The Archivist’s Nook: The Great Depression Revisited

The novel coronavirus pandemic has left record numbers of Americans jobless—inviting comparisons between now and the Great Depression almost one hundred years ago. The Archives at the Catholic University of America (CatholicU) is well positioned to offer a historical perspective on current events. Two particular collecting strengths from the Depression era, relating to Catholic views on government and entertainment, crisscross the economics and culture of the period—and resonate in our own day.

Monsignor John A. Ryan earned the nickname “Right Reverend New Dealer” for his support of FDR, but not in the way you might expect. In fact, it was New Deal detractor Charles Coughlin who first coined the epithet—intending it to be an insult.

Following the stock market crash of October 1929, the United States plummeted into an economic depression from which it would not fully recover until the onset of World War II. In 1933, unemployment peaked at 24.9% and Franklin Delano Roosevelt assumed the office of the president. In 1935, he signed the Social Security Act—introducing among other things the unemployment insurance program from which some 40 million Americans are currently seeking relief in the wake of “the unprecedented wave of layoffs” triggered by the pandemic. On the morning of Friday, June 19, 2020, The New York Times reported that, for the thirteenth week in a row, more than one million unemployment claims were filed.

Striking his best American Gothic pose, Monsignor John O’Grady (right) was raised by farmers in Ireland and served farmers and others as a priest in the Diocese of Omaha, Nebraska. Read more about his role in the Making of Modern Catholic Charity.

The American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives holds the papers of several Catholic supporters of FDR’s New Deal programs, including Patrick Henry Callahan, Francis Joseph Haas, John O’Grady, and John A. Ryan—who was nicknamed “Right Reverend New Dealer.” The digital exhibit Catholics and Social Security recounts the active role that Catholic Charities played in shaping New Deal legislation and the Social Security Act in particular. Importantly, though, the CatholicU Archives also document the activities of Catholic detractors of the New Deal—most notably Charles Coughlin. The Social Justice Collection consists of the weekly publication of the National Union for Social Justice (N.U.S.J.), which served as Coughlin’s political vehicle. Another digital exhibit, Catholics and Politics: Charles Coughlin, John Ryan, and the 1936 Presidential Campaign, details the conflicting views of the two Catholic priests on FDR’s (first) reelection campaign.

Meanwhile, against the backdrop of the worst economic crisis in U. S. history dawned the Golden Age of Hollywood. The fact that moviegoing actually spiked during the Depression has been cited amidst other financial meltdowns: during the Great Recession of 2008, for instance. The phenomenon is commonly rationalized in one of two ways: escapism or catharsis. No doubt entertainment has served similar ends during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it has found a new mode of delivery—skipping theaters altogether. After a long spring of streaming from the safety of the sofa, will the appetite for the big screen return?

Back in 1933, as the popularity of moviegoing grew, the church hierarchy’s concerns—mostly about the portrayal of sexuality and crime (especially the glorification of gangsters)—also grew. In response, the church founded the Legion of Decency. The Legion was ultimately subsumed into the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Communications Department/Office of Film and Broadcasting (OFB), for which the CatholicU Archives serves as the official repository. The OFB records include about 150 boxes of film reviews and ratings for movies released from the 1930s onward.

One such movie has recently come back under scrutiny: Gone with the Wind (1939). The highest-grossing movie of all time, the star-studded epic set in the American South has routinely been criticized for perpetuating harmful stereotypes of African Americans. Heeding calls for racial justice incited by the murder of George Floyd, the subscription streaming service HBO Max temporarily took down the controversial classic in June 2020.

Production still from Gone with the Wind (1939). In 1940, Hattie McDaniel (right) became the first African American to win an Oscar for her performance as “Mammy”—a common stereotype of enslaved black women responsible for rearing their enslaver’s white children. From the Press Information folder created by the Publicity Department of New Line Cinema Corporation (Collection 10, Box 51, Folder 56).

Gone with the Wind happens to be historically important to the Legion of Decency. When it was re-released in 1967 (having been reformatted from the standard 35mm into the wider 70mm film stock), it became the first movie for which the Legion (then known as the National Catholic Office for Motion Pictures, or NCOMP) changed its rating “without any alterations in the motion picture” [1]. For this, the President and CEO of MGM was “particularly grateful”; he welcomed the new A-II rating (morally unobjectionable for adults and adolescents) and jumped to the conclusion that “the cloud around this classic has been removed” [2].

Upon its release in 1939, Gone with the Wind had been rated B (morally objectionable in part, for all). The Legion’s objections: “The low moral character, principles[,] and behavior of the main figures as depicted in the film; suggestive implications; [and] the attractive portrayal of the immoral character of a supporting role in the story [which is to say, the prostitute]” [3]. Referring to the original objections—including “the famous use of the word “Damn” by Mr. Gable”—one Catholic reviewer wrote, “By the standards of 1967, these elements are rather harmless” [4].  But other elements not originally objected to had since (at the height of the Civil Rights Movement) become top-of-mind, as they have again today [5]:

One moral factor however which must be considered which did not seem quite so obvious years ago is the attitude of the film toward the South, slavery, and the negro. […] The slaves are presented as being content with their lot. […]

This is a ridiculous and immoral attitude, and not fair—we are shown the plantations but not the slave quarters. […] In view of this I recommend the Office reclassify the film AIII, for Adults, and that some observation be made on our attitude toward the treatment of the Negro in the film.

For more about Catholics and the Great Depression, please see the newly-launched research guide: Special Collections — Great Depression Resources.

 

Notes

[1] “NCOMP Upgrades Rating of ‘Gone With The Wind’,” Times Review, LaCrosse, Wis., September 15, 1967. OFB Reviews, Collection 10, Box 51, Folder 55.

