Browse Exhibits (28 total)

African-American Catholics

Catholics and Race: The Federated Colored Catholics

In the struggle for racial equality in America, even people of good faith have often disagreed over the best strategies for winning the battle. Some have argued that African-Americans or other racial minorities have needed the chance to unite, gain power, and win respect from white majorities. Others have contended that convincing white, and indeed all Americans, to be colorblind--to not "see" race--has been the best plan. Such disagreements emerged among American Catholics in the 1920s and 1930s in debates between Dr. Thomas Wyatt Turner, an African-American layman, and Father John LaFarge, a white Jesuit and long time civil rights advocate.

See "Background" to begin. 

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American Catholic History Resources

This exhibit contains links to digitzed primary source documents and photos, as well as annotations and other resources for teaching American History from a Catholic Perspective. Created with high school teachers in mind, the links and annotations attempt to highlight documents that can be useful as examples in 9 specific areas of American History.  The site could, potentially, be used by student as a starting point for primary source research.

The ultimate aim is to produce a comprehensive resource that allows teachers to focus on teaching history without having to allocate significant portions of time to finding Catholic primary source documents.  While the website is currently under construction, suggests and ideas for improvement to the above end are gladly welcomed.

American Catholic Women's Participation in 20th century World Wars

American Catholic Women and Twentieth Century World Wars is one of a series of  websites on Catholic Women in 20th century America. The materials presented here depict how Catholic women’s organizations supported the war effort during World War I and World War II using collections from the American Catholic History Center and University Archives.

World War I and World War II profoundly impacted American life.  “Total war,” when the whole of a society’s resources are committed to winning a military conflict, mandated that every aspect of society be geared toward victory, was the order of the day.  With men serving in combat positions overseas, women actively participated in traditionally male-dominated professions as well as in supportive military positions. Nationalism became diffused throughout everyday life, with all Americans expected to place their support for the U.S. above all other cultural and religious fidelities.    

Catholics in the early twentieth century believed that the biological differences between women and men made women more suited for motherhood and home life. Women were viewed as protectors of the home, educators of their children, and subordinate to their male counterparts. These ideas shaped Catholic women’s identities as women more generally.  Men were supposed to work outside of the home, while women were to be in the supporting role of caretaker of the children.

Despite these traditional notions about womanhood and a woman’s place in society, Catholic women’s organizations in America were active participants in the war effort. The materials in this site describe what Catholic women’s organizations did during the war, how it shaped women’s ideas about being Catholic and American, and how it shaped women’s roles in public life and paved the way for their participation in American politics.

American Catholics and Nazi Antisemitism

American Catholics and Nazi Antisemitism:
Sheehy, Coughlin, and the 1938 CUA Kristallnacht Broadcast

This website features digitized primary documents and audio from the American Catholic History Center and University Archives related to U.S. Catholic responses to the Nazi regime in 1930s Germany.

Specifically, the materials collected here suggest that American Catholics responded to the persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany during the anti-Jewish pogrom known today as Kristallnacht in ways distinct from Catholics outside of the United States. Here you will find, for example, a November 16, 1938, broadcast featuring a group of 5 American Catholic clerical leaders and one layperson (pictured to the right and left, click on images for more information) condemning the Nazi violence against Jews. The broadcast was made under the auspices of the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. and received considerable media attention as it presented an instance, unusual at the time, of Catholic priests and bishops voicing support for a religious group other than their own on a national level.

In contrast, another prominent Catholic clerical leader with millions of devoted fans, Father Charles Coughlin, responded to Kristallnacht with a November 20, 1938 broadcast that justified the Nazi atrocities as a natural defense against a Jewish-dominated global communist movement. A transcript of that Coughlin broadcast is reproduced here. In addition to the CUA broadcast audio and the Coughlin transcript this site features a photo gallery of participants in the CUA broadcast and related correspondence and press materials that help contextualize the broadcasts.

See "Background" to begin.  

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An African-American President in 1976?

In the 1930s and 1940s, comic books were one of the most popular forms of entertainment among the nation's youth, combining as they did narratives, graphics, and low prices. The 1940s in particular witnessed an explosion of new comic creations, most of which focused on superheroes, adventure, and action. This new medium, however, quickly became the subject of controversy. Many of the comics were considered "undesirable" by parents and teachers because of their violent content. Publishers frequently produced horror, crime, and war stories with explicitly gory illustrations.

