Posts with the tag: D.C.

The Archivist’s Nook: Morris J. MacGregor – Historian of Racial Justice

Morris J. MacGregor (1931–2018), who died three years ago this month, was a native Washingtonian and an alumnus of The Catholic University of America. Over his lifetime he served both his country and his church; as a dedicated and fearless historian, he documented the tangled record of both the United States Army and the Roman Catholic Church on the tortured subject of race relations. I was acquainted with him first and foremost in my capacity as an archivist who provided him access to primary source materials for his research and writing. But he was also a friend who mentored me in my own historical writings and who gave me very sage advice at a crucial time on how best to face my wife’s terminal cancer prognosis.
Morris MacGregor. The Cardinal Yearbook, 1953. Special Collections, The Catholic University of America.

MacGregor was born on October 11, 1931 in Washington, D.C. to Morris J. MacGregor, Sr. (1903–1979), a paper salesman, and Lauretta Cleary MacGregor, a homemaker. He grew up in nearby Silver Spring, Maryland, and attended the now defunct Catholic boy’s school at Mackin, the old St. Paul’s Academy, in Northwest Washington.  He earned his bachelor’s in 1953 and his master’s in 1955, both in History, from Catholic University, and also studied at Johns Hopkins University, 1955–1959, and the University of Paris on a Fulbright Scholarship, 1960–1961. He was an affiliate of the U.S. Army Center of Military History in Washington, D.C., 1959–1960. He then served as an historian of the Historical Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington, 1960–1966, then as Acting Chief Historian of the U.S. Army Center of Military History, 1966–1991.

Integration of Armed Forces 1981 by Morris J. MacGregor. Courtesy of Amazon.com.

One of his books, The Integration of the Armed Services, 1940–1965 (1981), received a commendation from then-Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberg and is still considered an authoritative account of this sensitive subject. In it, MacGregor addresses how the military moved from reluctant inclusion of a few African Americans to their routine acceptance in a racially integrated establishment. This process was, he argues, part of the larger response to the civil rights movement that challenged racial injustices deeply embedded in American society. MacGregor’s book also explores the practical dimensions of integration, showing how the equal treatment of all personnel served the need for military efficiency. His other military studies include two edited works with Bernard Nalty—the 13-volume Blacks in the Armed Forces (1977) and Blacks in the Military: Essential Documents (1981)—as well as Soldier Statemen of the Constitution (1987), co-authored with Robert K. Wright, and The United States Army in World War II: Reader’s Guide (1992), co-authored with Richard D. Adamczyk.

The Emergence of a Black Catholic Community, the second of three CUA Press books written by Morris J. MacGregor. Courtesy of Amazon.com

A practicing Catholic, MacGregor authored several books on American Catholic History, including The History of the John Carroll Society, 1951–2001 (2001), published by the John Carroll Society in Washington, D.C., and three published by Catholic University Press. The first was A Parish for the Federal City: St. Patrick’s in Washington, 1794–1994 (1994).  St. Patrick’s is the oldest Roman Catholic parish in Washington, D.C., witnessing the city’s evolution from a struggling community into a world capital.  As Washington’s mother church, MacGregor argues it transcended the usual responsibilities of an American parish; its diverse congregation has been pivotal in shaping both national policies and the history of the Catholic Church in the United States.  The second was The Emergence of a Black Catholic Community: St. Augustine’s in Washington (1999), which presented in detail the history of race relations in church and state since the founding of the Federal City. MacGregor relates St. Augustine’s from its beginning as a modest chapel and school to its development as one of the city’s most active churches. Its congregation has included many of the intellectual and social elite of African American society as well as poor immigrant newcomers contending with urban life.  The third was Steadfast in the Faith: The Life of Patrick Cardinal O’Boyle (2006), an account of the churchman responsible for the racial integration of D.C. Catholic Schools as well as a driving force in Catholic Charities.

A Catholics in the Civil War themed issue of Potomac Catholic Heritage, Fall 2006. Special Collections, The Catholic University of America.

MacGregor was a member for many years of the Catholic Historical Society of Washington, D.C., serving as co-editor and contributor, along with friend and fellow Catholic University alum Rev. Paul Liston, of the Society’s quarterly glossy magazine, Potomac Catholic Heritage (previously the Society’s Newsletter), 2005–2015. Issues of the publication are archived in the Special Collections at Catholic University along with many records that were central to MacGregor’s research on the American Catholic Church, especially in relation to African Americans (see our research guide on African American History Resources).