[2] Letter from Robert H. O’Brien to Father Patrick J. Sullivan, September 1, 1967. OFB Reviews, Collection 10, Box 51, Folder 55.

[3] Letter from Mrs. Eva Houlihan, Secretary to Right Reverend Monsignor Thomas Little of the Legion of Decency, to Reverend Hilary Ottensmeyer, O.S.B., November 13, 1964. OFB Reviews, Collection 10, Box 51, Folder 55.

[4] and [5] “Gone with the Wind: Screened-Friday, May 5, 1967,” Rev. Louis I. Newman. OFB Reviews, Collection 10, Box 51, Folder 55.

The Archivist’s Nook: A Garden for Catholic Girls – The History of St. Rose’s Technical School

A statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the property of St. Rose’s Technical School, 1939. ACHA Records, Special Collections, Catholic University.

In the north-west part of Washington DC, there was a school that educated and housed girls who had nowhere else to turn. Founded in 1868 by the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, the school’s focus was girls from the ages of 14 to 18 who were orphans and in need of educational and spiritual guidance. In 1928, the head of the school, Sr. Mary Gabriel, said that “children from 14 to 18 years of age need loving care and supervision more than at any other period in their lives. Their lifetime habits and characteristics begin to crystalize during this formative period”[1]. The Sisters of Charity directed every aspect of the girls’ lives, from their studies to their spiritual growth to their recreational activities. This guided approach was implemented in order to “make of them capable self-respecting Christian women”[2]. When the school year was not in session, the Sisters would take the girls to Camp Saint Rose in Mayo, Maryland. The students would be able to go to the beach, play games, and enjoy some well-deserved rest.

Pictures of Camp St. Rose, 1936. ACHA Records, Special Collections, Catholic University.

Celebrating Mass in their chapel, Rosa Mystica, a number of chaplains served the community and school until its closing in June of 1946. The first chaplain was Cardinal Bonaventure Cerretti, who started his service at the school in 1910 until 1916 when Archbishop John A. Floersch, D.D. took over. The student newspaper recounted an amusing anecdote from the inaugural cleric, quoting “that Monsignor C[h]eretti confessed his real motive in stopping to offer his services was an ‘honest-to-goodness’ breakfast”[3]. Other chaplains who served the school were Bishop George Leo Leech, D.D., J.C.D., Rt. Rev. Msgr. Francis Edward Hyland, Bishop Leo Binz, and Very. Rev. Msgr. Donald M. Carroll, J.C.D. Not only would the priests celebrate Mass for the students and Sisters, but they would also celebrate the sacrament of marriage for students who had found love. 

The Chapel of St. Rose’s Technical School, photo taken between 1935 and 1940. ACHA Records, Special Collections, Catholic University.

Many of the girls who attended St. Rose’s Technical School went on to lead successful personal and professional lives! Some got married, so entered the religious vocation and some continued their education. Examples of the schools that St. Rose’s graduates went on to study at St. Joseph’s, Dunbarton College, and Trinity College. Many of the students also went on to become nurses at Providence Hospital, St. Agnes Hospital, and Jenkins Hospital[4].

St. Rose’s Technical School Library, n.d. ACHA Records, Special Collections, Catholic University.

As time went on though, enrollment dropped. There was an effort to bring in “day students” who would not be living at the school, but who could participate in the institution’s stellar academics program. In a letter written to Archbishop Curley of Baltimore in 1945, Sister Serina, the President of St. Rose’s Technical School, laid out the predicament that faced the school: “At present, however, our registration is much smaller than in former years, people are better able to provide for their children and demands for total care of adolescent girls are fewer. In light of these and other impinging factors, superiors of our community have suggested that we offer our excellent school facilities to other girls who could not afford the higher tuition elsewhere”[5]. Although this plan was approved by Archbishop Curley, it did not last very long. The Community Chest, the organization that helped fund the school, approved the plans to accept day students (for the price of $10 a month!) but soon expressed concerns about the growing cost to fund the burgeoning student population. At a special meeting held on January 21 of 1947, it was decided to shut down the school and transfer the property to St. Ann’s Infant Home. In a letter to the Director of the Community Chest, the Sisters echo the reasons for the decline in attendance and the closure of the school, “due largely to Social Security and other forms of government endowment, combined with the fact that girls today are equipped at an earlier age to meet life’s problems”[6]. With these daunting social and economic changes, the school was officially shut down on July 25, 1947. The Sisters who worked at the school were sent to serve in other ministries and the remaining girls who could not support themselves were transferred to Saint Vincent’s Home.

A room within St. Rose’s Technical School, n.d. ACHA Records, Special Collections, Catholic University.

St. Rose’s Technical School operated for less than 80 years, but in that time the Sisters made a significant impact on the lives of young orphan girls. With no other place to go, the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul nurtured and taught generations of future nurses, professionals, Sisters, wives, and mothers. To learn more about the impact of St. Rose’s Technical School, please read Dr. Maria Mazzenga’s blog post on the scrapbook that the students put together during World War II.

For more information, check out our Finding Aid on Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, DC!

 

 

 

Citations:

[1] ACHA Records, Special Collections, Catholic University, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, DC, Box 48, Folder 2 

[2] ACHA Records, Special Collections, Catholic University, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, DC, Box 48, Folder 2

[3] ACHA Records, Special Collections, Catholic University, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, DC, Box 48, Folder 2

[4] ACHA Records, Special Collections, Catholic University, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, DC, Box 48, Folder 2

[5] ACHA Records, Special Collections, Catholic University, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, DC, Box 48, Folder 2

[6] ACHA Records, Special Collections, Catholic University, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, DC, Box 48, Folder 2

 

 

The Archivist’s Nook: Long Live Organized Women

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.”

