Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, the world is undergoing an unprecedented moment in history. This collaborative effort between The Catholic University of America’s Library and Archives endeavors to document the reactions and experiences of members of the Catholic University community to the pandemic. As events continue to unfold, our stories and feelings may be in flux. We are living in a time on which future students and scholars will look back with curiosity and sympathy.
While the official records of the University’s response to this moment are already being collected in the University Archives, the idea behind this project is to paint a more complete picture of the historical moment. We welcome all submissions as small pieces in the larger mosaic of the Catholic University community’s experience of events related to the pandemic. This “collection in real time” will help future researchers study how our community collectively and individually adapted over the course of the pandemic. It will also put a human face on the administrative records from the period, illustrating the humor, fears, struggles, and triumphs across the community.
All members of the community—students, faculty, staff, and alumni—are encouraged to submit their comments and reflections for inclusion in the historical record. These accounts in the moment will help tell the evolving story of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic.
Please note that these submissions do not have to be one-time-only or created by one person. We invite contributors to continue to update your stories throughout the duration of these events and share contributions involving multiple voices and perspectives. Multimedia submissions—such as video diaries, audio recordings, photographs, and artwork—are welcome, too.
We are interested in stories about:
How campus and other closures have impacted your life
The transition to online classes
Working, studying, or researching during the pandemic
How you are staying in touch with family, friends, and your broader community
Experiences navigating social distancing, closures, or stay-at-home orders
Creative outlets or new routines during the pandemic
How your faith may have been impacted by your experience of the pandemic
Other changes or events you have witnessed within the University or your local community
To submit your stories, please follow the link to the form. This form will provide a template for submitting and allow you to review information about your rights and consent. It will also allow you to decide whether you would like us to share your story now or archive it for future scholarship. As we collect stories, we will post the accounts of those who wish to make their stories public.
Again, submissions may be submitted via this form. Questions or concerns can be addressed to: email@example.com
This week’s post is guest-authored by Ronnie Georgieff, a recent graduate of the Library and Information Science program at The Catholic University of America.
Often, we take for granted how blessed we are when it comes to the power of our technology. Communication is at our fingertips… messages to the ones we love quite literally take seconds to send and receive. Abbreviations, emoji’s, gifs are all used to express emotion and convey a message. Not to mention the numerous applications that are available for us to post and share big announcements in our lives.
But in the late 1800s, early 1900s, Cecilia Parker Woodson, her family and friends, did not have this convenient form of contact. Rather, they wrote letters. All the letters within the collection, each handwritten in beautiful cursive, are not by Cecilia’s hand. Rather, they are from others, the majority from her husband, Walter Nelson Woodson and her daughter, Charlotte Virginia Woodson. Each letter is unique, whether it be the style of handwriting, the type of paper used, the envelopes chosen, or the stamps. Not to mention items such as pamphlets, newspaper articles that were saved regarding the Woodson family and announcements concerning them. The messages written therein are heartfelt, endearing, and contain a great deal of emotion that equally expresses love, joy as well as sorrow.
Given the task of digitizing the collection, the varying sizes of the letters and items presented me with a unique challenge. Some envelopes were very small, and other parts of the collection, such as portrait images, a notebook used to record recipes and a copy of the Ulster County Gazette could be quite large. When handling the collection, it was important to keep the fragile state of the paper in mind. Despite the excellent condition of the collection, many were quite brittle, worn and thin, and depending on the size and material, needed more care than the others.
I often found myself lost in the collection and reading the handwriting therein. But there was something about the paper itself that made this collection very much ‘human’ and resonated with me. There were blotted ink stains from pens, scratch-out marks where there omitted words, wear and tear from frequent usage, cuts from scissors where stamps were removed from envelopes, fine pins were newspaper articles were attached to the page… the list goes on. These simple little touches were easily captured in exceptional detail by the archive’s high-quality scanners.
With a collection that is a little over a hundred years old, I was reminded of several things. First, we appreciate the modern ways we can quickly communicate with our loved ones. Many of the letters written to Cecilia tend to mention the excitement upon receiving Cecilia’s letter or the anticipation of it being sent or received. Secondly, in a world filled with emoji’s and abbreviated texts, meaningful handwritten letters seem like a lost art. Thirdly, I am grateful that technology has advanced in such a way that we are able to permanently family stories and memories, such as these, for future generations.
Take some time today to message a loved one… try something new- write a handwritten letter to a friend… and I highly encourage you to explore and read the digitized collection. It will captivate you and touch your heart just as it touched mine. In a world filled with technology, you will gain a better appreciation for what has passed, what is present, and what will be.
You can view the Cecilia Parker Woodson Collection Finding Aid here.
The Cecilia Parker Woodson Digitized Collection will be available online soon.
