Posts with the tag: finding aid

The Archivist’s Nook: The Great Depression Revisited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Notes

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

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

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

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

The Archivist’s Nook: 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.

New Finding Aid Available Online for the Vatican Counicl II papers of Bishop Ernest Primeau

A new finding aid is available online for the Bishop Ernest Primeau Vatican Council II Collection. This collection includes preparatory materials that he compiled for the pontifical commission for the discipline of the clergy and the faithful, documents that reflect his work with the Secretariat for the Promotion of Christian Unity and his personal involvement in the development of key decrees and declarations, as well as correspondence pertaining to more general work. It does not contain material relating to the administration of the diocese of Manchester during the council.Access the finding aid at http://libraries.cua.edu/achrcua

New Finding Aid Available Online for the Vatican Council II papers of James J. Norris

A new finding aid is available for the small but important Second Vatican Council related collection of prominent layman James J. Norris It includes correspondence, notes, and newspaper clippings as well as published and non-published documents associated with his involvement from his initial attempts to become a lay auditor to his participation in post-conciliar sub-commissions. The finding aid can be accessed at http://libraries.cua.edu/achrcua/norris.html

Revised Finding Aid and New Digital Collection Available for the Robert Lincoln O’Connell World War I Collection

A revised finding aid (inventory) and new digital version of the Robert Lincoln O’Connell World War I collection is now available. Ranging from 1900 to 1972, but focused on the period of 1917 to 1919, the collection contains correspondence and related material as well as publications, postcards, and photographs associated with his time as an engineer in the U.S. Army from basic training in the states through military service in France and Germany in the First World War. The letters he wrote to his mother and sisters are of particular interest, especially his observations on war-time Washington, D.C., as well as incidents on the front lines in France and post-war occupation duty in the Rhineland of Germany. The finding aid can be accessed at http://libraries.cua.edu/achrcua/oconnell.html
and once on this site you can follow the links to individual digital images, or you can access the main site of the WRLC Digital collection at http://test.aladin.wrlc.org/gsdl/collect/oconnell/oconnell.shtml

Online Finding Aid and Digital Collection Available for the First Vatican Council Photograph Album

The First Vatican Council Photograph Album contains 731 carte de visite albumen prints of First Vatican Council participants, and was likely created sometime during the council sessions that began on December 8, 1869 and ended on September 1, 1870. The participants were primarily European, though the United States was represented by 48 of 800 cardinals, patriarchs, archbishops, bishops, abbots, and religious superior generals in the sessions over the nine months. During the sessions, there were numerous discussions and disagreements as to the definition of papal infallibility, and the status of the bishops in relation to Pope Pius IX. In the end, two doctrinal constitutions emerged: Dei Filius (April 24, 1870), a shortened version of the schema on faith and reason, and Pastor aeternus (July 18, 1870), which defined the primacy and infallibility of the pope. The finding aid can be viewed at http://libraries.cua.edu/achrcua/vat1album.html, and a digital version of the collection can be viewed at http://www.aladin.wrlc.org/gsdl/collect/vatican/vatican.shtml

New Finding Aid Available Online for the John Mitchell Papers

The John Mitchell Papers, ca. 1876-1931, comprise 189 boxes, 130 linear feet, that document his many labor and civil affiliations, especially as President of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), 1898-1908. The papers are organized into six series: Correspondence, ca. 1885-1931; United Mine Workers of America, Minutes, Proceedings, Constitutions, and Reports, 1891-1908; Miscellaneous Minutes, Proceedings, and Reports, 1914-1919; Printed Matter, 1876-1918; Photographs, 1896-1924; and Miscellaneous and Unprocessed, ca. 1884-1924. Significant persons, events, and conditions of the ‘Gilded Age’ are revealed, especially in the UMWA material, regarding such watershed issues as standardized wages, working conditions, and collective bargaining. The web address for the finding aid is http://libraries.cua.edu/achrcua/mitchell.html. There is also a digital collection of the John Mitchell Photographs hosted by WRLC at http://www.aladin.wrlc.org/gsdl/collect/mitchell/mitchell.shtml

New Finding Aid Available for the Papers of Msgr. Peter Guilday

The Peter Guilday Papers, 55 linear feet; 110 boxes, contain personal and professional correspondence, notes, lectures, and sermons. They also contain the original documents and subject files used by Guilday throughout his career and research as a professor at Catholic University and a leading American Catholic History scholar. The majority of the collection spans his scholastic and professional career from 1904-1947. However, some of the original documents which are included date back to the 18th and 19th century. The collection is divided into three series, with photographs are interspersed throughout each series. The web address is http://libraries.cua.edu/achrcua/guilday.html