The Archivist’s Nook: Catholic University’s C.C. Chang and Why We Encourage You to Know Him

Our guest blogger is Tian Atlas Xu, who is a student worker at the University Archives and a PhD candidate in US history at the Catholic University of America. His research examines the role of white intermediaries between non-white minorities and the administrative state in turn-of-the-century United States. He has received support from various research institutions, including the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. 

 

A man and his tornado machine caught our attention; a trans-Pacific life story was discovered behind the scene.

Dr. Chang’s interview in The Catholic University’s Envoy magazine, published in February 1973, was one of several rare accounts of his immediate reflection after the 1972 visit. Courtesy of ACUA.

The story begins in an ordinary afternoon last winter, when my supervisor brought a dated Catholic University magazine, the Envoy, to a dimly lit back office at Aquinas Hall. As the only Asian person working in the University Archives, I was simply intrigued to see an Asian face in that magazine. The article that caught our attention was entitled “Scientist Views Change in China,” and the scientist in question was Dr. Chieh-Chien Chang, a prestigious Chinese American scholar at Catholic University in the 1960s and 70s. The publication date was February 1973, one year after President Richard Nixon’s historic visit to mainland China. It was also several months after the scientist’s first trip to his country of birth in more than two decades. 

At that time, archives staff had been aware of Dr. Chang’s scientific achievements. After all, his photo with the tornado machine, a simulator of natural tornadoes to study “peculiar elements responsible for near-the-ground destruction,” has appeared in the University’s course catalogs and documentary histories since the late 1960s. We also knew he had co-founded the Space Science and Applied Physics Department at Catholic in 1963, and that he had laid the foundation of the University’s long-term partnership with NASA. According to the administrative accounts, students enjoyed his classes; and from his pictures with the tornado machine, he was clearly enjoying the passionate love affair between a lab and its creator. The 1973 article was not meant to add anything new.

But it did, in totally unexpected ways. We soon realized that Dr. Chang’s visit to China in 1972 was part of a larger-than-life moment in US-China relations: after more than two decades of intellectual blockade, it was the first time that a large number of American scientists and their colleagues in mainland China engaged in direct conversation with each other. More importantly, we discovered that Dr. Chang had witnessed many moments like this in his life. He was a village kid who carved his way into a warlord-sponsored Chinese university in Manchuria; at the age of twenty-three, he saw the mighty Japanese Imperial Army occupied his fertile but helpless motherland; he fled to Beijing with his schoolmates and, as a young lecturer in aeronautics at Tsinghua University, developed one of the first monoplanes in China with his Chinese colleagues; and in the 1940s, he became a student of Theodore von Karman, a key figure in the development of aeronautical sciences, not only in the United States, but also in the China as we know it today. The list goes on and on.

Dr. Chieh-Chien Chang and the Tornado Machine. Courtesy of ACUA.

We set out to piece together his life story through documents in English and Chinese. It was the early months of the pandemic, and Covid-19 was called by all kinds of names hostile to Chinese and Chinese Americanness. The pandemic caught the trans-Pacific academic community in the middle, and a new campaign for the decoupling between Chinese and American scientists appeared on the horizon. But at the same time, the turbulent experience of Dr. Chang and his generation of Chinese American scientists beckon to us all the more.

Dr. Chieh-Chien Chang and the Tornado Machine. Courtesy of ACUA.

His generation tells a story of difficult choices during the Cold War, of the damage done, not only by the revolutionary culture in China, but also by McCarthyism and xenophobia in the United States. It turns out that the tornado machine was a small piece of Cold War history, not about confrontation and fear, but about a Chinese American’s personal identity struggle and heartfelt yearning for peace: in the 1960s, Dr. Chang chose to move on from his earlier research of missiles, planes and military satellites; his attention turned towards the lives impoverished by natural disasters on the planet earth, such as tornadoes. His right to choose was profoundly American, yet his freewill bent towards love for both China and the United States. 

Dr. Chang (second row, first from the left) and his peer Chinese scientists during their studies at Cal Tech, early 1940s. Courtesy of the Online Museum of Chinese Academicians.

What was initially designed as a blogpost quickly develops into an online exhibit. Our technician braved the archives to dig up nuggets of Dr. Chang’s experience at Catholic in the 1960s and 70s. The scattered memories of him in American and Chinese sources were sifted and carefully knitted to recapture a trans-Pacific life that had touched on many. Emails were exchanged between us and Dr. Chang’s alma mater, the Northeastern University of China, which, after his unwavering mediation since retirement, had restored its long-lost name in 1993. We learned about his exile with other Chinese scholars during the Second World War and the group’s forced migration from the Bohai Bay to the mountainside of Tibet; we saw his sunny smile in the early 1940s, when he stood with a group of young Chinese scientists celebrating a wartime US-China alliance at Pasadena, California. We even discovered the picture of a symposium banquet in plasma physics in 1963, right here in Washington, where Dr. Chang, a typical husband of the Second World War generation, seemed to be the only scholar to bring his wife to the occasion. 