First National Convention of the National Council of Catholic Women (NCCW), 1921. The text accompanying the photograph specifies that, “The picture printed herewith was taken on the grounds of the White House” (NCCW, Box 184, Folder 2). Second from right: Mrs. F. E. Mackentepe, Province of Cincinnati. Fourth and fifth from right: Mrs. W. J. O’Toole, Province of St. Paul; and Mrs. Teresa M. Molamphy, Province of Philadelphia.

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.

If the zeitgeist of the Progressive Era (1890-1920) was the coalescence of social, political, and economic reform movements into bureaucratic organizations, then women’s suffrage embodied it. Not coincidentally, many organizations of Catholic laywomen also trace their roots to the turn of the 20th century. The Catholic University of America (CUA) Archives is the official repository for several prominent organizations of Catholic laywomen, including the Christ Child Society (1887, chartered in 1903), the Daughters of Isabella (1897), the Catholic Daughters of the Americas (1903), the National Conference of Catholic Charities (1910), the International Federation of Catholic Alumnae (1914), and the National Council of Catholic Women (1920).

Three early board members of the NCCW, all also pictured in the preceding photograph of the First National Convention. Clockwise from left: Mrs. Teresa M. Molamphy, Province of Philadelphia; Mrs. W. J. O’Toole, Province of St. Paul; and Mrs. F. E. Mackentepe, Province of Cincinnati. See NCCW, Box 185, Folder 8.

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.

A pair of glasses rests on a page of the Proceedings of the First National Conference of Catholic Charities held at The Catholic University of America, September 25-28, 1910. See Catholic Charities USA, Box 237, Folder 27.

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.

For more on Catholic women, please see the research guide Special Collections — Catholic Women Resources.

The Archivist’s Nook: Father John LaFarge, Jr. and The Catholic Interracial Council of New York

Father John LaFarge, Jr., S.J., a founder of the Catholic Interracial Council of New York, was one of Catholic America’s leading intellects during the first half of the twentieth century. He wrote and edited for the Jesuit weekly, America, for 37 years, wrote and published hundreds of articles and eleven books, co-wrote an encyclical, Humani generis unitas at the request of Pope Pius XI, and worked relentlessly, if not always successfully, to improve the circumstances of African Americans within the Catholic Church.

A 1958 gathering of the Catholic Interracial Council of New York, with Father LaFarge, second from left, Roy Wilkins, Director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored people 1955-1977, third from left, and George Hunton, on Wilkens’ left.

Though LaFarge titled his 1954 autobiography after the Jesuit Rules, The Manner is Ordinary, his early life was anything but average. Born in 1880 in Newport, Rhode Island to the well-known nineteenth century painter John LaFarge, and Margaret Perry LaFarge, a descendant of Benjamin Franklin and Naval Commander Oliver Hazard Perry, LaFarge enjoyed a privileged boyhood. Though he decided to become a priest at 12 years of age, he attended public schools in Newport, and graduated from Harvard University in 1901. He revealed his desire to become a Jesuit just before his ordination at the Seminary at Innsbruck, Austria. During his Jesuit[1] training, he spent time as a prison chaplain on Blackwell’s Island (Now called Roosevelt Island) in New York City. Of his experience there, he wrote, “Innsbruck and Woodstock [Seminary] were schools of knowledge, but Blackwell’s Island was a school of life and death.”

At Blackwell’s Island, he came into contact with large numbers of African American and impoverished people, and was impacted deeply enough by the experience to make civil rights the focus of his life’s work. His assignment to the Jesuit missions in St. Mary’s County in Southern Maryland from 1911-1926 saw his commitment to the African American Catholic population deepen, even as it became fraught with controversy.

Father John LaFarge was initially involved in the operations of the Federated Colored Catholics (FCC), a lay organization founded by Thomas Wyatt Turner. The FCC’s purpose was to promote Black Catholic equality within the church. LaFarge and Turner parted ways over differences in how to run the organization in 1932.

In fact, the African American Catholic community in the United States was small in the early twentieth century, hovering around 200,000 from the late nineteenth century to the early 1930s. Additionally, as historian Cyprian Davis, O.S.B., recounts, that population suffered from a lack of representation by Blacks among bishops, priests, and both male and female religious. Though African Americans sought to enter the priesthood and religious orders, their numbers remained extremely low due to racism within the church. Davis notes that the Black Catholic laity sought to fill the vacuum of leadership within the church, with several Black Catholic lay congresses organized by Daniel Rudd in the late nineteenth century, and the Federated Colored Catholics (FCC) organized by Thomas Wyatt Turner in the twentieth century.[2]

The leadership vacuum, however, would have a profound impact on how white priests like Father LaFarge interacted with the African American Catholics he sought to serve. LaFarge and Turner saw the role of black lay Catholics within the church differently. The FCC was founded in 1924 by Turner and several Black Catholic laymen who sought to address the absence of African-American clergy, the discriminatory practices of the Josephites and Catholic Universities, and the need for greater African-American representation on the boards of various Catholic welfare organizations. Father LaFarge served as an advisor to the group, but in the end they parted ways, as Turner sought educational equality among white and black Catholics within Catholic institutions, accepted lay organizations, and access to the priesthood. LaFarge, while denouncing racism and supporting a black Catholic apostolate, favored emphasis on integration and interracial cooperation.[3]

LaFarge also served as chairman of the executive board for the Cardinal Gibbons Institute, a Catholic school established in southern Maryland in 1924 for African American students. While the school served as an early endeavor to address the educational inequities within the church, LaFarge clashed with the school’s principals, Victor and Constance Daniel, over many of the same issues with which he disagreed with Turner, and the school closed in 1933.

The CICNY inspired the formation of Catholic interracial councils in cities other than New York. Here, members of the Chicago CIC gather in 1958.

