Posts with the tag: National Catholic School of Social Service

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The Archivist’s Nook: Putting Their Money Where Their Hearts Were

Bruce and Dorothy Abts Mohler at a formal event with an unnamed priest in 1949, the same year of their marriage. Though they had no children, they left a formidable financial and archival legacy. Photograph from the Dorothy Abts Mohler Papers, ACUA.
Bruce and Dorothy Abts Mohler at a formal event with an unnamed priest in 1949, the same year of their marriage. Though they had no children, they left a formidable financial and archival legacy. Dorothy Abts Mohler Papers, ACUA.

Among the archival collections housed at The Catholic University of America (CUA) are the papers of Bruce Monroe Mohler (1881-1967) and Dorothy Abts Mohler (1908-2000), two of the most remarkable people ever produced by the American Catholic Church. Both epitomized the active participation of the laity as each contributed a lifetime of humanitarian service in regard to the crucial issues of immigration (Bruce) and charity (Dorothy). In addition to this legacy of service to their Church, they not only left their aforementioned papers but also a stupendous financial bequest to the CUA Archives to collect and safeguard archival collections to promote the study of American Catholic history.

Bruce Mohler was an Ohio native and graduate of Ohio State University who worked for the Minnesota State Board of Health supervising sanitary conditions of public drinking water until released in 1918 to serve in the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) in the First World War. As an army major in France, he was in charge of engineers purifying drinking water for the troops. After the armistice, he was the army representative to the American Red Cross relief effort in Poland and after de-mobilization was Deputy Commissioner of the American Red Cross in Poland. As conflict raged between Poland and Bolshevik Russia, he heroically took a relief unit to the war torn city of Kiev, earning accolades for his efforts from both Poland and the United States. Continue reading “The Archivist’s Nook: Putting Their Money Where Their Hearts Were”