Plasma Space Sciences Symposium Banquet on June 13, 1963. This symposium marked the beginning of Dr. Chang’s career at Catholic University. Courtesy of ACUA.

We are now sharing these details with you. The online exhibit takes you to forgotten times and unfamiliar territories, where an aspirant young engineer built his career at a time of war and national humiliation. It also provides fresh insights into the history taking place here in America, a land of opportunities that offered this Chinese American the environment to thrive while driving many others away. It confirms that, at the Catholic University of America, Dr. Chang’s transnational career came to its most prominent fruition. Correspondence from Washington, Beijing, and Taipei competed in his Pangborn Hall office, and his busy itinerary connected friends and colleagues of two continents. The exhibit does not give easy answers to scholars’ choices amidst political storms and international strife. But one thing is certain: to attract more transnational talents like Dr. C.C. Chang, America must stick to the generous principles that have inspired them to come and persuaded them to stay. 

Find our new exhibit on Dr. Chang here.

 

 

The Archivist’s Nook: Saving Black Catholic History – The Cyprian Davis, O.S.B. Papers

Guest blogger, Dr. Cecilia Moore, is an Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Dayton and faculty member of the Degree Program for the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana. Dr. Moore with Dr. C. Vanessa White of the Catholic Theological Union and Fr. Paul Marshall, S.M., Rector of the University Dayton, co-edited Songs of Our Hearts and Meditations of Our Souls: Prayers for Black Catholics, St. Anthony Messenger Press (2006).

Dr. Cecilia Moore with Father Cyprian Davis, taken by Kathleen Dorsey Bellow at St. Meinrad in December 2014.

In August 2015, Dr. Kathleen Dorsey Bellow, Father Kenneth Taylor, and I spent four days in the basement of the Saint Meinrad Seminary Library.  We were there to sort, curate, and pack more than 40 years of archives documenting the lives of black Catholics in the United States that Father Cyprian Davis, O.S.B. saved.  When we made the plans to do this work, we expected that Father Cyprian would be working alongside us, but he had died that May. Graciously and generously, Archabbot Justin Duvall, O.S.B.  allowed us to go forward with the plan and agreed to cover the shipping costs.    By the time we finished, Father Taylor had a van full of boxes containing the archives of the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus (NBCCC) to be donated to the Archives of the University of Notre Dame. There were also boxes of documents destined for the Archives of Xavier University of Louisiana for the Institute for Black Catholic Studies (IBCS) Collection and for the Black Catholic Theological Symposium (BCTS) Collection, a small collection of documents for the Archives of the University of St. Thomas for the National Office of Black Catholics Collection, and a very large of pile of boxes containing documents, ephemera, papers, books, and material culture, that are now the Cyprian Davis, O.S.B. Papers of  the American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives, part of Special Collections at the Catholic University of America.

How and why we came to do this work started a year earlier when Dr. Bellow and I visited Father Cyprian at Saint Meinrad in July 2014.  We both had studied with him at the IBCS and later became his colleagues as we joined the IBCS faculty and then served as IBCS administrators.  Over our years working together at the IBCS, we became friends with Fr. Cyprian, but it had been while since we had enjoyed his fine company in person.

Taken by Kathleen Dorsey Bellow at St. Meinrad in December 2014.

During our visit, Fr. Cyprian hosted us for refreshments and conversation in his spacious and comfortable office. It was filled with books, journals, works-in-progress, photographs of family and friends, and art.  It was the place where he wrote class lectures, homilies, articles, talks, and of course, The History of Black Catholics in the United States.  It was also where he engaged in his love of reading and conversation.  We had the best time with him.  Among the many things we discussed were his work revising The History of Black Catholics in the United States, politics, movies, books, and the need to find permanent homes for the NBCCC and BCTS archives which he had served as archivist for since 1968 and 1978 respectively.  These archives were held in a storage room in the basement of the Saint Meinrad Seminary Library.  When we volunteered to help him complete this mission, Father Cyprian gladly accepted our offer.

We returned to St. Meinrad in December 2014 to assess the work we needed to do. At that time, Father Cyprian took us to the storage room and we got our first look at the historical treasures he had saved over the past 46 years.  And, he had saved quite a lot.  A wall of deep shelves was loaded with large and small boxes of formal documents, letters, magazines, newsletters, bulletins, memos, conference programs, newspaper articles, books, tapes, films, photographs, event programs, manuscripts, notes, cards, etc.  It was amazing.  We spent hours taking boxes down and looking at their contents with Father Cyprian.  What a trip down “memory lane.” We knew many of the people attached to or responsible for the history that we held in our hands.  Many of the women and men at the heart of the contents of these archives had died, so we spent time remembering them, what made them fit for the battles they fought on behalf of black Catholics, and the personal qualities that made them so memorable and missed.  Others were still living, and we had a good time looking at their younger selves and discussing how their ministries in the black Catholic community had changed over the years in emphasis, intensity, and status. As we did this preliminary assessment, it became clear that there was a lot in the Saint Meinrad Library storage room that did not properly belong to the NBCCC, the BCTS, or the IBCS.