 

Such experiences nonetheless informed LaFarge’s next venture, the founding of the Catholic Interracial Council of New York (CICNY) in 1934. By this time, he was well known as an informed clerical voice on racial issues in the United States, having written many articles on the topic for America, where he had served as assistant editor since 1926. The CICNY functioned under the auspices of the Archdiocese of New York City. Catholic social teachings and American democracy formed its underlying principles. LaFarge served as the CICNY’s chaplain, primary theorist, and guiding light from its founding in 1934 until he retired in 1962. George Hunton, who had been the secretary of the executive council of the Cardinal Gibbons Institute, served as the CICNY’s executive-secretary from its founding in 1934 until 1962. Hunton oversaw the daily business in the CICNY offices and served as the editor for its monthly journal, Interracial Review. Hunton and LaFarge, who for almost 30 years were the prime movers and visible representatives of the CICNY, were joined by Gerard Carroll, long time chair of the CICNY Board of Directors, in making the CICNY a stable and active organization that, despite its regional name and jurisdiction, possessed a national reach and profile. From meetings, intercollegiate conferences, and the publications disseminated through the organization’s Interracial Review, the CICNY influenced progressive thinking on racial among Catholics, especially in the 1930s and 40s, and formed the underpinnings of Catholic approaches to the civil rights movement in the post-World War Two period.

The records of the Catholic Interracial Council of New York are housed at the archives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] David Southern, John LaFarge and the Limits of Catholic Interracialism, 1911-1963 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press), 22-23; Robert Hecht, “John LaFarge,” in Michael Glazier and Thomas J. Shelley, eds., The Encyclopedia of American Catholic History (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1997), 790.

[2] Cyprian Davis, The History of Black Catholics in the United States (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 1992. See also, Davis, “African American Catholics,” Glazier and Shelley, Encyclopedia of American Catholic History, 10.

[3] Southern, LaFarge, chapter 5.

The Archivist’s Nook: War Comes to Campus – CatholicU Students in a Time of Crisis

Catholic University Receives War News Calmly

WWII Memorial, originally dedicated in McMahon Hall in 1945. Made by local sculptor, Frank Zuchet, it reads at the top, “We ask a memento for these students of the university who have died in service of their country”.

So reads the main headline of the December 12, 1941 Tower — the first issue of the Catholic University student newspaper published after the December 7 attack on Pearl Harbor. But reading into the article it headlines, and the many articles and letters that are in this same issue, one finds a variety of emotions on display beyond just “calm.” Many members of the campus community expressed fear and anger, patriotism, or even disinterest. This particular issue is a symphony of emotions and uncertainty. Students, faculty, and staff report hopes for peace, desire for revenge, or even attempts at making jokes. Columns advocated for a quick response by the college student to the crisis facing the nation and world. Rumors swirled about what would happen. The uncertainty about the length and severity of the conflict, or even if universities would be able to continue operating the same way in the short- or long-term weighed on many minds in December 1941 and in the months and years ahead.

In hindsight, it is easy to assume that everyone understood what was happening at the time and shared in a collective response. The hindsight of history has provided us with a perspective of the days and weeks following the US entry into World War II that can be uniform and seem well-planned, with every person and institution on the same page. But people and history are seldom so simple and clear-cut. And looking through the student-led Tower during the war years reveals the anxieties, hope, adjustments, and ultimate triumph of the campus community in the face of a global challenge.

Catholic University War Bonds Fundraiser in Mullen Library, 1943

To better understand their place and how their university may respond, students turned to the last major global conflict — World War I. The Tower reports efforts to understand how campus offices functioned and how groups such as the “Student Army Training Corps” operated at the time. Articles reflect on students enlisting and highlighted the way students rallied both to the nation and to the campus during the “Great War.” The paper also took pride in highlighting the service of WWI veterans among the current faculty and alumni community. In its column “C. U. Men of Yesteryear,” the focus shifted from job promotions and weddings to reporting largely on military enlistments. In the August 20, 1943  issue, the Tower casually reported on Class of 1912 alumni: 

Major-General Terry Allen, who so successfully commanded the first U.S. Infantry Division in North Africa, is currently leading the same outfit in the Sicily Campaign. 

Generals Omar Bradley (left), Terry de la Mesa Allen (center), and Dwight Eisenhower (right) pictured on November 10, 1944 in Grenzhof, Germany.

But it was not all focused on the war fronts, as campus life did continue. Changes to college life during the war years were anticipated, with a November 1942 Tower article discussing rumors about changing academic calendars, adjustments to how classes may be taught, and even shifting commencement dates. As the author put it: 

It indicated that the men in charge of the war effort, having solved the major problems connected with transferring the processes of civilian life to the methods of total war, were coming round to putting an end to the difficulties of the position of the colleges in war time.

As the war continued throughout the early 1940s, material and demographic changes occurred on campus. In addition to some dances and social gatherings, USO training sessions were held and military exercises occurred on campus. Publications like the Cardinal Yearbook were suspended from 1944-1947, and more women were able to enroll on campus.

1517th Army unit specialized training program at Catholic University, August 1943, marching in front of the now-vanished Albert Hall

As recounted in an earlier blog, the admittance of women to Catholic University was still relatively new and often limited to programs in the School of Nursing. But with so many male students enlisting, women began to take more active roles on the campus. In early 1943, for example, nine School of Nursing students joined the Tower staff as its first women members. But these writers were not merely replacements meant to keep the newspaper afloat, they were active agents shaping the future of the campus.

Among the nine writers, columnist and member of the Tower business staff Margaret Clarke ‘44, wrote:

It seems that throughout history women are facing some form of competition, some barrier, some challenge. Just in the past World War I days the women of the entire nation faced a challenge when they tried to gain the legal right to vote. But they overcame this challenge, and the country really doesn’t seem any worse today for it…Maybe if the few of this University would come to the realization that the women, too, belong to the University, that they are worthy of having an interest in what goes on about them on their campus. And yes, they have a right to partake in the various campus activities…maybe some day the few will learn to accept these students – and the University really won’t seem any worse then for it.