The Archivist’s Nook: African American History-Related Collections

In his landmark 1990 scholarly work, The History of Black Catholics in the United States, Cyprian Davis presents a deeply researched history of African American Catholics in the United States. He proved that, while Black Catholics seemed invisible across U.S. Catholic history, in fact, the American Church has never been exclusively a white and European one. In fact, as he writes, “the African presence has influenced the Catholic church in every period of its history.” He concludes that for “[t]oo long have black Catholics been anonymous. It is clear they can be identified, that their presence has made an impact, and that their contributions have made Catholicism a unique and stronger body.”[1] In that spirit, we offer an overview of some of our richest materials related to the Black Catholic experience in the United States, including the papers of Father Cyprian Davis himself.

From left: Rothell Price; Bishop James Lyke, O.F.M, Auxiliary Bishop of Cleveland; Father Cyprian Davis, O.S.B., and Leo Hodges, at a talk given by Bishop Lyke on the implementation of the Bishops’ Pastoral on racism, February, 1984. From the Davis Papers.

In 2015, Special Collections acquired the papers of Father Cyprian Davis. Davis, born Clarence John Davis (1930-2015) in Washington, D.C., was a historian and archivist. A convert to Catholicism in his teenage years, Davis expressed an early interest in the priesthood. He joined the seminary of St. Meinrad Archabbey in Indiana, where he became a novice in 1950, and took the monastic name Cyprian in 1951. Ordained a priest on May 3, 1956, Davis became the first African American to join the monastic community of St. Meinrad.

He began his academic career in 1948, studying at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. where he received a Licentiate of Sacred Theology in 1957. Davis then studied church history abroad at The Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium, where he obtained a licentiate in 1963. He taught church history at St. Meinrad before returning to Louvain for his doctorate degree in 1977. Father Davis authored and co-authored several pioneering monographs, including Christ’s image in Black: The Black Catholic community before the Civil War and The History of Black Catholics in the United States. Davis’s papers include many unpublished manuscripts on Black history and Black Catholic history, as well as correspondence, academic papers, printed material, audiovisual records, ephemera, and a range of awards and honors. A finding aid for the Cyprian Davis papers can be found here.

For insights into how white Catholics sought to promote interracial activities within the Catholic Church in the first half of the twentieth century, researchers can consult the records of the Catholic Interracial Council of New York (CICNY). Father John LaFarge, S.J., founded the CICNY in 1934 to promote mutual understanding and social justice among Blacks and whites. The CICNY disseminated information and held meetings and conferences on Catholic teaching and race. Through the 1940s, the CICNY addressed issues such as the Scottsboro Boys’ case, lynching, communism, and efforts to open the defense industry to Black workers. They also regularly honored Catholic civil rights activists with a number of annual awards and celebrations, including the annual John A. Hoey Interracial Justice Award. The idea of interracial councils led to their formation in Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, and Washington, D.C. By 1954, 24 Catholic Interracial Councils had been created.

An undated photo of a gathering of members of the CICNY from the CICNY Records.

The CICNY continued well into the 1990s, but had declined markedly in activity and importance by the late 1970s. The Interracial Review, of full set of which can be found in the voluminous CICNY Records, one of its more important undertakings since its founding, ceased publication in 1966, although it was revived in a much less ambitious format in the 1970s. Several civil rights leaders, including A. Philip Randolph and Roy Wilkins, contributed to the journal. A finding aid for the CICNY can be found here.

Washington, D.C.- Related Collections

The Haynes-Lofton Family Papers are comprised of the personal papers of Catholic University of America alumna Euphemia Lofton Haynes, her husband Harold Appo Haynes, and their families. A native Washingtonian, Euphemia Lofton Haynes (1890-1980) received a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from Smith College in 1914, a Master’s in Education from the University of Chicago in 1930, and a Doctorate in Mathematics from Catholic University in 1943, making her the first African American woman to receive a Ph.D. in Mathematics in the United States. She taught in the public schools of Washington, D.C. for 47 years and was the first woman to chair the D.C. School Board. She figured prominently in the integration of both the D.C. public schools and the Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women. The papers consist of correspondence, financial records, publications, speeches, reports, newspaper clippings, and photographs, and provide a record of her family, professional, and social life, including her involvement in education, civic affairs, real estate, and business matters in Washington. A finding aid for the Haynes-Lofton family papers can be found here. 