Cyprian Davis at his work. Courtesy of St. Meinrad Abbey.

There was a fourth archives that was hard to define because it was so eclectic.  It contained things that Father Cyprian had either written or helped to write and edit.  It documented the people and the places that over the past 50 years that had called on Father Cyprian to “tell” them their history.  Letters and cards revealed the vast network of people, from many different backgrounds, who reached out to him – to send him things that they thought were important to black Catholic history that he could use to write more of the history, to seek his advice about their work on black Catholic history, to tell him how much his work meant to them, their students, and their parishes, or to challenge him on points of the history he had written.  There were also dissertations, theses, conference papers, and articles written by people who were directly inspired to pursue research in black Catholic history by Father Cyprian.  By the end of the day, it was clear that Father Cyprian had an archives that needed a permanent home too.

When we suggested this to him, he demurred at first, but after thinking about it for a while he agreed with us and told us that he wanted his papers to be donated to the Catholic University of America.  He was happy that this trove of primary and secondary sources would assist future generations of historians committed to black Catholic history to continue researching, writing, and teaching an-ever more contextualized and rich history of Catholics of African descent in the United States.

The Archivist’s Nook: Anti-Catholic History Resources in Special Collections

Letter from a Romish priest in Canada to one who was taken captive in her infancy, and instructed in the Romish faith, by Francois Seguenot, Boston, 1729, Rare Books, Special Collections, The Catholic University of America.

Catholic University’s Special Collections Department has a vast quantity of documents which encompass the sentiment of Anti-Catholicism in America that spans from colonial times to the dawn of the twenty-first century. Our rare books collection includes eighteenth century works such as Letter from a Romish Priest in Canada to one who was taken captive in her infancy, and was instructed in the Romish faith by Francois Seguenot (1729) and A specimen of a book, intituled, Ane compendious booke, of godly and spiritual sangs,collectit out of the Scripture,with sundrie of other ballates changed out of prophaine sangs, for avoyding of sinne and harlotrie by Robert Wedderburn (1765). Nineteenth century examples include Popery: the foe of the church and of the Republic and Popery Unmasked, while the twentieth century contributes entries such as Priest Baiting and Jesuits: Religious Rogues. Additionally, we have archival documentation on the 1834 burning of the Ursuline Convent in Massachusetts, as well as Anti-Catholic Literature that was collected during the 1928 presidential campaign. The Catholic response to counter this bias included a newspaper column titled Catholic Heroes of the World War, 1928-1933, and the National Council of Catholic Men’s Catholic Hour radio and television programs.

Anti-Catholicism in America grew from the attitudes of Protestant immigrants who were fleeing religious persecution by the Church of England whose doctrines aligned with the Roman Catholic Church. Anti-Catholic rhetoric such as the Biblical Anti-Christ and Whore of Babylon was derived from the theological heritage of the Reformation which criticized the perceived excesses of Catholic clerical hierarchy in general and the Papacy in particular. Theological differences were compounded by secular xenophobia and feelings of nativism towards these increasing numbers of Catholic immigrants, particularly those coming from Ireland and later, eastern and southern Europe and Latin America. Catholic support for the American Revolution helped alleviate notions of the inherently treasonable nature of Catholicism. George Washington staunchly promoted religious tolerance as a means of public order. He suppressed anti-Catholic celebrations in the Army while our reliance on Catholic France and Spain for military aid helped reduce anti-Catholic rhetoric. By the 1780s, Catholics were extended legal tolerance in many states and the anti-Catholic tradition of Pope Night was discontinued.[1]

An account of the Conflagration of the Ursuline Convent. Boston 1834. Ursurline Convent Collection, Special Collections, The Catholic University of America

Anti-Catholicism peaked in the mid nineteenth century as Protestant leaders accused the Church of being an enemy to republican values. The Catholic Church’s silence on the subject of slavery also raised the ire of northern abolitionists. In 1836, Maria Monk was published to great commercial success. It was the most prominent of many scurrilous pamphlets that were published even though it was later revealed to be a fabrication. Numerous supposedly former priests and nuns went on an anti-Catholic lecture circuit telling lurid tales that usually involved sexual depravity and dead babies. Intolerance again exploded in 1834 when a mob burned the Ursuline convent in Charlestown, Massachusetts. The resulting nativist movement morphed politically into the Know Nothing Party, which unsuccessfully backed former president Millard Fillmore as its presidential candidate in 1856. But during the Civil War, widespread enlistment of Irish and German immigrants into the Union Army, as well as the dedicated service of priests acting as chaplains and nuns serving as nurses, help demonstrate Catholic Patriotism.

