The Archivist’s Nook: Civil War Catholics – Patriotism on Trial

Undated chromolithograph of Brigadier-General Thomas Francis Meagher (1823-1867), commander of the Irish Brigade, Fenian Brotherhood and O’Donovan Rossa Papers, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

The mixed legacy of heroic sacrifice and bitter division of the American Civil War continues to permeate popular culture and political discourse. As a growing minority in the 1860s, making up about ten percent of the United States population concentrated in the north, Catholics were embedded in this conflict. Their relatively unknown story was recently and expertly addressed by historian William B. Kurtz in his book Excommunicated from the Union: How the Civil War Created a Separate Catholic America. As Kurtz relates, amidst fears Catholicism was incompatible with republican government, the Civil War gave Catholics a chance to prove their loyalty, with nearly 200,000 serving as Union soldiers, fifty-three priests as chaplains, and over six hundred nuns engaged as nurses. Unlike later wars, especially World War I, there was no national coordination by the hierarchy, though many bishops were supportive, as were many in the Catholic press. In Rome, Pope Pius IX was neutral, considering the war a minor affair. A 2015 post from The Archivist’s Nook related the war’s influence on the grounds of what became The Catholic University of America while this post examines the war more broadly, using archival holdings and museum artifacts from Catholic U’s Archives.

Catholic convert Orestes Brownson (1803-1876), who supported the Republicans and the war via his influential Brownson’s Quarterly Review. Oil painting on canvas by Gustave Kinkelin, 1869. Gift of C.S. Hewit, 1890. This piece currently on display in the reading room of the American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives in Aquinas Hall. Photo courtesy of Shane MacDonald.

Antebellum anti-Catholicism and the question of Catholic patriotism during the Mexican War was a rehearsal for similar debate during the Civil War. Following the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 and resulting secession of southern states, many notable Catholics, such as New England publisher Orestes Brownson and Archbishop John Hughes of New York, strongly supported the Union, as did most Catholic men. Catholic civilians took pride in symbols of their patriotism from the celebrated Irish Brigade to notable high-ranking generals William S. Rosecrans and Philip H. Sheridan. Battlefield interaction and the comradeship of soldiers often weakened religious prejudice as did the service of chaplains and nurses. Notable chaplains included future Minnesota archbishop John Ireland, Notre Dame alum Peter Cooney, and William Corby, who famously gave absolution to Union troops at Gettysburg on July 2, 1863.  Nuns, serving as nurses, were largely from the Sisters of Charity, but also Sisters of the Holy Cross, such as Mother Angela Gillespie, a cousin of William T. Sherman whose wife was also Catholic.  

Father Cooney’s Military Field Mass titled ‘Atlanta Campaign-Army of the Cumberland.’ Father Cooney was a member of Congregation of the Holy Cross, C.S.C. Gift of Fr. Eli Lindesmith, ca. 1912. This piece currently on display in the reading room of the American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives in Aquinas Hall. Photo courtesy of the Catholic News Service (CNS).

However, like most other Democrats, Catholics tired of the war’s bloody toll by 1863 as many resisted emancipation, suspension of civil liberties, and the military draft. While many northern Catholics disliked slavery, they were reluctant to support Republican abolitionists who were often hostile to Catholicism, and there were fears after Republicans eliminated slavery they would next attack Catholics. Notably, Archbishops Hughes of New York and John B. Purcell of Cincinnati, respectively, as well as General Rosecrans supported emancipation while Paulist priests Isaac Hecker and Augustine Hewett bravely confronted Irish-Catholics rioting in New York City against the draft in 1863.  In the 1864 presidential election, Catholics tended to support General George B. McClellan rather than Lincoln, though the latter’s victory in the polls, as well as military victory in the field by armies that still included thousands of Catholics, many of them Irish and German immigrants, successfully concluded the war.  Unfortunately, Lincoln’s tragic assassination complicated matters as many of the conspirators were Catholics, including Mary Surratt, the first woman to be executed by the federal government.  

Nuns serving as nurses was a Catholic war contribution appreciated by non-Catholics, and none more so than the U.S. Surgeon General William A. Hammond, one of their strongest advocates. Daughters of Charity nursing staff at the Satterlee General Hospital in Philadelphia, c. 1862-1865, Courtesy of the Daughters of Charity Province of St. Louise, St. Louis, Missouri. Thanks also to William B. Kurtz.

After the war, anti-Catholicism remained strong as additional immigrants from southern and eastern Europe settled in ethnic neighborhoods thus furthering isolating Catholics from mainstream America. Catholic apologists publicized their wartime sacrifices celebrating chaplains and the Irish Brigade while ignoring slavery and the draft riots. Despite his defeat at Chickamauga, Rosecrans rather than the less pious and far more successful Sheridan became the greatest Catholic Civil War hero as the most prominent devout Union officer and Catholic Civil War memory largely became an Irish memory with non-Irish, especially German Catholics, overlooked. Catholics would find new opportunities to demonstrate their loyalty in two world wars.  In 1917 the bishops created the National Catholic War Council to present a united front and patriotic image in World War I. Despite a resurgence in the 1920s, Anti- Catholicism declined thereafter because of the Church’s unequivocal patriotic response to World War II. By the twenty-first century, overt prejudice was no longer a pressing issue and Catholic Americans honor their ancestors without the need to prove their faith’s compatibility with modern American society.