Catholic University War Bond Drive in McMahon Hall, 1943.

Despite the war ending in 1945, it would take several years for certain pre-war elements of campus life to return. For example, the Shahan Debating Society ceased operations during the war years and only returned in 1946. But other changes were fast and permanent. Women were more prevalent and active in the campus community. Not to mention, the G.I. Bill also led to an increased enrollment, dramatically ballooning the size of incoming classes. And with this increased enrollment came more and more new programs on the campus, from the School of Music to aerospace studies.

But students did not forget the war. Many of those present on the campus in the late 1940s and beyond were veterans. Memorials, both in print and in stone and wood, were established to remember the students and alumni who had passed away in the conflict. 

The November 12, 1946 sports page in the Tower memorialized those lost in the war. The caption reads: “The Editors of The Tower dedicate this potion of our paper to men of C. U. who made the supreme sacrifice, in World War I, and II, and whose names would have appeared on this page in various activities.”

During a time of great upheaval and uncertainty, Cardinals expressed various emotions and turned to the past to understand present challenges. But once the initial shock wore off, members of the campus community rallied both on and off campus, finding ways to win the day and build a University community adapted to the times. While sacrifices were made, opportunities also arose as the campus emerged out of the war years having forged new ways forward. Out of the crucible of crisis, Catholic University’s students adapted and persevered.

The Archivist’s Nook: The Catholic University COVID-19 Story Project – A Collection in Real Time

Stories may be shared to a digital archive, safely and remotely.

Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, the world is undergoing an unprecedented moment in history. This collaborative effort between The Catholic University of America’s Library and Archives endeavors to document the reactions and experiences of members of the Catholic University community to the pandemic. As events continue to unfold, our stories and feelings may be in flux. We are living in a time on which future students and scholars will look back with curiosity and sympathy.

While the official records of the University’s response to this moment are already being collected in the University Archives, the idea behind this project is to paint a more complete picture of the historical moment. We welcome all submissions as small pieces in the larger mosaic of the Catholic University community’s experience of events related to the pandemic. This “collection in real time” will help future researchers study how our community collectively and individually adapted over the course of the pandemic. It will also put a human face on the administrative records from the period, illustrating the humor, fears, struggles, and triumphs across the community.

Studying or working remotely? Performing essential work? Keeping a journal of quarantined life? Trying to remain on top of things? Let us hear from you! (Pictured, student studying on the roof of Gibbons Hall, 1916.)

All members of the community—students, faculty, staff, and alumni—are encouraged to submit their comments and reflections for inclusion in the historical record. These accounts in the moment will help tell the evolving story of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic.

Please note that these submissions do not have to be one-time-only or created by one person. We invite contributors to continue to update your stories throughout the duration of these events and share contributions involving multiple voices and perspectives. Multimedia submissions—such as video diaries, audio recordings, photographs, and artwork—are welcome, too.

We are interested in stories about:

  • How campus and other closures have impacted your life
  • The transition to online classes
  • Working, studying, or researching during the pandemic
  • How you are staying in touch with family, friends, and your broader community
  • Experiences navigating social distancing, closures, or stay-at-home orders
  • Creative outlets or new routines during the pandemic
  • How your faith may have been impacted by your experience of the pandemic
  • Other changes or events you have witnessed within the University or your local community

To submit your stories, please follow the link to the form. This form will provide a template for submitting and allow you to review information about your rights and consent. It will also allow you to decide whether you would like us to share your story now or archive it for future scholarship. As we collect stories, we will post the accounts of those who wish to make their stories public.

Again, submissions may be submitted via this form. Questions or concerns can be addressed to: lib-archives+covid19@cua.edu

The Archivist’s Nook: Walter Reuther – 50 Years Later

Today’s guest post is authored by Kimball Baker,  former graduate student of the Catholic University History Department.(1)

Walter Reuther with James P. Davis, Bishop of San Juan, at AFL-CIO Meeting in San Juan, Puerto Rico, February 1959. George G. Higgins Papers, Special Collections, The Catholic University of America.

A half-century ago, on May 9, 1970, America lost one of its greatest heroes, United Auto Workers President Walter Reuther, in the crash of a plane whose engine, according to the National Transportation Safety Board, was missing parts and had parts wrongly installed—including one part installed upside down. To this day, there is no conclusive proof of foul play, although it is widely suspected.

This tragedy, and several similar tragedies, occurred amidst a time like today, when progressive social reformers are battling valiantly to promote social justice in every area of American life. Therefore, it behooves us to take a fresh look at Walter Reuther and what he fought for, and to realize the large extent to which today’s workers and worker-justice activists are standing on Reuther’s shoulders.

Reuther, in turn, was standing on the shoulders of the workers and worker-justice reformers who preceded his rise to dominance as a leader in the United Auto Workers (UAW) and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) during their organizing and 1935 founding. Reuther and his fellow workers and activists saw Industrial unionism as a direct outgrowth of a democratic-socialist vision for the United States, a vision in which workers and other Americans can thwart income inequality and play larger roles in determining their economic and political destinies.

John Brophy laying a CIO wreath with Dan Benedict and Walter Reuther in Mexico. 12/13/1954. John Brophy Papers, Special Collections, The Catholic University of America.