Educator and activist Paul Philips Cooke (1917-2010), a member of Washington D.C.’s Sacred Heart parish, lived most of his long life in the District. After earning a Master’s in English Literature from The Catholic University of America in 1942, and a Doctorate in Education from Columbia University in 1947, Cooke taught and served as president of the District of Columbia Teachers College until 1974.  He was an active member of the Catholic Interracial Council of the District of Columbia (CIC DC) for over 50 years. The collection includes correspondence, clippings, reports, meeting minutes, photos, pamphlets, and publications. A finding aid for the Paul Philips Cooke papers can be found here.

An image of the front page of the manuscript for Elliot Liebow’s 1967 book “Tally’s Corner: A Study of Negro Streetcorner Men,” from the Liebow Papers.

For more on African American life in Washington, D.C. in the second half of the twentieth century, researchers may also consult the Elliot Liebow Papers. Liebow (1925–1994) was an American anthropologist, best known for his 1967 book Tally’s Corner: A Study of Negro Streetcorner Men, a study of Black men in urban Washington, D.C. The book, based on his 1966 Catholic University of America Department of Anthropology doctoral dissertation “Behavior and Values of Streetcorner Negro Men” sold nearly a million copies, and though dated today in its methodology, was influential in its time. Beginning in 1990, he held the Patrick Cardinal O’Boyle Professorship at the National Catholic School for Social Service of the Catholic University of America. He died in 1994. Series 3 of the Liebow papers contains research material related to Tally’s Corner. Although some of the research material is subject to a 60-year restriction in order to protect the identities of the case study participants, the open material includes the original manuscript of Tally’s Corner, correspondence about the book, book reviews, and publicity material (e.g., ads and ephemera). A finding aid for the Liebow papers is currently underway and should be completed by early 2021. In the meantime, please contact the archives staff directly at lib-archives@cua.edu or 202-319-5065 for more information. 

Education Resource Websites

The Thomas Wyatt Turner and The Federated Colored Catholics website is one of our most well-used educational resources. The site revolves around Turner’s struggle to promote racial equality in the U.S. Catholic Church. In that struggle, we see how even people of good faith have often disagreed over the best strategies for winning the battle. Some have argued that African-Americans or other racial minorities have needed the chance to unite, gain power, and win respect from white majorities. Others have contended that convincing white, and indeed all Americans, to be colorblind—to not “see” race—has been the best plan. Such disagreements emerged among American Catholics in the 1920s and 1930s in debates between Dr. Thomas Wyatt Turner, an African-American layman, and Father John LaFarge, a white Jesuit and long time civil rights advocate. The Thomas Wyatt Turner and the Federated Colored Catholics website can be found here.

The Catholic Church, Bishops and Race in the Mid-Twentieth Century website features resources and documents related to the U.S. Catholic Bishops in the mid-twentieth century. While battles were waged against racist institutions in America in the decades prior, it was the 1940s–1960s that set the tone for the momentous changes in the history of African Americans. Often termed the “Second American Revolution,” the Civil Rights Movement of those decades sought the end of segregation across a wide swath of American society, including schools and other public organizations. The Catholic Church in the U.S. saw the struggle for equality within its own walls, and many church leaders were determined to not only free their institutions from segregation, but to work for its demise in the general population as well. While recognition of the Church’s work in civil rights has paled in comparison to the luminaries of the movement, several individuals and organizations made a mark nonetheless, overcoming resistance at times from within their own parishes and institutions. The website can be found here. 

In the 1930s and 1940s, comic books were one of the most popular forms of entertainment among the nation’s youth, combining as they did narratives, graphics, and low prices. Concerned over the possibility of the effects of such entertainment on the moral character of young people, the Commission on American Citizenship at The Catholic University of America worked with George A. Pflaum of Dayton, Ohio, to publishing a bi-monthly comic book, the Treasure Chest of Fun & Fact for distribution in Catholic Parochial Schools starting in 1946. The Treasure Chest was intended as a remedy to the sensationalism of traditional comics: it contained educational features, narrated the lives of saints, and presented adventure stories featuring realistic characters with what were considered wholesome values, like patriotism, equality, faith, and anti-communism.