 

The Archivist’s Nook: Atomic Age Catholics

Rev. William McDonald, Rector, blessing the nuclear reactor in 1957.

“Saturday: Atomic Reactor Demonstration, Tour of National Shrine, Open House Library Science……11:30 & 12:45”

-Homecoming ’58 Schedule, Tower, November 14, 1958

In the fall of 1957, an AGN-201 nuclear training reactor was installed on the Catholic University campus. Originally located in the Nuclear Training Laboratory of the campus Power Plant, this reactor was a compact unit standing nine feet tall and weighing 12 tons. Capable of producing 100 milliwatts of energy – only enough to light a single Christmas tree bulb! – the unit was not intended for powering campus offices but providing a controlled model to train budding nuclear engineers, power plant operators, and faculty researchers. For over 20 years, the reactor was at the heart of a close relationship between the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and the University. But why Catholic University and why a nuclear reactor?

Dr. Talbott demonstrating the “Atom Smasher,” 1941.

To understand this partnership, one must understand the fears and hopes of the post-war Atomic Age. While there were fears about the destructive potential of nuclear technology, scientific and political leaders also recognized its awesome potential for good. Advancements in nuclear monitoring and reactor development, declassification of technics, and concern over losing scientific ground to the Soviet Union provided the impetus for Congress to pass the Atomic Energy Acts of 1954 and 1955. These Acts authorized the AEC to provide grant monies to engineering schools for nuclear equipment, ranging from reactors for training power plant operators to biomedical equipment to study radiation’s effects on cancer cells. Catholic University, with its centrality in the nation’s capital and having previously established a nuclear science and engineering program under the joint guidance of the Department of Physics and School of Engineering in 1956, was well-placed to apply for a grant.

With a storied history of aviation innovation with the first experimental wind tunnel in the United States, by the early 1940s, the Physics Department was one of only two Catholic institutions in the United States to possess an “atom smasher.” Maintained by Herzfeld and Talbott, this “smasher” was an apparatus that produced high electrical voltage to charge particles.

Sr. Mary Dolores, C.F.M., a PhD candidate in Biology, and M.S. candidate Donald B. Pribor (right), work with AEC-provided equipment to study the effect of ultrasonics and radio-isotopes on retarding the growth of cancer cells in mice. Dr. Braungart (left) supervises. 1960.

Receiving over $123,000 to acquire the reactor, this became the first of many AEC grants the University would receive in the coming decades. Among the many projects funded by this program was a radioactive isotope laboratory, under the auspices of the Department of Biology, specializing in retarding cancer growth cells in mice. Physics was also provided additional funds to continue the neutrino research of Dr. Clyde Cowan, who had co-discovered the neutrino in 1956. Dr. Cowan joined the Department in 1958. Numerous scientific luminaries were associated with the grant program, including: Drs. Francis Leo Talbott, Karl Herzeld and Clyde Cowan of Physics; Dean Donald Marlowe of Engineering; and Dr. Dale C. Braungart of Biology.

The reactor was relocated several times during its tenure, residing in the Power Plant, McGivney Hall (then known as Keane Hall), and Pangborn Hall. McGivney was even originally constructed in 1958 to serve as a center for physics research, with its deep basement levels providing reduced background interference for the experiments to be conducted. But by the late 1970s, some of the initial public optimism of the Atomic Age had waned following the aftermath of the Three Mile nuclear incident and continuing fears of nuclear war. Although the reactor had been inactive for several years at that point, concerns were raised about its continued presence on campus. By the early 1990s, it was fully decommissioned and removed from campus.

Vestiges of the Atomic Age on campus, 2017.

While this partnership with the AEC thankfully resulted in no giant lizards stomping across the Brookland neighborhood, it did inspire a generation of innovative research and budding engineers, a legacy that continues in the sciences on campus today, whether through the Vitreous State Laboratory’s research into safe nuclear storage or partnerships with NASA.

In addition, the Archives holds the papers of Dr. Clyde Cowan: http://archives.lib.cua.edu/findingaid/cowan.cfm

The Archivist’s Nook: Resurgence

Lindsey Whalen at her Catholic U. Class of 2018 commencement celebration.

The University Archives recently acquired four photographic works by Lindsey Whalen, B.A. 2018, who presented her undergraduate thesis show Resurgence in the Salve Regina gallery during the fall of 2017.  

Lindsey’s work is a topically layered translation of her turbulent emotional state while healing from a dislocated ankle, a broken tibia, and a broken fibula that she sustained from a fall. Her medical treatment included fourteen screws, a metal plate, fifty-six stitches, and over two months of recovery.

Injury often causes dramatic physical and emotional transfiguration and these changes can intersect in unexpected ways; for Lindsey, her injuries affected her creative drive and threw her into a season of restlessness: “All summer, I didn’t touch my camera, my paint brushes, anything art related.”  