After the Civil War ended, tensions were again raised by a proposed amendment to the Constitution which stipulated that no public money could be used to support any sort of religious school. Although President Ulysses S. Grant supported this amendment, it was defeated in 1875. However, it was used as the basis for dozens of successful state amendments that prohibited using public funds for parochial schools. The early 20th century brought about a new appreciation of Catholicism, especially in western states where Protestantism had not yet become deeply ensconced. Examples of this show how California celebrated the history of Spanish Franciscan missions, which later became popular tourist attractions and in the Philippines, which was newly occupied by the United States, Catholic missionary efforts were praised. Catholic mobilization efforts during World War I by the National Catholic War Council and the Knights of Columbus were also appreciated by many non-Catholic Americans.

Anti-Catholic political cartoon of the 1928 U.S. Presidential Election. Anti-Catholic Literature Collection, Special Collections, The Catholic University of America.

Nevertheless, anti-Catholicism continue to rage in the interwar years as the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) continued to argue that Catholicism was incompatible with democracy and that parochial schools prevented Catholics from becoming loyal Americans. In 1922, Oregon voters passed the Oregon School Law, which mandated attendance at public schools. The law outraged Catholics and in 1925 the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional. In 1928, Democrat Al Smith of New York became the first Roman Catholic to gain a major party’s nomination for president. Many Protestant ministers warned that the nation was at risk because Smith would take secret orders from the Pope. Another strike against Smith was his opposition to Prohibition, which had widespread support in rural Protestant areas. Despite his loss, Democratic voting surged in large cities as ethnic Catholics, including recently enfranchised women, went to the polls to defend their religious culture. Catholics made up a major portion of the New Deal Coalition that Franklin D. Roosevelt enacted four years later and which continued to dominate national elections for decades.

The Second World War and the Holocaust brought religious tolerance to the fore. Despite Eleanor Roosevelt’s feud with the Archbishop of New York, Francis J. Spellman, over federal aid to Catholic schools, the 1950s promoted a unified front against communism. National leaders appealed to the common values of Protestants, Catholics, and Jews alike. The so-called ‘Catholic Question’ continued to be a key factor that affected voting in the 1960 Presidential Campaign. To allay Protestant fears, Catholic John F. Kennedy, who narrowly won the office, kept his distance from Church officials and publicly stated “I do not speak for my Church on public matters—and the Church does not speak for me.”[2] After 1980, historic tensions between evangelical Protestants and Catholics dissipated as the two groups often saw themselves allied in regard to contentious social issues like abortion and gay marriage. By 2000, Catholics made up about one half of the Republican Coalition with the rest being comprised of a large majority of white evangelicals.

John F. Kennedy receiving Catholic U’s Gibbons Medal, 1956. Although pictured prominently with Church members here, Kennedy would distance himself from his faith when running for President four years later. Special Collections, Catholic University.

Please see the new Catholic University of America Library Research Guide on Anti-Catholic Resources which are held in our Special Collections and was created by William J. Shepherd and Amanda Bernard.

[1] Pope Night was an anti-Catholic holiday celebrated annually on November 5 in colonial America. It had evolved from Guy Fawkes Night in Great Britain that commemorated the failure of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 by prominent Catholics to blow up the British Parliament. The rowdy celebration included drunken street brawls and the burning of the Pope in effigy.

[2] NPR Web site at https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=16920600

[3] As always, special thanks to TSK.

OLL Blog – Un acercamiento a la historia africana a través del Vocabulario de Bluteau – Andrea Guerrero-Mosquera

Un acercamiento a la historia africana a través del Vocabulario de Bluteau

Andrea Guerrero-Mosquera

Profesora en la Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana-Xochimilco

E-mail: guerrero.andrea10@gmail.com

Twitter: @Andreag1086

La Biblioteca Oliveira Lima posee una importante colección de libros raros, en los que se puede encontrar rastros de la histórica relación entre Brasil y África, y, no es para menos, la historia africana y brasileña comparten una historia común marcada por la trata de africanos.

Pero ¿qué podemos encontrar en la Biblioteca Oliveira Lima al respecto? Entre otras cosas, la Relaçam annual del jesuita Fernão Guerreiro (1605), De gedenkwaardige voyagie de Andrew Battell (1706), entre otros textos que nos permiten introducirnos e iniciarnos en la historia de África como lo es el texto de Olfert Dapper (1673). En esta ocasión, nuestro interés se centrará en este último texto en mancuerna con el diccionario de Bluteau.