One cannot fully understand worker justice in the 1930s and 1940s without exploring the extent to which unions in those decades were affected by the relationship between the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA) and its allies, and U.S. socialists and their allies (including the Catholic social-action movement). Communists and socialists were bitter foes long before the 1930s, and except for a brief period of cooperation during the Popular Front era of the 1930s (cooperation which ended with the Nazi-Soviet Pact of August 23, 1939), UAW and other CIO unions were constant battlegrounds. Communist workers everywhere had to follow a line of complete subjugation of worker interests to the war aims and foreign-policy objectives of the Comintern (the Communist Party globally), which still and always included world domination. During World War II, CPUSA-led union factions hampered collective-bargaining activities (already hampered by corporate domination of wartime union-management relationships) by demanding no-strike pledges and extreme production speed-ups, and by downplaying workers’ concerns with low pay, meager benefits, lack of worker input, and unsafe working conditions.

From UAW’s founding, Reuther courageously led the union’s democratic-socialist coalition. He was a member of the Socialist Party in the 1930s until 1938, when he joined the Democratic Party, and he played a major role in UAW going from 30,000 members in 1935 to 400,000 members in 1938. He sought cooperation with the workers of every union faction, and was a veteran of the sit-down strikes and of the bitter three-year-long struggle to organize Ford Motor Company (featuring the famous photo of Reuther bloodied by company goons).

Walter Reuther’s World War II innovations, however, most dramatically exemplify his leadership. His defense-readiness plan was extremely effective, and could serve as a model for dealing with today’s coronavirus. And most significantly, in June 1945 he filed a brief with all war-production agencies recommending that in postwar, “Increased production must be supported by increased consumption, and increased consumption will only be possible through increased wages.” Indeed, he made this recommendation part of UAW’s then-current round of negotiations with General Motors by proposing that the company’s workers be given a 30-percent wage increase and that it not be accompanied by an increase in the price of GM cars. Reuther’s proposal didn’t go through, but it was a ground-breaking challenge to economic inequality in a ground-breaking manner and promises to play a key role in today’s crucial national debates.

Letter of October 24, 1949 announcing a Testimonial Dinner in honor of Walther P. Reuther. Phillip Murray Papers, Special Collections, The Catholic University of America.

Poet Robert Frost speaks of the importance of the “the road not taken”; and America’s not taking the road championed by Reuther set a discouraging tone for the country’s postwar years, when labor had to yield to corporate dominance and the country entered an era of excessive consumer abundance. Reuther was disappointed, but he still fought hard for worker justice (such as by supporting Cesar Chavez and farmworker organizing and by promoting public-sector unions), and he expanded efforts he had long made on other social-justice fronts, including civil-rights struggles, Vietnam War protests, and a greater voice for young people.

Unfortunately, this road called for but not taken has received woefully insufficient attention in the few major biographies of Walter Reuther. Nelson Lichtenstein, for example, in The Most Dangerous Man in Detroit, portrays Reuther after World War II as a champion of corporatism and consumer abundance, a portrayal which insufficiently accounts for Reuther having to row against the anti-labor current of that era and for his increased efforts in non-labor directions. Also, Lichtenstein neglects the positive anti-Communism which Reuther displayed and which helped propel him to the UAW presidency in 1947, helping bring about CIO’s expulsion of 13 CPUSA-led unions in 1949-50. Sadly, positive anti-Communism was soon replaced by the negative anti-Communism of the right wing and of Senator Joseph McCarthy and his ilk.

Ironically, during Reuther’s fight for his innovative challenge, James Matles, President of the CPUSA-led United Electrical Workers-CIO (UE), secretly negotiated with GM on behalf of the 30,000 company workers which UE represented. The UE-GM agreement unfortunately became a basis of the much weaker agreement which UAW eventually had to settle for.

Delegation of American labor leaders, including Walter Reuther, with West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, 1960s. Joseph D. Keenan Papers, Special Collections, The Catholic University of America.

In The Wage Earner, a highly-regarded Detroit labor newspaper, the paper’s editor, Paul Weber, commented in October 1945 on the Reuther challenge: “If Reuther succeeds in forcing GM, one of the country’s largest industrial empires, to redivide the fruits of its production, the day of gigantic profits in American business will be done … [T]he result may not be the end of capitalism, but it will certainly be the beginning of a new kind of capitalism.”

 

The actual result, as we know, was swallowed up in the machinations of runaway capitalists and right-wing politicians, who then gave us decades of assaults on workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively—including, in 1981, President Ronald Reagan’s firing of 12,000 striking members of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization, or PATCO (see Collision Course, by labor historian Joseph A. McCartin, Oxford University Press, 2011). Such assaults continue today, but thanks to the renewal of the democratic-socialist vision for America’s future, Walter Reuther’s “road not taken” promises to become a wide highway of worker justice and of social justice in general.

 

(1)Kimball Baker is the author of “Go to the Worker”: America’s Labor Apostles (Marquette University Press, 2010). For further reading about Walter Reuther in the 1930s and 1940s, he suggests The UAW and Walter Reuther, Irving Howe and B. J. Widick (Random House, 1949).

The Archivist’s Nook: Documenting Student Governance – John P. O’Connor and the National Student Association

Program Cover for July 1955 International Student Conference held in Birmingham, UK.

Today’s post is guest authored by Justin Gould, a MA student in Library and Information Science at Catholic University.

The collection of John P. O’Connor consists of materials collected by the eponymous man ranging from 1937 to 1967. These materials largely represent organizing efforts in student life during the mid-twentieth century, including reports, marketing materials, personal correspondence, and newspaper articles. The experience I had while processing this collection was educational, but also exciting and entertaining at times. 

John Patrick O’Connor was born on December 27, 1931. He graduated from Manhattan College in 1956, and remained active in collecting information about the United States National Student Association (NSA) until 1967. From its inception in 1947, the NSA was a confederation of college and university student governments. In 1967, it would be revealed that much of the NSA’s operations had been secretly funded by the CIA, as a perceived counterweight to Soviet-backed international student groups. While this may have led to O’Connor’s disengagement with the organization, the NSA would disavow its relationship with the CIA and continue operations until 1978.