As the mental fog began to clear, Lindsey felt empowered to begin creating art again, but this time her work would bear the existential weight of her recent traumatic injuries—she alludes to this uncertainty by enshrouding her subjects in an atmospheric liquid that alternates between opacity and translucency; this mysterious liquid seems biomimetic and conjures a uterine environment, where new life is being created; but what lies beneath the liquid is inchoate, unreconciled, and not ready to be shared with the world.

Her work is an act of disruption because it precludes the audience’s inclination to arresting the feminine image and subjecting it to somatic critique as a function of addiction to harshly cross-examining images of women based on patriarchal heuristics that almost always impart a dimension of sensuality. By showcasing her own body as a palimpsest that is simultaneously in various states of erasure and composition she does not allow space for the audience to attempt to author meaning in her narration universe.

Lindsey’s work has now become part of the university archives and will be housed among materials from over 100 years ago; from an archival perspective, Lindsey’s work traverses the scale of time because it is intimate look into how a young woman at Catholic University defined herself through artistic acuity, it is a look into how this young woman related to the social reality of women and their visual representation in the late 2010s, and it is a look into how she visually harmonized injury; physical and emotional transmutation; beauty; and rebirth through practicing the craft of art as a biopsychosocial-spiritual mechanism. 

Headline piece from Lindsey Whalen’s Resurgence, featuring Lindsey

In 3018 (1,000 years from now) her work will form part of a network of materials contained in archives all over the world that have crystallized this very point in time—a significant generational zeitgeist that has been signified by the vast amounts of people who are using social media to hold traditional media accountable for poor visual representations of their communities and signified by the vast amounts of people who have eliminated traditional media as a factor in how they construct their social representations and relay their unique stories to the world. We are in an age where we can subvert the power that traditional media and print culture has had to dissolve our personal agency by taking our own photographs; through scripting and shooting our own films, through creating our own print publications, through writing our own books, and through using social media to discuss and distribute our stories in an environment that is not controlled by traditional media outlets.

For general interest in the museum art collection, please send inquiries to lib-archives@cua.eduPlease note the Archives does not do appraisals of non CUA Museum materials.

 

Resurgence – 2017 Undergraduate Thesis Show by Lindsey Whalen
(Speakers on medium volume!)

The Archivist’s Nook: Speaking Labor to Power – W. B. Wilson

Photos of John Mitchell and W. B. Wilson from the pamphlet ‘Speech of William B. Wilson on Mitchell Day, October 29, 1901,’ Box 127, John Mitchell Papers, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

Scottish immigrant and Pennsylvania coal miner, William Bauchop (W. B.) Wilson (1862-1934), became the voice of workers speaking to power as a founder of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) union, the first representative for labor in Congress, and the first secretary of labor in the Woodrow Wilson (no relation) administration. Although not a Catholic, W.B. worked during the Gilded Age and Progressive era to advance labor’s cause along with many Catholics such as T. V. Powderly, John Mitchell, John W. Hayes, and ‘Mother’ Jones. Wilson’s papers reside with the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, but his documentary trail is well represented in the papers of his Catholic colleagues at the Catholic University of America Archives, and the digital version available by subscription at The History Vault.

W. B.’s family settled in the tightly controlled coal company town of Arnot, Tioga County, in the mountains of northern Pennsylvania. In 1871, not yet 10, Wilson went to work in the mines. As a young man he began to organize his fellow workers, becoming blacklisted by mine owners, and thus working a series of jobs as lumberjack, mill hand, and railroad worker. Active in the Knights of Labor, where he was a supporter of leader Terence V. Powderly, as evidenced by his letter of March 5, 1895. W. B. was also a founder of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) in 1890, serving on their National Executive Board though he remained an active coal miner until 1898. He served as UMWA Secretary-Treasurer, 1900-1908, working closely with President John Mitchell as his “wise and sagacious counselor”¹ during the Great Anthracite Coal Strike of 1902, winning higher wages, shorter working days, and national recognition of the union. During this time he also became a colleague of celebrated labor activist, ‘the Miner’s Angel,’ Mary Harris ‘Mother’ Jones, who usually addressed him as “My Dear Comrade’ in her numerous letters.²

Letter denouncing John W. Hayes, who had engineered the ouster of T. V. Powderly from leadership of the Knights of Labor. W. B. Wilson to T. V. Powderly, May 24, 1895, Box 48, T.V. Powderly Papers, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

W. B. went on to serve three terms, March 4, 1907-March 3, 1913, as a Democratic congressman from Tioga County. In Congress, he introduced legislation creating the Bureau of Mines and established a Department of Labor, which included the Bureau of Labor Statistics that had been headed successively by Catholic University professors Carroll D. Wright and Charles P. Neill. In 1912, W. B. became chairman of the House Labor Committee but was defeated for a fourth term in Congress. However, incoming Democratic President, Woodrow Wilson appointed W. B. as Secretary of Labor, heading the department he had created from March 5, 1913, to March 5, 1921. There he conciliated numerous potential strikes, regulate working conditions for women, and during World War I created an employment service moving more than six million workers to places where workers were needed. He also worked to provide insurance for military members and housing and higher wages for war workers. W. B. also worked diligently to restrain excesses of Attorney-General A. Mitchell Palmer during ‘The Red Scare’ regarding Communist threats in 1919-1920.