By the early 1960s, the Treasure Chest was at the height of its popularity. In 1964, Joe Sinnott, the illustrator of Marvel Comics’ “The Fantastic Four,” teamed up with writer Berry Reece to produce a story depicting a U.S. presidential election. It was set in the future: the presidential election was supposedly that of 1976, the year of the nation’s bicentennial. “Pettigrew for President” lasted for 10 issues, following the campaign trail of the fictional Tim Pettigrew from the announcement of his candidacy through the national convention of his party. The candidate’s face was carefully hidden in every panel, until the final page of the final issue of the story, when Pettigrew is finally revealed: the first Black candidate for president of the United States! This site reproduces the entire “Pettigrew for President” series in a digital format. It places this unique comic book story in the context of the 1960s civil rights movement, and provides background information on the creators of the series. The website can be found here.

For more on these materials and more see our newly-created LibGuide on African American History-Related Collections.

 

 

[1] Cyprian Davis, The History of Black Catholics in the United States (New York: Crossroad, 1990), 259.

 

The Archivist’s Nook: From the Rhineland to Washington-Soldier’s Homecoming, 1919

A useful publication for soldiers on occupation duty in Germany: Burger Sprachfuhrer: Burgers Help for The Englishman The American to Learn How to Speak German Without a Teacher, n.d., O’Connell Papers, Special Collections, Catholic University of America.

Robert Lincoln O’Connell (1888-1972), a World War I Connecticut army engineer of Irish-Catholic heritage, was the subject of two of my previous blog posts. They explored his letters home to family while training for the military in Washington in 1917, and his active service on the western Front in France in 1918. The third and concluding post of this trilogy looks at his experiences in the U.S Army’s brief postwar occupation of the Rhineland, as well as victory parades in New York and Washington in 1919. As with previous letters, they are written by “Rob” primarily to his mother and his sisters, Ellen and Sarah, who lived in their hometown of Southington, Connecticut. O’Connell’s archival papers, which have also been digitized, are housed in the Special Collections of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

O’Connell served in the U. S. Army of Occupation in postwar Germany. His First Engineer Regiment was part of the First Infantry Division (later immortalized in the Second World War as ‘The Big Red One’). They crossed the Moselle River into Germany on December 1, 1918, and arrived at Coblenz, along the Rhine River, on December 12. During the occupation, which lasted until August 15, 1919, the engineers constructed shelters, improved sanitation, built pontoon bridges, and repaired roads. With ample recreation time, O’Connell engaged in hiking and sightseeing tours where he collected many colorful postcards. In one letter home he wrote(1):

“It took about an hour to reach the river near Coblenz” and “the place was crowded with 2nd Division men, mostly Marines, it seemed, and one of them threw a snowball into our truck.  As we were jammed in and had no top, that ball couldn’t miss and we could only yell back, which started a barrage of snowballs…. I got one on the ear and we all had snow down our necks. I didn’t care much for the game because the mud made the ball slippery– and the 1st Division team needed a lot of practice.  The score was 6 to 0 in favor of the second team.”

First Engineers, Army of Occupation, Wirges, Germany, 7/19/1919, O’Connell Papers, Special Collections, Catholic University of America.

Unlike the aftermath of World War II, the U.S occupation of German territory in 1919 was short lived. O’Connell returned stateside with main elements of the First Infantry Division at Brest on August 18, and arrived at Camp Mills, New York, on August 30. He took part in victory parades in both New York City on September 10 and in Washington on September 17. The final (undated) letter in the collection, addressed to his sister Ellen from Camp Leach, part of the campus of American University in Washington, was probably written a few days after the parade in New York (2):

“This is a camp of 8-man tents on frames and they had been dumped on the floor…We got there at 10:30 and never was there such a disgusted bunch. About four o’clock some ice cream was brought around and the cook managed to get supper at 8:15…Now we are getting plenty of good eats and passes into town 7 c carfare and the K of Cs especially are doing all they can, lots of cigarettes, matches, hand kerchiefs, sightseeing trips around the city in busses and free beds. The papers and the posters rave about the famous or glorious First Division and the recruiting officers are making the most of it.”