Two publications – from the University of Wisconsin and Harvard – highlighting the 1947 founding of the United States National Student Association (USNSA)

While exploring the collection, I tried to puzzle out the views and beliefs of Mr. O’Connor, but always found myself unsure. He collected lists, names, and notes of all kinds, meticulously documenting the student organizing scene from the rise of the NSA in the 1940s, formed as a bulwark and western alternative to the International Student Union – a Soviet organ – to various student groups and movements in the 1960s, far beyond his graduation from Manhattan College. He collected official communist newspapers, unaffiliated left-leaning flyers and journals, the works of noted racists and antisemites (in smaller portions), far-right propaganda from the 1950s, and standard, mainstream journalistic retinue. From his correspondence and personal collection the only conclusion I can make is that the man was passionate, bent on understanding and deconstructing the forces behind student groups and student organizing, possibly recognizing that the youth of tomorrow are the greatest force for change.

A 1956 flyer showcasing a regional Congress of the National Federation of Catholic College Students. O’Connor collected materials related to student governmental organizations of all types across the US and internationally.

In the final periods of his collecting, he picked out newspapers from communist and left-leaning groups for their inclusion of articles exposing the influence of the national security apparatus in the student groups he worked in and around during the 1950s. These articles were published in the mid 1960s, and I can only assume the man had all but moved on from the day to day operations of the NSA and its affiliate groups by then. However, he was still fascinated by the mechanisms moving the world around him, and with this I can greatly sympathize.

I made the mistake early on of beginning with a physical inventory instead of a digital one, but that allowed me to make mistakes that would have been difficult to recover from on a digital scheme. When the collection was brought to me there was no original order to be truly found, so a full inventory and subsequent reordering was necessary. It was a task that, were I to do it again, I would start with a digital inventory. It took months, albeit part time, to finish cataloguing everything, and when I came out on the other end I understood vividly why archivists don’t typically do an item level inventory of a collection. Coming in at around 1,450 items, I wished that the collection had lent itself to a more concise way of processing. The completed collection, spanning four boxes, consists of hundreds of individual documents.

USNSA Summer Travel Abroad Poster, ca. 1950s.

The finding aid is available online.

The Archivist’s Nook: “A Shepherd in Combat Boots”: The Life of Father Emil Kapaun

Father Emil Kapaun, a military chaplain who died tragically as a prisoner of war in Korea in 1950, was known as “a shepherd in combat boots,” a perplexing phrase at first blush. How does one reconcile the image of the humble shepherd with that of a soldier in combat boots? Father Kapaun, who was declared a Servant of God in 1993 by Pope John Paul II, embodies both the fighter and the shepherd.

A portrait of Father Emil Kapaun, Servant of God. Image used courtesy of the Diocese of Wichita.

Born on April 20, 1916 to German and Bohemian Catholic parents just outside of Pilsen, Kansas, young Emil grew up laboring on the 160-acre farm where his family raised cows, chickens, pigs, and grew wheat and corn. Summers on the Kansas plains were sweltering hot, and winters, bitterly cold. Serving as an altar boy at Pilsen’s St. John Nepomucene Church, young Emil was influenced in his Catholic faith by the church’s pastor, Father John Sklenar. Witnessing the fervency of his faith as a boy, Father Sklenar, along with his parents, Bessie and Enos Kapaun, apparently marked Kapaun as a priest from a young age. Though young Emil began high school and college at Conception Abbey in northwest Missouri when he was 14, he returned home in the summers to work the fields with his father, brother, and members of the Pilsen farming community. His concentration on his studies was intense, and he did so well in his classes that he was known by his schoolmates as “the Brain.”[1]

Father Emil Kapaun attended The Catholic University of America, 1946-1948. He’s pictured here, left, under the sign. Image used courtesy of the Diocese of Wichita.

After completing his training at Kenrick Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri in 1940, Kapaun was ordained a diocesan priest and assigned to the parish in which he’d grown up. But he had a taste for studying military and political affairs in Europe and elsewhere, writing to his brother Eugene about conflict in Europe throughout his time in the seminary. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he witnessed men his own age leaving Pilsen for service and notified his Wichita diocese bishop, Christian Herman Winkelmann, that he felt called to work as a military chaplain. The bishop refused, however, instructing him to remain as Assistant to Father Sklenar at St. John Nepomucene. He followed the events of the war, writing about them in his diary, noting the call for chaplains. He began volunteering part time at the military airfield at nearby Herington, Kansas, and wrote letters to local soldiers. His letters, sermons, and talks to soldiers interwove faith and military service. To one group, his biographer William Maher notes, he preached, “…a Catholic soldier will have his heart set on obedience and faithfulness to duty to service of his country and through that service, to the honor and glory of God.”[2]

Father Kapaun remained at the parish where he had grown up, but he didn’t feel comfortable replacing the priest who had been there more than 50 years, and to whose ways the parishioners had become accustomed. He again petitioned Bishop Winkelmann:

When I was ordained, I was determined to ‘spend myself’ for God. I was determined to do that cheerfully, no matter in what circumstances I would be placed or how hard a life I would be asked to lead. That is why I volunteered for the army and that is why today I would a thousand times rather be working deprived of all ordinary comforts, being a true ‘Father’ to all my people, than by living in a nice comfortable place with with my conscience telling me that I am an obstacle to many.[3]

Bishop Winkelmann finally agreed to allow Father Kapaun to train for a military chaplaincy. Kapaun began his military career in August, 1944 in a class of 145 chaplains. In addition to rigorous physical training involving long marches and calisthenics, Kapaun studied chemical warfare and military sanitation. He enjoyed military life, writing to a friend, “They want to toughen us up in a hurry and I really enjoy it.”[4] Among other things, he learned that he had to promote the religious life of everyone in his unit (no matter the faith tradition), travel from outpost to outpost among scattered troops, and comfort the sick and wounded, all of these instructions he put to use not only during World War Two, but in the Korean War as well. He eventually ended up serving in the China-India-Burma theatre of war operations, also traveling to Bermuda, the Azores, Casablanca, Tripoli, and New Delhi, celebrating mass and ministering to soldiers, refugees, and civilians during this time.[5]

Father Kapaun wrote his master’s thesis on religious schooling in U.S. Secondary Schools, and completed his degree in 1948. This is an image of his thesis’s cover page from the University Archives.