W. B. left the Labor Department in 1921, where incidentally he had been reunited with his former Knights of Labor chief Powderly who now reported to the Secretary from his position as head of the department’s Information Bureau. Out of government, W. B. engaged in mining and agricultural pursuits near Blossburg, Tioga County. He made a foray back into politics for an unsuccessful run for the U. S. Senate in 1926. Thereafter, W. B. did some work as an arbiter in Illinois coal fields but otherwise lived in retirement until dying on a train returning from Florida near Savannah, Georgia, on May 25, 1934. He is buried beside his wife, fellow immigrant Agnes Williamson, whom he married in 1883, in Blossburg’s Arbon Cemetery, not far from other family members. He is remembered for speaking labor’s “truth to power.”³ He was also an occasional poet, poignantly expressing the immigrant’s longing in Memories (1916):

Group portrait of Anthony Caminetti and T. V. Powderly flanking their boss, William B. Wilson, at the Labor Department, n.d., This photo and others of Wilson can be found in both the John Mitchell and T. V. Powderly online digital photo collections.

True, there stood Penn’s forest as stately as ever,
And, there, the wide meadows and tall growing grain,
And down in the valley the swift flowing river
Fast winding its way to the billowy main.
Yet though my heart loves them with loyal devotion,
My memory dwells on sweet visions of yore,
And pictures that country far over the ocean,
The land of my fathers, old Scotia’s loved shore.

Special thanks to the best online source for William B. Wilson: Blossburg.org. I also owe a personal debt to ‘Dunny’ Dunlap, an aged corner store owner in my hometown of Cherry Tree, Pennsylvania, who would regale me with stories about his wife’s uncle, W. B. Wilson.


¹ Craig Phelan. Divided Loyalties: The Public and Private Life of Labor Leader John Mitchell. State University of New York Press, 1994, p. 91, citing the United Mine Workers Journal of June 18, 1903.

² See Edward M. Steel (ed.) The Correspondence of Mother Jones. University of Pittsburgh Press, 1985.

³ To borrow an iconic phrase attributed to later civil rights leader Bayard Rustin.

The Archivist’s Nook: YOU Should Read the Catholic Press – Why?

Cover of a booklet issued by the newly established Press Department of the Bishops’ Conference issued in the 1930s. The booklet explains the function and reach of the Department to readers.

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

Justin McGrath served as the founding director of the new Catholic News Service (then called the Press Department of the National Catholic Welfare Conference), from 1920 until 1932. He brought with him connections and experience from previous stints with The New York Times and The San Francisco Examiner.

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

This map of subscribers nicely displays the reach of the relatively young Catholic news agency in the 1930s. Note that there were several correspondents based overseas, reflecting the global church.

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

Back in the 1950s and 60s printing plates were used to make hardcopy newspapers. This zinc plate was used by the Catholic News Service to impress an image of Pope John XXIII signing the papal bull commencing the start of the Second Vatican Council.

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.

To view our finding aid for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Communications department and Catholic News Service, see our finding aid: http://archives.lib.cua.edu/findingaid/ncnews.cfm

For more on local Catholic newspapers, see the Catholic News Archive:  https://thecatholicnewsarchive.org/


¹ N.C.W.C. News Service press release, 10/30/1944, 3/5/1959, held at the USCCB archives which holds National Catholic Welfare Conference News Service/Catholic News Service archival records.

² See our finding aid:  http://archives.lib.cua.edu/findingaid/ncnews.cfm

³ For a short history of Catholic News Service, see our finding aid to their papers here:  http://archives.lib.cua.edu/findingaid/ncnews.cfm

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.

The Archivist’s Nook: The Tower Reports, You Decide

Twelfth anniversary issue, November 1, 1934, detailing efforts to bottle up ace Western Maryland (known since 2002 as McDaniel) football player, one of my imagined kinsmen, William Leroy ‘Bill’ Shepherd (1911-1967). Shepherd nevertheless led his team to victory over Catholic U. in Brookland Stadium two days later. The Tower Archive Online.

American student newspapers began appearing on Ivy League campuses such as Harvard, Princeton, and Yale in the 1870s. It took a while longer for their Catholic colleagues to follow suit, with the founding of the Tribune at Marquette University in 1916, The Hoya at Georgetown University in 1920, and The Tower at The Catholic University of America in 1922.  Named after the center tower portion of Gibbons Hall, the latter debuted on October 27, 1922 as a four page weekly intending to “serve no individual, no group, no class; it is a publication in the interests of all students.” It also eloquently stated “The Tower is now a living being on the Campus, and will be kept as such only thru the wholehearted co-operation of all the students.” ¹

With a price of ten cents per copy or $1.50 a year, the Tower was initially funded by the University and later by the student government, but also increasingly by advertising.² It became more independent over time and in the 1960s reported in the midst of the tumult over University attempts to fire dissident professor Fr. Charles Curran for teachings contrary to the Church and the resulting student strike on campus. Tower reporters were also front and center for such notable events as the historic visits of presidents and popes to campus, including Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 and John Paul II in 1979. Interestingly, in the 1970s and 1980s, before the advent of email, the unclassified section, where students could print anonymous messages for $1, was quite popular.