Semanas atrás, la Dra. Nathalia Henrich nos mencionó: “No collection of literature of the Lusophone world worthy of its name is complete without the presence of Camilo Castelo Branco”; a lo que quisiéramos agregar, ninguna col

Bluteau, Rafael. Vocabulario portuguez…1716. Oliveira Lima Library, The Catholic University of America.

ección lusófona está completa sin el Vocabulário portuguez e latino de Bluteau (1716). Este reconocido erudito de la lengua portuguesa escribió ocho tomos de un diccionario lexicográfico que nos permite entender algunos aspectos relevantes del uso del portugués del siglo XVIII e incluso, de años anteriores.

La relación entre estos dos textos radica en que Bluteau cita, en varias ocasiones, el texto de Dapper (la versión francesa de 1686), en las que menciona algunas palabras que hacen referencia directa a África. Por ello, en esta ocasión, sólo mencionaremos dos vocablos: pombeiros y mandingas.

En la primera, hace referencia específicamente al comercio esclavista al mencionar que los portugueses en Angola les enseñaron a leer, escribir y contar a los pombeiros para que pudieran negociar en los pumbos(1720, 588) que estaban en sertão. Más adelante, hace referencia a Dapper (1686, 359) para anotar que los pombeiros solían estar fuera de “casa de seus senhores” años enteros dado que se encontraban “ocupados em comprar escravos, marfim, cobre, & outras mercancías” (Ibíd.). Esta definición en particular, no sólo nos ofrece el contexto geográfico: Angola; si no que, además testifica la trata negrera era realizada por mediadores que previamente habían sido “entrenados” para esa labor.

Este aspecto es muy importante a la hora de conocer parte de la historia de la trata negrera por tres razones: primero porque nos muestra que el comercio iba de la mano de otras actividades comerciales; segundo, porque nos ilustra el periodo que podría tardarse todo el proceso, lo que nos ubica, de una u otra manera en otra dimensión del proceso comercial que va más allá de lo popularmente se nos enseña en los libros de textos; y, tercero, nos reseña cómo se desarrolló la trata negrera en África central, actividad en la que estaban involucrados los europeos y sus mediadores, en este caso los pombeiros.

El segundo vocablo se aleja un poco del contexto esclavista y nos sumerge en la herencia africana en América. Cuando Bluteau intenta definir qué es Mandinga no se limita con ilustrar acerca del origen de este grupo de personas, sino que va más allá, y, retomando el texto de Dapper (1686, 245), los describe como grandes hechiceros (feiticheros) que, según Fromont (2020, 7), es una acepción derivada de un lusitanismo que los marineros portugueses acuñaron de la palabra “fetiche”, que a su vez fue un vocablo usado en Guiné para nombrar a los “ídolos”.

Posteriormente, hace referencia a las bolsas mandingas, elementos a los que otorga poderes de protección que “fazem impenetraveis às estocadas, como se tem experimentado nesta Corte, & neste Reyno de Portugal em varias ocasiones” (1716, 286).

Vendedoras con amuletos colgados al cuello y la cintura

Pero, ¿qué son las bolsas mandingas? Se dice que eran amuletos usados en el contexto atlántico portugués, e incluso se dice que llegaron al Caribe hispano y a la India. Estos elementos consistían en pequeños paquetes de tela cosida; podían contener semillas, cabellos y papeles con oraciones. Dichos amuletos eran usados como protección, y, en el caso de las personas esclavizadas, se sabe que las bolsas eran usadas como ayuda para evadir los abusos de los esclavistas y, también se usaron en cuestiones del “bien querer, es decir, en situaciones de tipo amoroso. También servían, como ya lo ha citado Bluteau, para evitar que las armas penetraran en el cuerpo ya fueran puñaladas o heridas de bala, y, asimismo, se usaban para evitar picaduras de serpientes.

Carlos Julião, Negras vendedoras de rua, (s.f.) Biblioteca Nacional de Brasil.

En líneas generales, las bolsas mandingas sirvieron a la población como forma de protegerse ante diversos eventos. Estos elementos hacen parte de la cultura material de la herencia africana, y su presencia es indiscutible en el mundo atlántico portugués, e incluso, más allá. De ahí la importancia de conocer su origen y su utilidad dentro de la población de origen africano.

Por todo lo anterior, en esta pequeña entrada quisimos explorar algunos aspectos de la historia de África que se pueden consultar en la Biblioteca Oliveira Lima, que, como se pudo ver en el texto, indagar sobre las culturas africanas en las colecciones de la biblioteca es factible. Lo anterior, teniendo en cuenta que el acervo documental es extraordinario, y, por medio de este, podemos acceder a algunos textos que nos pueden ayudar a entender el entramado comercial de la trata negrera y, al mismo tiempo, son textos que nos permiten comprender de dónde provenían algunas de las manifestaciones culturales africanas, cómo eran representadas en la literatura y cómo estas están enmarcadas dentro de un contexto narrativo particular: el de los viajeros.

Bibliografía citada

AHU, Fundo do Conselho ultramarino, Série Angola, Cx. 8, D. 959. Consulta do Conselho Ultramarino ao rei D. Afonso VI sobre o requerimento dos oficiais da câmara e moradores de Angola.