After receiving orders to return to the U.S. in April, 1946, Kapaun conferred with his bishop on furthering his education. He began studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. in 1946. A master’s degree in education from the University would qualify him to teach at both Catholic and public schools in Kansas.

But alas, the military life still called him. He wrote his bishop in 1948 that “I believe I should offer myself for work in the Armed Forces, especially in this crisis.”[6] The crisis to which he referred was the uptick in tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union over land access to West Berlin. The U.S. responded to the Soviet blockage of the city with its “Berlin Airlift” of supplies to the citizens of the former German capital. He reentered military service in 1948, and after a period of service in U.S.-occupied Japan in 1950, he was assigned to duty as chaplain of the 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment early in the Korean War. As chaplain, he ministered to the dead, heard confessions, and celebrated mass using the hood of a jeep as an altar.

Kapaun’s story has inspired devotion. For the past 11 years, a pilgrimage is held in his hometown of Pilsen, Kansas in late May. This pamphlet held in the University’s pamphlet collection recounts his story.

Kapaun saved 15 soldiers by dragging them to safety during the Battle of Unsan in November, 1950. He was captured by Chinese soldiers on November 2, 1950, and sent to a prison camp, where he died from illness and malnutrition. For his service and bravery, he was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Barack Obama in 2013 (the 60th anniversary of the end of Korean War). In 1993, Pope John Paul II made Father Kapaun a servant of God, the first stage on the path to canonization.

View the website devoted to Father Kapaun’s Canonization: https://catholicdioceseofwichita.org/father-kapaun/

 

 

[1] William L. Maher, A Shepherd in Combat Boots, Chaplain Emil Kapaun of the 1st Cavalry Division (Shippensburg, PA: Burd Street Press, 1997), chapter 1,38.

[2] Maher, A Shepherd in Combat Boots, 45-49.

[3] Maher, A Shepherd in Combat Boots, 54.

[4] Maher, A Shepherd in Combat Boots, 54.

[5] Maher, A Shepherd in Combat Boots, 56.

[6] Maher, A Shepherd in Combat Boots, 68.

 

The Archivist’s Nook: CUA’s Patriarch of Patristics

Photo courtesy of The Catholic University of America School of Theology and Religious Studies

As indispensable and central to Catholic University as Caldwell Hall, the School of Theology and Religious Studies has been an inseparable part of the identity of the University from its first days. But what makes up a good Theology School? The only way to ensure the proper cultivation of our future scholars and clergy is to provide them with the most distinguished professors.

The Johannes Quasten Medal for Excellence in Scholarship and Leadership in Religious Studies is awarded to those who dedicate their lives to the study of religion and who demonstrate unparalleled leadership within their respective fields, both within Catholic University and in the wider theological world, It is only fitting to explore the life of the man behind the award to fully understand the impact that he has had both on the School and the study of Christianity. 

Johannes Quasten was born on May 3rd, 1900 in Homberg-Niederrhein, Germany. After his years in primary school, Monsignor Quasten attended the University of Muenster where he earned his Doctorate in Christian Archaeology in 1927. Only the year before, in 1926, Msgr. Quasten was ordained a priest, thus beginning his scholarly and priestly journey all at once. Ever the jet-setter, in 1929 Father Quasten trekked to Rome to study at the Pontifical Institute of Christian Archeology. It was this further specialization that allowed him to go on research digs and participate in projects in Italy, North Africa, France, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Holland, and Croatia.

Msgr. Quasten at his desk, enjoying some conversation! ACHA Records, Special Collections, Catholic University.

It was during an archaeological dig in North Africa that Msgr. Quasten was approached about joining the faculty of The Catholic University of America. In 1938, our intrepid globe-trotting priest joined the Catholic Cardinal family! A tough but fair professor, Msgr. Quasten wrote prolifically about his specialty — early Christian history, liturgy, and patristics. He churned out book reviews, articles, and papers, but none compared to his magnum opus Patrology. Showcasing his expert knowledge and years spent in the field, this three-volume mammoth outlines the writings and contributions of the Early Church Fathers.

The first courses that Msgr. Quasten taught at CUA in 1938. ACHA Records, Special Collections, Catholic University.

Msgr. Quasten served as the Dean of the School of Sacred Theology from November 1945 until 1949. He was also awarded a Cardinal Spellman Medal in 1960 and was granted a Doctor of Humane Letters in 1976 from The Catholic University of America. It was this same year, 1976, that he was promoted to “Monsignor” with approval from Pope Paul VI. He later returned to his native Germany where he died on March 18th, 1987. 

Msgr. Quasten’s adventures took him all around the world, but his legacy is very much alive here at The Catholic University of America. He has made his mark by teaching countless academics and clergy, but the most tangible result of that legacy is the Johannes Quasten Medal which is given out each year. First established in 1985, the Medal is “the only academic award given by The Catholic University of America’s School of Theology and Religious Studies” (trs.cua.edu). On January 27th of this year, the School held the annual ceremony, granting the Medal to Dr. Mark Smith of the Princeton Theological Seminary.