Pope Francis during Papal visit, September 23, 2015, for first ever canonization on American soil, of St. Juniperro Serra. The Tower Online.
Cartoon by Tower news staffer and future Oscar winning actor Jon Voight, Class of 1960, January 10, 1958 issue. ‘The Tower Archive Goes Digital’ Brochure, 2009.

The first editor was W. T. Keavny, Jr., Class of 1923, a Law major from Connecticut. Jimmy Cassidy, Class of 2018, a Media and Communication Studies Major from Maryland, who has served since 2017, is the 123rd editor. The first woman to be editor was Mimi Reisman, Class of 1957, a biology major from Pennsylvania.³ Many student contributors went on to later fame (or infamy), including renowned photographer Fred Maroon, Oscar winning actor Jon Voight, Pulitzer prize winning New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, Washington Post Sunday editor James Rowe, former Republican National Committee (RNC) chair Ed Gillespie, and problematic NBC news anchor Brian Williams.

The print edition of The Tower has changed size several times in its venerable history: twelve by nineteen inches from 1922-1923 to 1925-1926; fourteen by twenty one inches from 1926-1927 to 1931-1932; seventeen and one half by twenty three inches from 1932-1933 to 1941-1944; eleven by seventeen inches from 1946-1947 to 1972-1973; eleven by fifteen inches for 1973-1974 to 2003-2004; and twelve by twenty three inches 2004-2005 to the present. The Tower transitioned to a digital layout in 2003 and in practice has become increasingly digital-only, with occasional print issues as advertising revenue permits.

University archives staff worked in 2008 with several campus departments, including Mullen Library and the Student Association General Assembly, as well as an outside digitization company, Olive, to get archived copies of the newspaper digitized and accessible online. The years 1922-1991 had previously been microfilmed, so these were relatively easy for Olive to scan. Print copies for 1992-2003⁴ were digitized and the combined digital collection web site went live in 2009. Additional years have been added thereafter so that coverage on the Olive site is currently 1922-2013. The most recent years can be accessed on The Tower’s web site. The library stores backup digital copies and the Archives retains three sets of print copies whenever possible.

The first April Fool’s issue, The Towel, with prank headlines and other absurdities was published in 1927. Above is a humorous example from 2009: ‘Catholic University March Madness,’ with reference to an apparently overachieving student named Wynn.

¹ The Tower, 10-27-1922, pp. 1, 4.

² The Tower, 10-24-1997, p. 1.

³ The Tower, 1-14-1955, p. 1.

The Tower, 4-16-2004, p. 3.

The Archivist’s Nook: Virtual Historians All

A favorite from the Fenians: A Chromolithograph of Theobald Wolfe Tone, the eighteenth century Irish revolutionary many Fenians looked to for inspiration.

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.

Treasure Chest of Fun and Fact cover, November, 1970. The comic book’s covers changed somewhat across the years.  This cover may or may not reflect the psychedelic era in which it was produced.

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.  

A typical reaction upon hearing what the Catholic University Archives makes available online (Catholic University Public Affairs photo collection).

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.

The Archivist’s Nook: A Flapper, a Nurse, and a Nun Apply to Catholic University…

Women blast through the barriers to their admission at Catholic University. No prisoners were taken. Pictured: (L to R) Nursing students Kathleen Bowser and Lois Pecor visiting the Soldier’s Home, 1945-46. Karl M. Schmitt photograph collection. Special thanks to Robert Malesky for identifying the location.

I am not pleading for co-education or the admission of “flappers” into the University, but I am pleading for the cause of the women who mean more for the Church in America in one sense, than all its Hierarchy and all its Priests.

– Archbishop Michael Curley to Peter Guilday, October 10, 1924

Among the most frequently asked questions we receive at the Catholic University Archives are: Who was the first woman to graduate from Catholic University? When did the University first admit female students? Despite the simple questions, the answers are surprisingly complex! Beyond the opposition to coed institutions at the time of the University’s founding, the admission of women was complicated by the variety of degree programs, academic schools, and the status of lay and religious women on the campus.

During the 1895 inauguration of the newly constructed McMahon Hall, Rector John J. Keane stated to those assembled that, “Many women have applied for admission and the University would be glad if it were in her power to grant them the educational advantage which they desire.” Keane went on to state that such a change in the University’s admission policy would necessitate a decision by the Board of Trustees.¹

This issue was seemingly resolved with the founding of Trinity College (1897) and Catholic Sisters College (1911). Both institutions were founded to educate Catholic women, the former being for lay women and the latter for religious sisters. While certain exceptions were granted for some women to enroll as graduate students at the University – although without the full rights of an enrolled student – female students largely took courses at one of the two neighboring colleges. However, with the end of the First World War and passage of women’s suffrage, new opportunities appeared for American women.