Letter to Ellen O’Connell from Camp Leach, September 1919, O’Connell Papers, Special Collections, Catholic University of America.

The campus of American University was also the base of the Army’s Chemical Warfare Unit, which also had a sub-unit at nearby Catholic University. These facilities developed deadly chemical munitions, especially Lewisite Gas. This weapon of mass destruction was invented by C.U. student-priest Julius Nieuwland, though it was not ready in time for use during World War I. However, O’Connell’s visit to Washington had nothing to do with poison gas. It was his final military march. The soldiers paraded to great ovation from the Capitol along Pennsylvania Avenue. Marching past the White House, they were reviewed by the Vice President and members of the Cabinet, who were representing President Woodrow Wilson, while he was away canvassing the country on a doomed mission to sell ratification of the Versailles Peace Treaty. From Washington, the men were shipped to Camp Meade, Maryland, where many were demobilized. O’Connell went on to Camp Devens, Massachusetts, where he was mustered out on September 27, 1919.

Washington, D.C., 1919. First Division, American Expeditionary Forces. Miscellaneous view of parade. Harris & Ewing glass negative, Shorpy.com

After the war, O’Connell briefly returned to Southington, where he worked as a machinist in a bottling mill. He eventually settled in New York City where he married and worked in an auto garage. His story is quintessentially American, yet represents a slice of Catholic Americana depicting the struggles of soldiers and their families during war-time. In comparing O’Connell’s letters with those of soldiers from other wars, certain universal themes emerge, such as longing for home and excitement for new places. There are also references to music, movies, and opinions on race and gender that are very specific to place and time. War is essentially a young man’s game, but O’Connell, who turned thirty during the conflict, was relatively older.  His account shows a maturity that is often absent in the surviving letters that were written by younger soldiers.

(1) Letter to Sarah O’Connell, February 8, 1919.

(2) Letter to Ellen O’Connell, ca. September 1919

 

 

The Archivist’s Nook: Two Emperors and a Baby: The Strange Journey of the Iturbide-Kearney Papers

Our tale begins with the Mexican War of Independence from Spain. Our key figure is that of Agustín de Iturbide, who reigned as the emperor of Mexico from 1822 to early 1823, following the ten-year period of warfare and instability that culminated in Mexican independence. Iturbide, who advocated breaking away from Spain, also embraced monarchy and strong ties to the Catholic Church. Initially popular and a successful unifier of diverse groups favoring independence, Iturbide I was forced to abdicate in March 1823 as a result of corruption and opposition to monarchism within the government and the general population. He left for Europe with his family, but was executed in 1824 after returning to Mexico in answer to requests from his supporters to free the country from Spanish forces remaining in Veracruz and a possible reinvasion. Iturbide’s overthrow and the abolition of the empire did not prevent his supporters from viewing his family as an imperial one.

Flag of the First Mexican Empire, 1822-23. Agustin Iturbide I designed the flag of the first Mexican Empire in 1821, the colors of which are still used today, while the coat of arms has changed over time. The three colors of red, white, and green originally represented the three guarantees of the Plan of Iguala, the act declaring Mexican independence from Spain: Freedom, Religion, and Union. In the place of the Spanish emblem for Mexico, the first Iturbide resurrected the Tenochtitlan symbol for Mexico City, an eagle perched on a cactus holding a snake in its beak. With it, he hoped to link the upcoming Mexican Empire with the old Aztec version.
Plan de Iguala, 1822, also known as the Plan of the Three Guarantees, was Mexico’s final stage in its war for independence from Spain. The Plan was crafted by Agustín de Iturbide and Vicente Guerrero. The Archives holds many documents related to the Iturbide family and the Mexican War for Independence, including an original copy of the Plan de Iguala. A digital copy of the Plan in its entirety can be found here.

Agustín de Iturbide y Green was the son of Emperor Agustin’s second son, Ángel María de Iturbide y Huarte (1816 –1872), who met his mother, Alice Green, while serving as an attaché of the Mexican Embassy in Washington, D.C. Green (1836–1892) was the daughter of Captain John Nathaniel Green, granddaughter of U.S. Congressman and Revolutionary War Colonel Uriah Forrest, and great-granddaughter of George Plater, the sixth Governor of Maryland.

