed in 1895 and hasn’t moved since.
More recently built structures are quickly acquiring some local historical significance, too. The Great Rooms of the Pryzbyla Center hosted Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to the United States in 2008. And the lower level of the Pryz features a painting of a CUA Cardinal done by the actor Jon Voight while he was a student here in the late 1950s—the painting was originally done on the floor of the gymnasium, which was housed in what is today the Crough Center for Architectural Studies.
It’s Paris in 1889. A 26-year old priest with a doctoral degree in sacred theology named Father Edward Pace is readying himself for a faculty position in philosophy at the newly established Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. He happens to come across a secondhand copy of Wilhelm Wundt’s 1874 Principles of Physiological Psychology and is so inspired by this pioneer thinker’s presentation of ideas that he resolves to study with the author himself at the University of Leipzig.
In fact, Pace was the first Catholic priest and one of only six Americans to have studied with Wundt, the founder of experimental psychology. Of one course, he wrote, “For us Americans, the exercises of this seminar have been a revelation of German slowness and German patience. The very men who are preparing to measure sensations by the thousandth part of a second seem quite oblivious to the flight of days and hours.”¹
Shortly after receiving his doctoral degree from the University of Leipzig in 1891, Pace began teaching what he’d learned in Europe as a professor at Catholic University, where he also introduced the earliest psychology laboratory of its kind in any Catholic institution.² In doing so, he was following the advisement of the future Cardinal Desire Mercier, who founded the psychology department at the University of Louvain in Belgium in 1891; as Cardinal Mercier put it: “Psychology is undergoing a transformation from which we would be blameworthy to remain aloof… here is a young, contemporary science, which in itself is neither spiritualistic nor materialistic. If we do not take part in it, the psychology of the future will develop without us, and there is every reason to believe, against us.”³
The first psychology courses offered in 1892 were taught in theology, and later under the discipline of philosophy. In 1905 the Department of Psychology was set up within the School of Philosophy. As onetime department chair Bruce M. Ross noted, the early study of academic psychology was “largely confined to the description and measurement of sensation and perception.” Hence Pace’s work focused on pain and fluctuations of attention.⁴
Pace soon went on to greater administrative duties, which drew him into the field of education at the University, but psychology’s career at CUA continued with one of Pace’s students, Thomas Verner Moore. Moore, a Paulist father, then a Benedictine, and finally a Carthusian monk at the time of his passing, eventually chaired the expanding department, served as a psychiatrist with the Armed Forces during the First World War, became Superintendent of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C., and established a school for mentally challenged children, St. Gertrude’s School of Arts and Crafts. Moore’s clinic became a model after which other Catholic clinics were patterned.⁵
By 1960, the Department of Psychology was well established, and housed in the third floor of McMahon Hall. James Youniss, who arrived that year to study in the doctoral program, describes the offices as follows: “At the top of the two stairwells in the center were large mahogany-paneled doors that opened into a vast space with 20-foot ceilings, large glass museum cases containing laboratory instruments going back to Wundt, and book cases with volumes in English, German, and French.”⁶
Aside from the interesting physical details, the description underscores the department’s cosmopolitan roots in experimental psychology. By this time, moreover, the program offered the doctoral degree. The department elected to appoint Hans Furth as department chair and hire faculty for several new programs, including social psychology, personality, counseling and human development. Furth, whose extraordinary background included escape from his Nazi-besieged Austrian homeland, training as a concert pianist at the Royal Academy of Music in London and, coincidentally given his predecessor Thomas Verner Moore’s experience, 10 years in a Carthusian monastery, brought a unique interest to the department: study of the deaf with a deep interest in the work of Jean Piaget, whose works were not yet widely accepted in the U.S. Furth’s publications made accessible Piaget’s largely abstract ideas, including the notion that children left to their own devices continually rethink their understanding of the world and are not empty vessels waiting for educators to fill them with knowledge. He found that far from impeding their development, deaf peoples’ use of sign language, highly discouraged in deaf education at the time, actually spurred healthier development among them. His work underscored the need for sign-language education among the deaf, today commonly accepted.
Furth, Youniss, and Bruce Ross (both Ross and Youniss later went on to chair the department), made Piaget’s theory the centerpiece of the Ph.D. program in developmental psychology, which graduated many influential students, many of whom went on to academic careers. They also established the Center for Thinking and Language, for which they were awarded an NIH grant for a conference on cognition and language in the 1960s. In 1970 the University awarded Piaget an honorary doctorate for his work, a fitting tribute to a scholar whose influence ran so deeply through the department.
The Department of Psychology graduated dozens of students who went on to careers in places like the National Institute of Mental Health, various state mental health institutions, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Covenant House, the Veterans Administration, and in the faculty at universities across the country.
At the 125th Anniversary celebration of the Department of Psychology in October, 2017, James Youniss referred to remarks made by Cardinal James Gibbons during the department’s 25th anniversary celebration a century earlier. Gibbons spoke of the turmoil of the times, the poverty of the immigrants who had recently arrived from Europe, the world war then engulfing Europe and involving America, and the many social issues that needed addressing. He noted that “from the very nature of our condition upon this earth, from our progress in knowledge, our political organization and our economic condition…” the human state has “made possible and necessary the social sciences” and “demanded a more systematic inquiry than ever before into our human relations… the structure of society, the origin and history of institutions, the cases of decline, and the possibility of betterment…” Youniss noted that Cardinal Gibbons’ insightful comments applied then and still do, a century later.
²Helen Peixotto, “A History of Psychology at Catholic University,” Catholic Educational Review , April, 1969, 844-849, 844; Bruce M. Ross, “Development of Psychology at The Catholic University of America,” Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences, (September 1994), 141
³Henry Misiak and Virginia Staudt, Catholics in Psychology, A Historical Survey (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1954), 34-35.
⁴Peixotto, 846-847, Ross, 135.
⁵Peixotto, 846-847, Ross, 148-149, 155.
⁶James Youniss, “CUA, Psychology, and the Last Half of the Twentieth Century,” delivered on 125th anniversary celebration of the Department of Psychology, The Catholic University of America, October 14, 2017, in author’s possession.