Battell, Andrew. De gedenkwaardige voyagie van Andries Battell van Leigh in Essex, na Brasilien : en desselfs wonderlijke avontuuren, zijnde gevangen gebragt van de Portugijsen na Angola, alwaar en waar ontrent [sic] hy by-na 18. jaren gewoond heeft. Ao. 1589. en vervolgens. Te Leyden: By Pieter Van der Aa, 1706.

Bluteau, Rafael. Vocabulario portuguez, e latino, aulico, anatomico, architectonico, bellico, botanico … autorizado com exemplos dos melhores escritores portuguezes e latinos e offerecido a El Rey de Portugal D. Joaõ V. Coimbra, No Collegio das Artes da Companhia de Jesu, 1716.

Bluteau, Rafael. Vocabulario portuguez, e latino, aulico, anatomico, architectonico, bellico, botanico … autorizado com exemplos dos melhores escritores portuguezes e latinos e offerecido a El Rey de Portugal D. Joaõ V. Coimbra, No Collegio das Artes da Companhia de Jesu, 1720.

Dapper, Olfert. Die Unbekante Neue Welt, oder, Beschreibung des Welt-teils Amerika, und des Sud-Landes. Darinnen vom Uhrsprunge der Ameriker und Sudländer und von den gedenckwürdigen Reysen der Europer darnach zu.  Wie auch von derselben Festen Ländern, Inseln, Städten, Festungen, Dörfern, vornähmsten Gebeuen, Bergen, Brunnen, Flüssen und Ahrten der Tiere, Beume, Stauden, und anderer fremden Gewächse; Als auch von den Gottes-und Götzen-diensten, Sitten, Sprachen, Kleider-trachten, wunderlichen Begäbnissen, und so wohl alten als neuen Kriegen, ausführlich gehandelt wird Zu Amsterdam: Bey Jacob von Meurs, auf der Keysersgraft, in der Stadt Meurs, 1673.

Fromont, Cécile. “Paper, Ink, Vodun, and the Inquisition: Tracing Power, Slavery, and Witchcraft in the Early Modern Portuguese Atlantic.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion Vol. 88, No. 2, 2020, pp. 460-504.

Guerreiro, Fernão. Relaçam annal das cousas que fezeram os padres da Companhia de Iesus nas partes da India Oriental, & no Brasil, Angola, Cabo Verde, Guine, nos annos de seiscentos & dous & seiscentos & tres, & do processo da conuersam, & christandade daquellas partes, tirada das cartas dos mesmos padres que de là vieram Em Lisboa: Per Iorge Rodrigues, Impressor de liuros, 1605.

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.

OLL Blog – Entre Manhattan e Rio de Janeiro: O caso do periódico O Novo Mundo (1870-1879) – Alessandra Carneiro

Capa de O Novo Mundo com a imagem de Manhattan com a ponte do Brooklyn ao fundo: vol IV, nº43, 23/04/1874. Hemeroteca Digital, Biblioteca Nacional.

Entre Manhattan e Rio de Janeiro: O caso do periódico O Novo Mundo (1870-1879)

Alessandra Carneiro

Doutora em Letras pela USP

Um veículo de informação e cultura que promova o american way of life no Brasil não soa incomum no mundo globalizado do século XXI, mas não deixa de despertar interesse e curiosidade quando se trata do século retrasado. O Novo Mundo: Periodico Illustrado do Progresso da Edade foi publicado pela primeira vez em 24 de outubro de 1870 e desde 2012 pode ser consultado na Hemeroteca digital da Biblioteca Nacional do Rio de Janeiro. No entanto, manusear um original do periódico é um privilégio que pude ter na Oliveira Lima Library, em 2013, durante meu estágio de doutorado sanduíche financiado pela Capes/Fulbright, nos Estados Unidos. O tamanho grande, a beleza das imagens e o bom estado de conservação de O Novo Mundo impressionam e, sem dúvida, tornam o trabalho com ele muito mais prazeroso.

 Editado em língua portuguesa entre 1870 e 1879, o jornal era impresso em Manhattan e enviado mensalmente aos seus assinantes no Rio de Janeiro. Inicialmente, o fluminense José Carlos Rodrigues mantinha o periódico sozinho, ocupando-se de todas as funções necessárias para a produção e circulação, mas, posteriormente, importantes intelectuais brasileiros contribuíram para a folha, como o poeta maranhense Sousândrade. As matérias de O Novo Mundo (ONM) eram bastante diversificadas, visto que os seus 108 volumes publicados abordam, por exemplo, literatura, política, protestantismo, economia, ciências etc. Era declarado que o escopo do periódico não era publicar notícias atuais, mas discutir os princípios, a política e o progresso da república estadunidense. Assim, o seu intuito era um só: oferecer ao Brasil um exemplo de nação próspera na América que pudesse lhe servir de exemplo de modernização.

