Posts with the tag: William F. Montavon

The Archivist’s Nook: Keeping Up With The Woodsons

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.

A letter from Walter Nelson Woodson to Cecilia Alfaretta Parker thanking her for the privilege to call her “my dear cousin.” American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives, Cecilia Parker Woodson Collection, box 1, folder 2.

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.

Written on the back of the image in Charlotte Woodson’s handwriting, “This is Mrs. Lansing next to Aunt Mayne [seated top, right] and her sister next to me [seated bottom, right].” It is followed with a question by “Mayme” Montavon, “Looks like a giggling crowd doesn’t it? Does it become us?” American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives, Cecilia Parker Woodson Collection, box 1, folder 26.

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.

Images of Victor Louis Tyree, Husband of Charlotte Virginia Woodson. American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives, Cecilia Parker Woodson Collection, box 1, folder 26.

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.

The cover of Charlotte Woodson’s recipe book. American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives, Cecilia Parker Woodson Collection, box 1, folder 21.

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.

Written on the back of the image in Charlotte Woodson’s handwriting, “Aunt Mayme and I in the door way. How do you like us. C.V.W.” American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives, Cecilia Parker Woodson Collection, box 1, folder 26.

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.

Interested in reading more? Look at Maria Mazzenga’s Archivist Nook blog posts “Friends I’ll Never Meet” and “D.C. History at the Archives.”

Can get enough? Check out our Instagram page: @catholicu_archives where you can find a recipe for ‘Sunshine Cake’ (posted July 30th)

 

The Archivist’s Nook: From Manila to Madrid – Montavon’s Legal Department Goes Global

William Montavon, ca. 1940s.

In 1901, a young man named William F. Montavon (1874-1959) finished his studies at Catholic University in order to marry his wife, Mary Agnes Burrow. Little did he how the next 50 years would be a whirlwind of international travel, legal advocacy, and global upheaval. To understand the story of Montavon is to understand the story of the National Catholic Welfare Conference (NCWC) Legal Department. For 26 years, between 1925-1951, Montavon would serve as the director of the fledgling department, shaping its mission. For the American Catholic Church of the time, Montavon was regarded as “the Law.”

Montavon’s path to the NCWC was an indirect one. From 1902-1915, he served as the superintendent of schools in the Philippines. At the end of his tenure, he took an appointment as U.S. Commercial attaché to Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and Chile. From there he became the executive representative for the International Petroleum Company in Peru. Returning to the United States in 1925, he obtained the directorship of the Legal Department. With two decades experience abroad, Montavon was poised to turn the Legal Department’s focus from exclusively domestic issues to one contemplating the broader world.

Originally established in 1919 as a NCWC office, the Legal Department worked to track and advise Catholic dioceses and organizations on changes to state and federal law. It also served to represent the NCWC in the courts of law and public opinion. Among its most frequent areas of concern were (and continues to be) educational reform, tax policy, civil rights, immigration, and marital legislation. From the very beginning, the department has been at the forefront of legislative and legal battles over the role of parochial schools in the United States and their relations with both state and federal governments, including in the landmark Oregon School Case.

Flyer on the Spanish Civil War collected by Montavon.

Under Montavon’s directorship, the department expanded to include work on the behalf of Catholics abroad and the vulnerable domestically. The department entered into the complicated diplomatic situation surrounding the Mexican Cristero War (1926-1929) and its aftermath throughout the 1930s. Montavon himself traveled to Mexico to report on the situation of the Church in the countryside. This trip, and its ensuing report, was instrumental in the Mexican government’s decision to allow the return of the clergy and legal public worship. Pope Pius XI awarded Montavon the Knight Commander of the Order of St. Gregory the Great in 1929 for his work in Mexico.

This period also witnessed the department’s advising and reporting on the status of religious legislation and freedoms throughout the various Latin American republics, Haiti, and the Philippines. Through Montavon’s service as a NCWC News Service correspondent in Spain in 1931, the Legal Department soon became closely involved in Spanish events throughout the 1930s, in particular the Spanish Civil of 1936-1939.

The department also worked on domestic social policies, including the growing number of eugenics, sterilization, and birth control bills emerging in state legislatures across the country throughout the interwar period. Simultaneously, Montavon led efforts to oppose the enactment of a national quota system as specified in the Immigration Act of 1924. Questions of tax policy and draft enactment also emerged as pressing issues for the Church throughout Montavon’s tenure.

Massachusetts Senator David I. Walsh (left) with Montavon (right).

By the 1930s, with the Great Depression ongoing, the department kept its associates abreast of developments with governmental relief efforts and the changing role of the federal government in the economic and domestic spheres. Of particular import to the department was New Deal legislation that began to fundamentally impact both the social mission and employer status of the Church. In addition to supporting workforce relief efforts, the department closely followed developments in Social Security legislation and how it impacted clergy and Church staff. As the clouds of war gathered in the last half of the decade, the topic of Selective Service became of increasing importance to the NCWC as the draft status of seminarians remained uncertain. With Montavon testifying before Congress on numerous occasions, the department worked to better define the draft eligibility and social security expansion, as well as working to spread knowledge about the need for relief in war-torn parts of the world.

In the post-war period, the Legal Department continued much of its prior work, but took a greater role in civil rights and refugee legislation and legation. Montavon retired from the Legal Department in 1951, with countless well wishes arriving from dioceses across the country and world.

The Archives holds the following collections mentioned in this post:

The William Frederick Montavon Papers

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Office of General Counsel/Legal Department