Born in 1863, Agustín de Iturbide y Green was Ángel and Alice’s only child, which bestowed significance on the boy, at least in the eyes of Maximilian I, the European Habsburg-descended emperor of the Second Mexican Empire installed by France’s Napoleon III in 1864. But Maximilian’s power was unstable from the beginning, with his regime requiring continuous French military support amid repudiation among the local Mexican population. In an effort to curry favor with the Mexicans, he compelled Ángel and Alice Iturbide to cede their two-year-old son Agustín as a future heir, believing that having a child of imperial Mexican lineage as an heir would increase his legitimacy.

An undated photo of Agustín de Iturbide y Green, image taken by a student at Georgetown University.

Timing is everything, as they say—the U.S. was so preoccupied with its Civil War that it barely reacted to the French invasion of its southern neighbor, at least initially. France withdrew the forces propping up Maximilian in 1866 partly because the post-Civil War U.S. beqan asserting the terms of the Monroe Doctrine, and partly for its own reasons, with the forces of Mexico’s Benito Juarez eventually overthrowing the European emperor. Maximilian was arrested and executed in June of 1867.

But what of young Agustín de Iturbide y Green? Perhaps you are wondering about how Ángel and Alice managed to hand over their only son to an emperor installed by the French? Well, first, they were certainly convinced that their son, the grandson of the first emperor of independent Mexico, was part of a new imperial lineage based on European practices of succession. Failing one of Agustin I’s own children succeeding him as emperor (imperial Mexican forces lacked the military power to back up such a claim, while Napoleon III put French troops behind Maximilian), perhaps they saw it as the best option at the time—setting their son up as a future emperor. We do not know their exact thinking for sure. They did receive a pension for handing over the child. However, Alice quickly became distraught by the absence of her son, and went about trying to get him back. She and Ángel were exiled after her pleas for the return of her son fell on deaf ears in Maximilian’s court. They eventually came back to the U.S., where Alice appealed to Secretary of State William Seward, who told her that he could do nothing, as she had signed adoption papers, but nonetheless worked diplomatic channels to arrange a visit in Europe between Alice and Maximilian’s wife, Empress Carlota (Charlotte of Belgium) to return her child. Carlota, too, rejected Alice’s entreaties.

When it was clear to Maximilian that he was doomed, he sent the then four-year-old Agustín to Havana, Cuba, to be reunited with his parents. They returned to Washington, D.C., where Ángel and Alice worked at the Mexican embassy. After his Father died in 1872, Alice raised Agustín, who eventually became a professor of languages at Georgetown University. Two years after Alice died in 1892, Agustín married a British woman, Lucy Eleanor Jackson, though the marriage did not last.

Louise Kearney Iturbide, 1915, photograph taken by Agustín at the time of his marriage to Louise.

As an adult, Agustín lived near the family of Louise Kearney, a D.C.-born daughter of the Brigadier General James Kearney. When he began showing interest in Louise over her sister, Estelle, the latter did everything she could to keep the two apart. Louise writes in her account of their meeting, “there is no trouble like family trouble, and nothing more incurable than the mental disease of jealousy,” the sisters “were too closely united to be pulled apart without pain.”[1] Despite her family’s disapproval, Louise and Agustín married on July 5, 1915. They remained married until his death in 1925 from tuberculosis. Louise would live until 1967.

As for how the papers ended up at the Archives: Louise Kearney loved to travel. Msgr. James Magner, who performed many roles on campus and left the Archives a substantial museum collection, often took groups around the world to see a variety of holy sites. Louise accompanied one such group to Europe in 1950 and became friends with Magner. Louise donated the Kearney-Iturbide collection to the Archives via the Magner collection.

Please see the Finding Aid to the Iturbide-Kearney Papers.

For more on Louise Kearney’s family, see our post on her great grandfather, Alexander Louis Joncherez.

[1] “Autobiography,” Iturbide-Kearney Family Papers, American Catholic History Research center and University Archives, see digitized copy of Louise Kearney’s account.

The Archivist’s Nook: Friends I’ll Never Meet

This semester I had the pleasure of processing the Cecilia Parker Woodson Collection, a set of papers donated to the Archives by Tierney O’Neil via Robert Andrews last year. We call this a collection, by the way, because these are not a full set of papers related to Cecilia Woodson, rather, they are a set of materials she, deceased 79 years now, curated herself.