New organizations, such as the National Council of Catholic Women, founded educational institutions such as the National Catholic School of Social Service, which became affiliated with Catholic University in 1923. However, despite being affiliated with Catholic University and often being taught by University faculty, none of the female students officially were enrolled or received degrees from the University.  That is until one sister from Minnesota came on the scene.

Sister Hilger with Mapuche women in Chile, ca. 1950s. Traveling the world, Hilger studied childhood experiences across cultures. (Courtesy: Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History)

Wishing to pursue an advanced degree in sociology, Sister Marie Inez Hilger, OSB, was upset to find that major Catholic universities, such as Notre Dame and Catholic University, did not accept female applicants. Explaining her situation to the Bishop Joseph F. Busch of St. Paul, she found a sympathetic ear. Busch expressed concern about the lack of opportunities for religious sisters at Catholic universities and promised to raise the issue at the annual Bishop’s meeting in Washington. Shortly thereafter, a telegram arrived from Busch, informing Hilger that permission had been granted for her to enroll as a full student at Catholic University. Packing up from Minnesota, Hilger arrived on campus on October 1, 1924. Completing her Masters in sociology and social work in 1925, Hilger’s example helped renew the discussion among the Board of Trustees on the topic of female students.

With her admission, the deadlock that had existed since 1895 was broken. The first laywoman to be registered as a full student was Florence McGuire, who began in 1927 and earned a Masters in Greek and Latin. With these two women granted special permission to enroll, a debate developed amongst the University’s leadership. Paralyzed between pro and anti-admission factions, the Board deferred on making a decision and referred the matter to the Rector. In 1928, Rector John H. Ryan granted admission to all religious sisters.² With the stalemate seemingly broken, the Board of Trustees moved quickly to open the University’s graduate programs to all women, lay or religious. However, undergraduate admission was another matter.

In 1932, the School of Nursing began to operate on the campus, presenting a new challenge to the University. Suddenly, a large cohort of lay women required general course work outside the nursing program, necessitating that they be permitted into undergraduate classes. Despite some concern over infringing upon the two nearby colleges, pragmatism won out as sending professional students to other campuses was costly and inefficient.³ Thereafter, women were accepted into a variety of science and humanities courses in the 1930s. While these students were technically enrolled only in professional programs – and not strictly liberal undergraduate degrees – this did not stop female students from becoming engaged in undergraduate life.

(L to R) Kathleen Bowser, Annabelle Melville, Rita Bondi, and Joan Chapman, 1945-46. Melville was a PhD student in history, the other three were nursing students. Karl M. Schmitt photograph collection.

By the end of the 1930s, women would be seen attending and teaching classes in English, drama, anthropology, and even aeronautics. The January 1934 Alumnus even reports that there were already enough female graduates to form the Graduate Alumnae of the Catholic University of America, complete with officer elections and nationwide branches! In the 1940s, female students began to organize their own social clubs on campus, including the Association of Women Students (1943) and the Columbians (1945). Undergraduate actors and actresses graced Fr. Gilbert Hartke’s theatrical stage. By 1950, one of the final barriers to admission came down with the Board of Trustees officially allowing undergraduate women to enroll in bachelor’s degree programs on campus.

As for Sister Hilger? Well, she returned to the University in 1936, earning a doctorate in anthropology in 1939. Soon afterward, she met famed anthropologist, Margaret Mead, who inspired her to continue a lifelong career studying the child life of indigenous people worldwide. After decades of teaching at the College of St. Benedict in Minnesota and serving as a Smithsonian research associate, Hilger passed away in 1977.

A small collection detailing the graduate admission and anthropological work of Sister Hilger may be viewed here: http://archives.lib.cua.edu/findingaid/hilger.cfm


¹ The Catholic University Bulletin, Vol. 1 (1895), 540. 
² E. Catherine Dunn and Dorothy A., eds. Mohler. Pioneering Women at The Catholic University of America: Papers Presented at a Centennial Symposium, November 11, 1988 (Hyattsville, MD: International Graphics, 1990), 1-18.
³ Roy Deferrari, Memoirs of The Catholic University of America, 1918-1960  (Boston: The Daughters of St. Paul, 1962), 229-40.

The Archivist’s Nook: Numismatic Teaching Tool – Catholic University’s Coin Collection

H197-1: Justin I – Gold – Tremissis; (Wt.) 1.21, (Mod.) 14; (Ob. Type) Bust, facing, wearing helmet with plume and diadem; (Ob. Legend) DNIVSTINVSPPAVC; (R. type) Victory walking, looking r.; (R. legend) VICTORIAAVCVSTORVM in ex. CONOB, 518-527 A.D. Byzantine. Research by CUA Greek and Latin Class in 2013.

The Catholic University of America (CUA) coin collection, part of the museum administered by the American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives, contains nearly seventeen hundred numismatic pieces, primarily from ancient Greece, the Roman republic and empire, and Byzantium, as well as medieval and modern specimens, including coins from Western Europe, Persia, and China. A Roman poet once said: “Quidquid praecipies, esto brevis” (whatever you want to teach, be brief),¹ so let us begin.

