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: The Brutal Archives

1920s CUA Brochure to Prospective Students from the CUA Archives Photographic Collection Ca. 1887-1999: Box 71, Folder 7.

The construction of a Brutalist building at The Catholic University of America marked a departure from the existing architectural style previously seen at CUA and it was a departure from original conceptions of the growth of the university taking shape in a form that resembled a medieval village.

How did this shift in architecture challenge the ideas of public space? Was it a social experiment that was well suited to the academic environment?

I recently chatted with Eric Jenkins, a Professor of Architecture at Catholic University’s School of Architecture and Planning to get the answer to this question:

It was very expressionist; a lot of architects in the 70s were not concerned with making a typical campus, such as Yale, with its unified and orderly sense of space; they were concerned with making a modern statement” This modernist statement was invoked in the form of Aquinas Hall, the current home of The Catholic University of America Archives and 1 of 4 Brutalist expressions currently on campus.

The grand entrance stairway consists of a set of angulated right vertices and rectilinear striations of concrete whose descent to a planular surface of alternating rectangles adds an ethereal level of depth to the viewer’s field of vision.

Washingtonians are organically familiar with the Brutalist Aesthetic, due to the ubiquity of Government Brutalism in Washington D.C. In fact, The District is home to extremely beautiful examples of the Brutalist architectural style. From the trip to work, to the work place itself, a Washingtonian’s daily routine is saturated by the atmospheric essence of Béton Brut, which can be seen in the ceilings of the Metro’s cavernous stations and seen deep within the bowels of Downtown.

Washington’s Brutalist buildings are a communique of power, impenetrability, and the performative use of materials to create a remarkable psycho-social demarcation through jarring exaggerations in building scale that coerce the viewer to process the architectural form from a macroscopic perspective, in what Professor Jenkins noted as “object-oriented landscaping, in which the building becomes a landscape object.”

The atrium central staircase is an act of paradox: an acute involution of inflexible materials around a softer hexagonal social area presenting an unusual mix of refined textiles and raw materials.

Brutalism was the Federal Government’s de rigueur style during the 1970s; but tucked away at The Catholic University of America, a new player entered the field, in the form of a quieter, more pensive expression that emerged in divergent transition to the Federal Government’s translation of the Brutalist aesthetic.

In 1965, candidates for the Master of Arts in English, at The Catholic University of America, were asked during their comprehensive examinations to ruminate on a complexly layered observation made by Mark Shorer in the foreword of Society and Self in the Novel, a 1955 treatise edited by Shorer in which he made the following annunciation:

“…the problem of the novel has always been to distinguish between these two, the self and society, and at the same time to find suitable structures that will present them together.”

The central staircase appears dramatic in the morning sunlight due to the striking contrasts created by the deep shadows of the opposing faces.

From an interdisciplinary standpoint, the ontological consideration of the parallels, partitions and implications of what is real, what is imagined, and what can become, is one of the core considerations of designing a building—in other words: how to reconcile between anthropocentricity and design aesthetics to create a unified conversation between these aspects that are at times in harmonious communication and at other times in discordant miscommunication. The design of CUA’s Aquinas Hall squares this circle because the building was not designed through a psycho-social lens but rather as a form of psycho-geographical praxis in which scale is downplayed and the viewer’s gaze is shifted to the granular level. In this context, the juxtaposition of raw, coarse, unpolished, imperfect, cacophonous materiality results in theatric, unexpected geometries.


A melodic, psychogeographic exploration of the geometry and materiality of the Brutalist home of The Catholic University of America’s Archives.

Images and video of Aquinas Hall are by the author, Juan-Pablo Gonzalez.

The Archivist’s Nook: A Different Aria – Opera, NBC, and CUA

Costuming prep for The Juggler
Costuming prep for The Juggler. School of Music Records, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

This week’s post is guest authored by Marielle Gage, a CUA graduate student in History.

“My, how times have changed!”

Who hasn’t heard some variety of that phrase, if perhaps not in as stilted, “proper” phrasing as above? It’s often an overwrought sentiment, immediately followed by a “when I was your age…” or nostalgia of times past (that everyone complained about at the time) now seen through golden lenses. But in some cases, the sentiment is more than fair.

Take, for example, television. A hundred years ago, no one owned a television. Even thirty years later, during World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt relied on the radio, not television, to broadcast his “fireside chats” to the nation. And ten years after that, there were three regular channels broadcasting, one of which had no problem dedicating four Sunday afternoons to opera in the summer of 1959.

A scene from The Cage
A scene from The Cage. School of Music Records, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

That’s right. The same year the Grammy Awards were first broadcasted on NBC, that same station approved the broadcasting of four one-act operas, written by and starring CUA faculty, students, and alumni, at 12:30 pm on each of the four Sundays of May. The impetus wasn’t from the higher-ups within the National Broadcasting Channel, but rather from the National Council of Catholic Men, who had a partnership with NBC to broadcast, on radio and on television, a weekly “Catholic Hour” in which presenters could explain, examine, or defend the Catholic faith. CUA’s own Fulton J. Sheen was a frequent participate in the broadcasts; he and others would expound on themes such as the Virgin Mary, racism, the last words of Christ, labor, or marriage. Perhaps wishing to change up the formula, the NCCM commissioned the four one-act operas from CUA’s music department faculty in late 1958. While a couple of different themes were suggested (the early correspondence hints frequently of a retelling of Guadalupe, but is frustratingly vague on any details, and the idea was later dropped), the final four operas were: Dolcedo, the last day of an atheistic philosopher now in the care of nuns (music by Emerson Meyers, libretto by Dominic Rover, O.P.); The Cage, the story of an elevator operator who desperately wishes to travel, but feels trapped caring for his invalid and verbally abusive mother (music by George Thaddeus Jones, libretto by Leo Brady); The Decorator, a glimpse into the life of a middle-class mother trying so hard to be fashionable (music by Russell Woollen, libretto by Frank and Dorothy Getlein); and The Juggler, a retelling of the “clown of God” legend (music by William Graves, libretto by Arch Lustberg).

Filming Dolcedo. School of Music Records, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

While none of the operas, perhaps, are must-see classics (The Decorator, in particular, is a bit heavy-handed), it still must have been an adventure for the CUA students who participated and watched the productions. Unfortunately, little remains of any publicity or retrospectives within the CUA community concerning the operas. The surviving letters and photographs, then, remain a tantalizing glimpse at a curious moment in CUA’s musical history, and of American cultural history in general, from a time when it was not inconceivable that a portion of the American population would choose to spend their Sunday afternoons watching opera.

The Archivist’s Nook: Trashing the Trailers – A Short Genealogy of a Space

trailer being removed
Trailing into the sunset. Perhaps not as (un)dramatic as it looks, however: The trailers were gutted and many of the furnishings were donated to Community Forklift for discount resale and to other charitable organizations serving homeless veterans.

University archivists save university stuff.  Our mission entails preserving university-related historical materials that enable us to make observations about our school across time.  This includes the physical space of CUA.  The Archives holds files and blueprints detailing the history of most every building of the University, and even some that no longer exist.

Which brings me to the recent trashing of the trailers.  Back in the 1990s, twenty-six trailers were placed on Curley Court to house an overflow of students—this was before the grand Opus Hall was built to accommodate the incoming numbers.  This past March, however, it was time to remove those trailers, and especially for those of us here on the upper campus who pass by the units daily, it was something of an event. Continue reading “The Archivist’s Nook: Trashing the Trailers – A Short Genealogy of a Space”