Posts with the tag: Richard Nixon

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: On Presidents and Parades – Inaugurations in the Archives

Ticket to the 1937 Inauguration (John A. Ryan Papers)

Every four years, on an often cold and wet wintry day, thousands gather on the National Mall and along Constitution Avenue to witness the peaceful transfer of power, as one President steps down and another takes the oath of office. Being located in Washington, DC, the CUA Archives has naturally accumulated images and documents related to the preparations and events that occur before and on Inauguration Day. While we have a number of photos and articles taken by witnesses to the inaugural ceremonies of Presidents from Woodrow Wilson to Richard Nixon, the highlight of our inaugural materials are Taft’s inaugural in 1909 and Roosevelt’s second inaugural in 1937.

While every inauguration is an historic occasion, the 1937 ceremonies stands out in our collections for being both the first swearing-in to occur on January 20 and the first to have a public benediction. And the person who delivered this first benediction was Msgr. John A. Ryan, CUA alumnus and professor. During the contentious election of 1936, Ryan had delivered a speech defending Roosevelt against the criticisms of radio host and Michigan priest Fr. Coughlin. Being a steady ally and faithful advisor to the President on matters of Catholic outreach and minimum wage advocacy, Ryan was invited by Roosevelt in early January to provide the inaugural prayer.

1909 Inaugural Parade (Powderly Photographic Print Collection)

Thanks to Ryan’s personal involvement in this inauguration – also providing the benediction at the 1945 ceremonies – the Archives possesses a number of documents from the beginning of the second Roosevelt administration. From the tickets and programs to the “President’s Platform” seating chart and a parking pass to get through security, Ryan kept the materials from the inaugural he helped bless.

As far as it being the first January inauguration, the Constitution originally specified that the President be sworn in on March 4. With travel much easier and concerns over the Lame Duck period in both Congress and the White House, the passage of the Twentieth Amendment occurred in 1933, moving Inauguration Day to its current date. The 1937 Inauguration thus marked the first time the oath-taking occurred on a blustery January day.

Of course, it was not the first frigid inauguration! Weather was clearly not a factor in determining the date of the presidential swearing-in. As witnessed in the Terence Powderly Photographic Prints collection, snow was a frequent backdrop to the March ceremonies. The 1909 Inauguration is a prime example that the later date did not guarantee a sunny day in Washington!

Powderly snapped the top photo of the National Treasury staged for the 1917 Inaugural Parade. I snapped the below photo at the same site for the 2017 Parade.

While Powderly worked on-and-off with Presidents from McKinley to Coolidge, his photographs highlight the spectator side of inaugural set-ups and parades. Present in his collection are images of the parades of both Taft (1909) and Wilson (1913, 1917).  The 1909 Inauguration, then held on March 4, witnessed a blizzard the night before. Dumping 10 inches of snow on the city, the storm threatened to cancel the outdoor events, including the traditional parade. While the weather forced the swearing-in to move indoors to the Senate chamber, thousands of city workers labored frantically to clear the parade route. Due to their hard work, the Inaugural Parade proceeded as normal, albeit with many snow drifts visible along the route. (Incidentally, this was also the last year any official Inaugural Ball was held until 1949. When Wilson took office in 1913, he found the concept of galas unbecoming and too expensive and none were held again until Truman’s inaugural.)

No matter the weather – rain, snow, or shine – or the political or social changes that occur, and with or without an accompanying dance, the route of the Inaugural Parade and process of oath-taking has remained a constant in American politics and Washington life.

You can view find out more about the individuals who provide this glimpse into past inaugurations here:

The Archivist’s Nook: Teacher, Rector, Soldier, Spy – A Photographic Tour of O’Connor’s Rome

Eisenhower leaving the North American College campus, as students and faculty watch below, 1959.
Eisenhower leaving the North American College campus, as students and faculty watch below, 1959.

“I am sorry that you did not travel from the College to the Ciampino airfield with the President in the helicopter; however, I have found, as I am sure you have, that riding in a helicopter is a questionable undertaking under any circumstances irrespective of who you are with,” wrote John McCone, future CIA Director, to Archbishop Martin J. O’Connor, rector of the North American College (NAC) in Rome. The occasion? The recent visit of President Eisenhower to the seminary in December 1959.

O’Connor escorting Mr. and Mrs. Nixon to an audience with Pope Paul VI, 1963. This was not Nixon’s first or last papal audience nor O’Connor’s first or last visit with Nixon.
O’Connor escorting Mr. and Mrs. Nixon to an audience with Pope Paul VI, 1963. This was not Nixon’s first or last papal audience nor O’Connor’s first or last visit with Nixon.

In the fall of 1959, the North American College in Rome celebrated its 100th anniversary. Founded in 1859 by Pope Pius IX, the Pontifical North American College had much to celebrate that year. Having been devastated during the Second World War, much like the surrounding city, the school had been in a precarious position just a decade prior. Now, it stood rebuilt on the Janiculum Hill, serving as a nexus point not only for seminarians, but also representatives of American power and the Vatican. And at the center of it all was Archbishop O’Connor.

Known as the Oakball, or Oaky, by his students and faculty, O’Connor (1900-1986) became the “second founder” of the NAC. [1] A native of Scranton, Pennsylvania, O’Connor was a World War I veteran, attended CUA and the NAC, served as an official press representative for Vatican II, and even became the first Papal Nuncio to Malta. Wrangling the assorted personalities, factions, and financial resources to rebuild the school and put it on stable footing was no easy task, but O’Connor proved capable of weathering the challenge. Continue reading “The Archivist’s Nook: Teacher, Rector, Soldier, Spy – A Photographic Tour of O’Connor’s Rome”