From the late nineteenth century to as late as 1938, there were more than twenty donations, some 1682 coins. With the exception of the Nablus series, the collection was acquired entirely by gift. One of the earliest donations came from Claudio Jannet (1844-1894), a professor of Economics at Paris who also wrote about American political and economic institutions. He was known to be an admirer of the United States and probably interested in the establishment of CUA, hence the CUA Bulletin 1894 description of him as one of the University’s best friends who had donated a large collection of Greek and Roman coins. This donation of 806 coins represents the largest donation of the entire collection. Another early addition to the collection was 72 coins from Professor Henri Hyvernat and Msgr. Paul Muller-Simonis after their trip to India, 1888-1889. Hyvernat traveled extensively throughout the world and donated hundreds of eclectic items to the university museum from five continents.

1058-1: Caesar – silver – denarius; (Wt.) 3.91, (Mod.) 20, (Die axis) 12; (Ob. type) Pontifical emblems: culullus, aspergillum, axe, and apex; (Ob legend) BLANK (R. type) Elephant r., trampling dragon; (R. legend) CAESAR (in exergue); (Mint) Moving with Caesar, 49-48 B.C. Late Republic, military issue. Research by CUA Greek and Latin class, 2010.

The Nablus Collection, numbering 178 coins, came to the university in 1927 from the Samaritan Community of Nablus, Palestine, then under British administration. Due to its unique nature as a coin hoard discovered during an archaeological dig, Rev. Romain Butin, curator of the Museum and a professor of Semitics, had to obtain written permission from the Governor of Palestine, and the Department of Antiquities, Jerusalem, to export the collection to CUA. There were also several other donations between 1916 and 1938.  In 1975, CUA archivist George Hruneni created a preliminary inventory of the coins. In 1977, New York coin dealer Alex Malloy examined the collection, stating the overall quality was not superb, but with many good pieces it would be a valuable teaching aid.  In 1987 a numismatist named John D. Mac Isaac reported that the Roman Imperial material was the overall strength of the collection, illustrating Roman art, economics, and political propaganda for the period 100 B.C. to 450 A.D. He also noted several coins he believed to be Greek forgeries and the presence of over 300 virtually illegible coins. The following year, Stephen Koob, an art conservator at the Smithsonian Institution, recommended improving the storage conditions of the coins. He also believed the collection would be a useful educational tool, providing tangible artifacts for the classroom, and, for some of the more valuable coins in good condition, as items displayed in exhibitions.

1058-669: Ptolemy I – Bronze piece; Head of Alexander the Great with horn of Ammon, wearing diadem, elephant’s skin and aegis. (r) Eagle with wings closed stdg. On thunderbolt with head turned (left). Egypt, 305-285 B.C. George Hruneni. Preliminary Inventory to the Coin Collections of The Catholic University of America, 1975, p. 46. Also, special thanks to Douglas Mudd of the Money Museum.

In 1991, volunteer students began transferring the coins from acidic envelopes and boxes to polyethylene sleeves housed in a series of binders to facilitate better storage and access. A student of Greek and Latin, Daniel Gordon, wrote a number of important notes on accompanying cards to individual coins in the collection. The coins are housed in the binders, usually ten (10) pages each in a covering box. Roman Empire coins dated 27 B.C. to 284 A.D., the accession of Diocletian, are listed as ‘early empire,’ those dated A.D. 284 to 476, the fall of the empire in the west, are designated ‘late empire.’ The first series contains the 806 coins donated by Jannet, collection number 1058, ca. 600 B.C.-1878 A.D., in binders 1-4. These are primarily Roman coins, but with a nice selection of Greek, Byzantine, Carthaginian as well as a few from Carolingian France. The second series has 31 coins donated by Grindell, collection number 2474, in binder 5. These are primarily Roman and Byzantine Coins, with one from Carthage. The third series has 115 coins donated by Pierre Court, collection number 2945, also in binder 5. These are primarily Roman coins. The fourth series, binder 6, has coins donated by Schrantz. The fifth series, binder 7, has coins donated by Ignatius Lissner. The sixth series, binder 8, has coins of poor quality from Luigi Gassi, designation no. 5281, consisting of 148 Roman, Greek, and Byzantine coins plus a no. 5282 Arabic coin. The seventh series, binder 9, has coins of the Nablus Collection. The eighth series, binder 10, has coins donated by Henri Hyvernat. The ninth and final series, binder 11, has miscellaneous coins donated by several sources.

1058-796: Louis the Pious – Christiana religio; Obverse Legend: +HLVDOVVICUS IMP, cross; Reverse Legend: +XPISTIANA RELIGIO, temple, 822/823-840 A.D. Carolingian France. Research in 2011 by CUA Professor Jennifer Davis, special thanks to Dr. Elina Screen, Fitzwilliam Museum, The University of Cambridge, and Dr. Simon Coupland, The University of Oxford.

In the past decade, Professor William Klingshirn of Greek and Latin has organized several classes of students for the purposes of examining specific categories of coins; learning how to properly weigh, identify and catalogue them; and consulting reference tools to compile new databases of portions of the coin collection for a more accurate inventory.² For more information on access, please contact lib-archives@cua.edu.


¹Horace (65-8 B.C.), Ars Poetica, 333.