 Vale ressaltar que nessa época o Brasil ainda era uma monarquia escravocrata e essencialmente agrária, ao passo que os Estados Unidos – uma república livre e democrática após a Guerra de Secessão (1861-1865) – atravessavam um período marcado pela expansão econômica, além da acelerada urbanização, industrialização e inovação tecnológica. Desse modo, o periódico incentivava a ida de brasileiros aos EUA para conhecer o seu modelo de prosperidade in loco. Nesse sentido, ONM publicava assiduamente propaganda das oportunidades de formação acadêmica existentes nos EUA, tendo Rodrigues, inclusive, assumido a tarefa de guiar e aconselhar estudantes brasileiros recém chegados em Nova York, muitos dos quais se dirigiam à Universidade de Cornell para estudar Engenharia.

Edifício do New York Times onde também ficava a redação de ONM: Vol.4, nº45, 23/06/1874. Pág 162. The Oliveira Lima Library, The Catholic University of America.

Foi também possivelmente incentivado por Rodrigues que Sousândrade mudou para NY em 1871 levando uma de suas filhas para estudar (CARNEIRO, 2016). O poeta contribuiu com algumas publicações assinadas no periódico e manteve anonimamente a coluna Notas Literárias. Ele foi nomeado vice-presidente de ONM em 1875, permanecendo no cargo até 1879. Sousândrade corroborou uma das constantes do jornal que era criticar abertamente o Império brasileiro por meio de publicações concernentes abolição da escravidão.  Por exemplo, em novembro de 1871 foi publicada uma correspondência do poeta intitulada ironicamente A emancipação do Imperador, que refletia sobre a divulgação distorcida da promulgação da Lei do Ventre Livre de 28 de setembro daquele mesmo ano. Uma notícia publicada no jornal Herald de NY atribuía a Dom Pedro II o mérito pelo protagonismo ruma à abolição da escravidão, ao que Sousândrade reagiu ferozmente argumentando que não era iniciativa do Imperador, mas um clamor do povo que ele prudentemente ouviu e que inclusive ameaçava a monarquia. 

No mesmo tom crítico, na edição de março de 1872 saiu o artigo O Estado dos índios no qual Sousândrade condenava o descaso do Império brasileiro pela situação degradante em que viviam os nativos das comunidades ribeirinhas do Amazonas. O argumento do poeta nesse artigo era que o governo deveria investir mais em missionários e educadores capacitados para atuarem junto aos autóctones porque, se bem preparados, eles seriam trabalhadores livres mais adequados à substituição do trabalho escravo, na iminência do seu fim. Para endossar sua opinião sobre a colonização do sertão brasileiro utilizando os próprios nativos, Sousândrade cita no mesmo artigo o naturalista amigo de Rodrigues Charles Frederick Hartt, professor na Universidade de Cornell, que teria voltado do Amazonas há pouco e concluído que o índio seria melhor elemento de população que os imigrantes europeus, pois seriam mais inteligentes que, por exemplo, os irlandeses que emigravam para os

Colégio do Sagrado Coração, instituição de ensino católica voltada para meninas onde estudou a filha de Sousândrade, Maria Bárbara. Vol. II, nº14, 24/11/1871, pág. 25. Hemeroteca Digital, Biblioteca Nacional.

EUA.

Além de Sousândrade, outros homens de letras importantes contribuíram para a revista de Rodrigues, como o engenheiro André Rebouças, Salvador de Mendonça (nomeado cônsul geral do Brasil em NY em 1876) e o ilustre Machado de Assis. No caso deste último, houve uma única publicação feita sob encomenda de Rodrigues no volume de março de 1873: Notícia da atual literatura brasileira – Instinto de Nacionalidade; mas que causou impacto pelo seu posicionamento crítico ao romantismo brasileiro e à dependência ao referencial cultural europeu ainda em voga no Brasil. Considerando o afinamento de Rodrigues com as ideias aventadas por Machado, já se argumentou que a importância de ONM para a literatura brasileira se daria por constituir um suporte relevante da transição entre as tendências literárias românticas para a realista-naturalista/parnasiana no Brasil. (ASCIUTTI, 2010). 

Portanto, O Novo Mundo congregou brasileiros empenhados em assimilar o que consideravam o caminho que levaria o Brasil retrógrado à modernidade. Esses homens de letras não eram, entretanto, passivos à ideia de americanização da nação, pois antropofagicamente (salvaguardado o anacronismo do termo) buscavam no estrangeiro conhecimentos e ações que pudessem beneficiar o país de modo a torná-lo uma potência socioeconômica na América do Sul que fizesse par com os Estados Unidos. No século XIX, um projeto geopolítico desse calibre para a América configurava-se um contraponto inédito ao poder europeu, por isso a importância de ONM.