One hundred years ago, American entry into the First World War transformed the nation’s capital from a sleepy Southern crossroads into a modern hub of administration commensurate to an emerging first class world power. It was here a young Catholic soldier wrote his family, primarily his mother and sisters, back in their hometown of Southington, Connecticut. That man, Robert Lincoln O’Connell, whose archival papers, including a digital collection, reside in the archives at The Catholic University of America (CUA) and briefly alluded to in two previous blog posts, ‘For God and Country’ and ‘World War I on Display,’ contain seven letters he wrote from April to August 1917 addressed from Washington Barracks, now Fort McNair. ‘Rob,’ as he was known to his family, described his initial training in and around Washington, D.C. as a combat engineer, or sapper, for service in the First Engineer Regiment of the First Infantry Division of the American Expeditionary Force (A.E.F.) in France.
O’Connell (1888-1972), a native of Wareham, Massachusetts, was the eldest of five children of Daniel and Mary O’Connell, immigrants from Ireland and Wales, respectively. By 1900, the O’Connell family had moved to the town of Southington, Connecticut, near Hartford and less than 100 miles from New York City. The family attended St. Thomas Roman Catholic Church and the 1910 federal census lists father Daniel as a “laborer” in an “iron mill” and son Robert as “laborer” in a “hardware shop.” Rob O’Connell enlisted in the U.S. Army at Fort Slocum, New York, on April 14, 1917, and shortly thereafter transferred to Washington Barracks where he spent the next three months training as a machinist in Company C, First Battalion, of the First Engineers. His unit also spent time along the Potomac River on the grounds of the Belvoir Estate that had served since 1912 as a rifle range and summer camp for the training of Army engineers.
In O’Connell’s April 28, 1917 letter, he told his mother details of settling in after his recent enlistment and commented on the visit of Marshal Joseph Joffre, famous hero of the Battle of the Marne, who spoke at the Army War College, adjacent to Washington Barracks, the day before. “All clothes had to be sent to the disinfecting plant to prevent spreading disease among so many men…. Gen. Joffre and his party visited the post yesterday. I seem to be hungry all the time, in spite of three sq. meals.” Writing in mid-May, he complained to his mother about the Washington newspapers, presumably the Washington Post and Washington Star, although he appeared impressed by D.C.‘s sites and scenes. “This city has trees along the main streets. I never saw a place like it. I have not seen Mr. Lud, the President, yet. But I have seen the principle buildings and the Wash. Monument, which you can’t help seeing, it is so tall.”
Apparently, ‘Mr. Lud’ was a nickname for President Woodrow Wilson, perhaps an obscure reference to the legendary British king and founder of London. Writing his mother again on May 31, he explained the training of engineers at Washington Barracks. “They had racing and other sports between the companies…We lost the tent-pitching by a few points…The sergeant was sore at losing and yelled at us as we marched off the field.”
In June, he told his mother “There was a black and white scrap up the street, last night.” An African-American woman had an argument with a soldier and “she hit him with a beer bottle.” This was probably not an isolated incident as the August 10 Washington Post said the Secretary of War directed “a number of saloons in Four-and-a half street southwest may be closed because of their proximity to the Washington barracks.” Another letter home, also written in June, addressed to his sister Ellen, described field training on the grounds of the future Fort Belvoir. “I have just put in the hardest two weeks of my life, I guess, down at the rifle range. It is about twenty miles below Washington, on the Potomac… passengers on the passing steamers probably wish they were camping out there. But when we (A, B and C companies), got there two weeks ago last Monday, there were no tents and lots of brush and weeds and hard work…For two days we worked around camp and lugged and tugged and sweated and wondered why we had ever wanted to leave our happy home at the Barracks.” Combat engineers learned to construct field works and pontoon bridges. They also had to fight as regular infantry when the need arose, hence training in the use of firearms. “Half the company shot in the forenoon while the other half worked in the pits, pushing the targets up into view and pointing out each hit with a long stick… I fired in the morning and managed to get in with the higher ones on the score.”
O’Connell wrote his mother on July 3 expressing confidence in himself as well as contempt for those who had not met the standard. “The captain told us last week that eight or ten men would be left behind because they were too stupid or weren’t considered fit to go with the regiment to France. I won’t be in that bunch if I can help it, as there is some honor in going over but only a disgrace in being a castoff. When the news first got out a month ago, that we were going to France, some of the fire-eaters were delighted, until the officers explained what they would have to do…It was no news to me and if I go, I will do the best I can. This life is a wonderful bracer and I am glad I joined.” The last letter, addressed to his mother in early August, was written a few days departure for France. “Would you care to make the trip down and risk finding us gone?” There is no record his family made the trip to see him. The First Engineers left Washington on August 6 and embarked for France from Hoboken, New Jersey, the following day. O’Connell and his fellow engineers were now at war and a future blog post will explore their time at the front in 1918.
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.
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!
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:
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”→