²See the article by one of the CUA students: Lionel Yaceczko. “The Riddle of the Nablus Collection: An Unusual Hoard of Fourth-Century Roman Bronze Folles,” Studies in Late Antiquity 1.2 (2017), 173-203.

The Archivist’s Nook: The Darkness is the Light – Father Cyprian Davis and the Black American Catholic Experience

Father Cyprian Davis. Photo Courtesy of St. Meinrad Archabbey

“Black Theology arises from the experience of being black and oppressed in the United States. It is a theology which seeks, first, to speak to Black people where they are now. It explains what it means to them to be black and Christian. Only then does it look beyond the Black community and present itself, without apology, to the white Christian world.

—Diana Hayes, 1985 Dissertation titled Historical Experience and Method in Black Theology: The Interpretation of Dr. James A. Cone, submitted to the Faculty of the School of Theology at the Catholic University of America.

The quoted text is from the dissertation of a previous Catholic University of America theology student and is representative of the many powerfully-written hermeneutical texts that were authored by students and collected by Father Davis in his exploration of the Black American Catholic experience.

Cyprian Davis was one of the great theologians, exegetes, liturgiologists, homeletes and (what the Swahili call a mwanafalsafa) to emerge from the African American Catholic tradition and the Catholic tradition as a whole. His work was focused on racial reconciliation, racial unity, the unity of the church, the evolution of the African American Catholic identity, and the healing of a people who carry the genetic scars of enslavement.

The History of Black Catholics by Cyprian Davis. Copy from The Catholic University of America Archives

The literatures of the Davis collection are emblematic of what any descendant of the Africans who were brutally snatched from their homelands and placed into a vile system of chattel enslavement in order to build The United States of America into the greatness that it is today, would intuitively know: that the historical and contemporaneous African American experience is one of dizzying permutation. It is a disparate amalgamation of social forces and perplexities that has been aptly characterized by the Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III as a blue note existence—one in which the existential mood is premised upon the contrasting nature of all things bittersweet. This notion of contrasting forces as coessential to one another, is a conceptualization that is prevalent throughout the history of West African philosophical schools of thought and is critical to the African understanding of the world. The West African cerebration of metaphysic coessentiality and complimentary opposing forces within the natural world was exhaustively investigated and expertly exposited by Marimba Ani in her 1994 monograph called YuruguMetaphysical coessentiality is the ethereal, spiritual marrow that is responsible for the superhero endurance that African Americans have shown throughout the history of the Atlantic World and it is the foundation on which Davis’ epistemology rests.

The Black spiritual and religious tradition is often simply referred to as The Black Church; however, this phrase is indicative of an uninformed, undistinguished, monolithic view that belies the multifactorial nature of the African American spiritual tradition and how it was transmuted by White Christian violence that was enacted as a means of perpetuating African American enslavement and dehumanization, and as a means of destroying African American’s own centuries old West African spiritual traditions by having the church decree them as evil witchcraft that would need to be denounced or one would suffer grave tortures to ensure that this occurred.   

1979 Series by The Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History, Inc. from Cyprian Davis’ personal library

While Christianity was largely unknown to African Americans, it was a faith that had noble roots in East African societies that are older than those in Rome. Despite the malefactions through which the African American religious tradition emerged, it was transformed by Africans’ creative nature through creolization and syncretism between traditional West African spirituality and the new religious tradition forced on African Americans.  

What is most interesting about Father Cyprian Davis is evident throughout his collection—his remarkable quest to reconcile the ways in which the word of God had been hijacked and weaponized against African Americans. But how did Davis forge a space for African Americans?

As an archivist, Davis was not afraid of facing the ugliness of the Church’s history head on and exploited this history to bolster the physical, psychological, intellectual, and spiritual resilience of the African American Catholic community. Davis understood that the darkness of the past was inextricable from the light of the future, so he sought to prepare African American Catholics for a church that was in many ways no different from the world around it because the church had been historically and contemporaneously a hostile space for African Americans that would require the acuity of self-knowledge to navigate and to repair the institution. It was an incredibly bold way to usher in the spirit of reparation, through directly living out the Church’s values of human dignity and the mandate to protect the sacred nature of life.

Father Cyprian Davis Photo Courtesy of St. Meinrad Archabbey

The Cyprian Davis collection consists of 32 boxes of materials from the estate of Benedictine Fr. Cyprian Davis of St. Meinrad Archabbey in St. Meinrad, Indiana. The collection reflects his research into and interest in the history of black Catholics in the United States, black spirituality, and the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus, which he helped found in 1968. The collection includes a wide range of materials, mostly printed, and reflects Davis’ multifaceted interests. Among the items are the records, agendas, and minutes from various conference proceedings, especially the National Black Clergy Caucus, the National Black Catholic Congress, and joint conferences. Also included are the records pertaining to a range of projects in which Davis was heavily involved, including the Black Hymnal Project and the Historical Commission in the Cause of Father Augustus Tolton (1854-1897). Davis’ notes and assembled research material relating to his most famous book, The History of Black Catholics in the United States (publ. 1990), and other research projects are also included, along with the texts of his various public addresses. The bulk of the materials span the period from the late 1960s to the mid-2000s.