Did I write Cecilia Parker Woodson? I meant to write Cecil. Cecil was what her husband, Walter, and all of her friends called her, because that is what she wanted to be called. And now, after reading the hundreds of letters written to her between 1891 and 1920, I feel like I know her too, though she died decades before I was born. The first set of letters Cecil saved were the love letters sent to her by her traveling salesman husband Walter, and they offer a wonderful window into late nineteenth century courtship practices and social life in their native Virginia and Washington, D.C.

A letter from Lottie to “Dear Little Mama,” announcing her arrival in Peru, 1916.

 

One thing I would not call Cecil is “Dear Little Mama,” though most of the letters addressed to her in this collection open with just that salutation. The most voluminous correspondence in these collected papers are from Cecil’s daughter, Charlotte “Lottie” Virginia Woodson. Lottie left the family nest over on Monroe Street here in Brookland for Lima, Peru at the age of twenty-one. Cecil’s best friend Mary and her husband William Montavon, better known to Lottie as Aunt Mayme and Uncle Will, asked Cecil and Walter if they could take Lottie to Lima when Uncle Will was assigned a two-year diplomatic post there in 1916. Lottie was terribly eager to take the trip, and sailed off from New York City to Lima in February of that year. Her letters home chronicle the life of a young woman living in the foreign diplomatic set just before and during the First World War. There were teas, dinners, dances and decisions about the most appropriate footwear for the occasion, and Lottie writes “Dear Little Mama” about all of it. She even coyly describes her own courtship with another young diplomat, Victor Louis Tyree, who happened to also hail from Washington, D.C. The two were married in 1918 in Lima and made plans to move to La Paz, Bolivia afterward, when Victor was offered a better paying job with Denniston and Company after their marriage.

 

Lottie met Victor soon after she arrived in Lima in 1916, and they were married in October 1917. Here they pose, center, on their Wedding Day. Aunt Mayme stands next to Lottie, and Uncle Will stands mostly hidden behind Aunt Mayme.

Dear reader, this story does not end well. I’ll admit that I teared up when I read the telegram dated July 31, 1918: “BABY GIRL TWENTY THIRD CHARLOTTE DIED TWENTY EIGHT PULMONARY HEMORRHAGE CAUSED BY MEASLES.” Charlotte was pregnant soon after her marriage and she died in La Paz, just after giving birth to Merle Virginia Tyree. Not a week later, baby Merle died as well. Victor writes a long letter to Cecil describing the birth and death in heartbreaking detail. The letter had been read so many times it is falling apart. After a handful of condolence letters, Cecil’s collection of correspondence pretty much ends, as if she just didn’t have the heart to save any more letters, or perhaps she received so few after that it didn’t seem worth it. She lived twenty-two more years, however, dying in 1940 at the age of 76.

 

Did you know there was an observatory established by Harvard University in Peru in 1889? This is the Boyden Observatory, where William Henry Pickering discovered Phoebe, a moon of Saturn. Cecil loved getting stories and postcards from Mayme, and later, Lottie, during their travels. Mayme sent this one from Peru in 1917. The postcards are in the collection, along with many family photographs.

 

 

Cecil saved the letters others wrote her, and she saved many beautiful photos of her family, as well as those Lottie sent her from Peru. But there is only one letter handwritten by the collector herself. And it appears to be a draft of a note she was going to send to her daughter to congratulate her on her engagement. “How can I relinquish my claim on you my own darling little girlie?,” she writes, “God bless you both and if your lives are spared, may you both in the years to come be as happy in each other as now.” There isn’t even a photograph of Cecil herself in the collection. Still, the strength and generosity of the woman emerge in the letters written to her and her life was a full one, tragedies and all.

Victor Tyree sent this telegram to Lottie’s brother at his workplace, as he feared that sending it directly to Mama would bring on a heart attack.

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can view the finding aid to the Cecilia Parker Woodson Collection here:

http://archives.lib.cua.edu/findingaid/woodson.cfm

You can view the finding aid for the papers of William Montavon here:

http://archives.lib.cua.edu/findingaid/montavon.cfm