Referências 

CARNEIRO, Alessandra da Silva. O Guesa em New York: Republicanismo e Americanismo em Sousândrade. 2016. 214 f. Tese (Doutorado em Literatura Brasileira) – Faculdade de Filosofia, Letras e Ciências Humanas, Universidade de São Paulo, São Paulo, 2016.

ASCIUTTI, Mônica Maria Rinaldi. Um lugar para o periódico O Novo Mundo (Nova York,1870-1879). Dissertação (Mestrado em Letras Clássicas e Vernáculas). São Paulo: Universidade de São Paulo, 2010.

OLL Blog – Reflections on my first semester as OLL Copy-Cataloger – Erin Mir-Aliyev

This Spring semester has been challenging in many ways that we could not have anticipated when 2020 started. The changes have been immense.  Nevertheless, as a community we grew stronger together, adapting, facing and overcoming new obstacles in order to provide our students with the best of us. As we reach the end of the term and reflect on what we have done, I invited our graduate research assistant at The Oliveira Lima Library, Erin Mir-Aliyev, to share her thoughts on her experience . 

Erin is a graduate student in the Library and Information Science Department at The Catholic University of America and the first recipient of the Flora de Oliveira Lima Fellowship for Graduate Students in Library and Information Science. The fellowship honors Manoel de Oliveira Lima’s wife, a bibliophile in her own right who took charge of the library after his passing and left an unequivocal imprint on it. 

 Reflections on my first semester as OLL Copy-Cataloger

Erin Mir-Aliyev  

Master of Science in Library and Information Science – The Catholic University of America

Flora de Oliveira Lima Fellowship for Graduate Students in Library and Information Science – The Oliveira Lima Library

OLL books waiting for their catalog record to be found in OCLC.

Working as a graduate research assistant for the Oliveira Lima Library this spring has been a rewarding experience. Not only have I started to apply first hand in my work what I have been learning in my classes; I have gotten to work in a special collection focusing largely on resources containing information about history and culture, something that allows me to incorporate my social sciences interests and undergraduate degree in anthropology into my library career.

There were many different tools and software programs I’d heard about in my Fall classes, but not having worked in a library since high school, I was not in a position in which I got the chance to use them. As a visual and tactile learner, I was concerned that I was not truly grasping what was being taught. Since beginning to assist the Oliveira Lima Library with processing its collection late last Fall, I have noticed there are three areas in particular where I have learned a lot already and begun to grow more confident: accessing and using OCLC Connexion and Alma, and understanding MARC21.

OCLC Connexion

OCLC is a global library cooperative which provides a tool, OCLC Connexion, through which libraries can create and share their bibliographic records with other libraries. It allows copy-catalogers to find already-existing bibliographic records for their collection’s materials so that librarians don’t have to repeat work that has already been done. Before shadowing a cataloger, I had not realized how long creating one bibliographic record from scratch can take – often over an hour per record. OCLC Connexion has made it possible for me to discover and import into Alma bibliographic records for about 500 books since January, some of which are not very common. As a result, we have been much more efficient than we otherwise would have been at incorporating materials into the library. Going through this process has also allowed me to better understand which elements of a record are the most important for identifying it.

Alma

Alma is a cloud-based platform that allows libraries to manage their catalog by importing and editing bibliographic records found in OCLC. So far, I have completed this process for hundreds of books, as well as creating holding and item records for them. My understanding of the differences between a work, expression, manifestation, and item (as expressed by FRBR) has increased greatly as a result of going through this process. These differences are reflected in the differences between bibliographic, holding, and item records for a specific book. 

MARC

MARC21 is a set of international standards for digital formatting of intellectual and physical traits of bibliographic materials, in my case, books. It struck me as very complicated and difficult to understand while in class, and I have been slowly memorizing the various field codes and formats for descriptions. Copy-cataloging for OLL is a more detail-oriented process than for a lot of collections due to the rare and unique nature of many of its materials, as individual books often contain inscriptions, signatures, or other markings and materials left by people significant to the history of the collection. The MARC fields most significant for cataloging of OLL resources are some fields also commonly used by general collections such as 100 (Main Entry – Personal Name), 245 (Title Statement), and 260 (Publication Information). However, culturally, historically, or biographically important information also needs to be included in the record; other fields like 561 (Ownership and Custodial History), 562 (Copy and Version Identification), and 590 (Local Note) focus on books’ rare and unique traits. This is where I am able to record details about who or what institution previously owned a book, or autographs and bound-in items like letters.

Detail of a book with the OLL stamp.
Example of a book inscribed by Brazilian poet Vinicius de Moraes to OLL’s former Curator Manoel Cardozo in 1963.

As I continue to work into the next semesters, I look forward to being able to learn even more, such as copy-cataloging for books written in other languages, how to classify and manage archival materials, and how to handle, categorize, and catalog artworks.

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).