The U.S. Bishops became concerned over the possibly harmful effects of such comics on the moral character of young people. In 1946, responding to an appeal by the Commission on American Citizenship at The Catholic University of America, George A. Pflaum of Dayton, Ohio, began publishing a bi-monthly comic book, the Treasure Chest of Fun & Fact for distribution in Catholic Parochial Schools. The Treasure Chest was intended as a remedy to the sensationalism of traditional comics: it contained educational features, narrated the lives of saints, and presented adventure stories featuring realistic characters with what were considered wholesome values, like patriotism, equality, faith, and anti-communism.

By the early 1960s, the Treasure Chest was at the height of its popularity. Some of the top names in comic books supplied stories and illustrations for it, including such people as Frank Borth, Fran Matera, and Frank Evers. In 1964, Joe Sinnott, the illustrator of Marvel Comics' "The Fantastic Four," teamed up with writer Berry Reece to produce a story depicting a U.S. presidential election. It was set in the future: the presidential election was supposedly that of 1976, the year of the nation's bicentennial. "Pettigrew for President" lasted for 10 issues, following the campaign trail of the fictional Tim Pettigrew from the announcement of his candidacy through the national convention of his party. The candidate's face was carefully hidden in every panel, until the final page of the final issue of the story, when Pettigrew is finally revealed: the first black candidate for president of the United States!

This site reproduces the entire "Pettigrew for President" series in a digital format. It places this unique comic book story in the context of the 1960s civil rights movement, and provides background information on the creators of the series.


See "Background" to begin

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Catholics and a Living Wage

Catholics and a Living Wage: How Much is Enough?

How much do you need to live? Can you have too much? How much is too little? It's a question with a history, and Catholics had their own way of answering it back in the early twentieth century. Prompted by the increasingly obvious gulf that developed between the richest and poorest Americans in the wake of the dramatic industrial change, Catholic University's Professor Father John A. Ryan, an economist, theologian, and politically - connected Washingtonian addressed the question of what constituted a living wage from a Catholic perspective.

See "Background" to begin.

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Catholics and Education: The Oregon School Case

Catholic Patriotism on Trial: The Oregon School Case

In the 1920s the Oregon Ku Klux Klan feared that Catholics were destroying America. Believing that abolishing the state's Catholic schools would reduce this supposed Catholic threat to the nation, the Klan helped put a bill on a referendum ballot that would force most school age children to attend public schools. In 1922 the state's voters approved the bill, which became known as the Oregon School Law, causing shocked Catholics organized locally and nationally to keep their children in Catholic schools. In 1925, the United States Supreme Court declared the Oregon School Law unconstitutional in a decision that that has been called “the Magna Carta of the parochial school system.”

See "Background" to begin.

Catholics and Industrialization

Catholic Responses to Industrialization

The spread of industrialization across the world over the last three centuries has created enormous new wealth for some, and desperate poverty for others. As industrialization accelerated in the United States at the turn of the twentieth century, Americans debated vigorously how to best cope with the change.

American Catholics, too, weighed in on these issues. They brought their own unique perspectives to the debate, but they did not always agree. Monsignor John A. Ryan, for example, looked to the government to help the poor; others like Cardinal William O'Connell feared government intervention would be heavy handed and intrusive. Mary Harris "Mother" Jones, once a parochial school teacher but later alienated from the Church, looked to unions to earn workers a proper living.

See "Background" to begin.

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Catholics and Labor Unionization

Forging Bonds of Sympathy: The Catholic Church and the Knights of Labor

In the 1880s, the Knights of Labor was the largest labor union in the United States, and while they were predominantly Catholic in membership, the Catholic Church wasn't sure Catholics should be Knights. Some priests and bishops were perplexed by the secrecy and perceived radicalism within the union and sought to bar Catholics from joining. Others believed that unions could promote better lives for workers. In 1888 the matter was resolved through the efforts of Knights Leader Terence Powderly and Baltimore Archbishop James Gibbons, when their attempts to gain Vatican permission for Catholics to join the union met with success.

See “Background” to begin.

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Catholics and Politics

Catholics and Politics: Charles Coughlin, John Ryan, and the 1936 Presidential Campaign

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the thirty-second President of the United States, served longer than any other President in United States history. Elected to four consecutive terms, Roosevelt served from 1933 until his death in 1945. Millions of Catholic voters helped bring Roosevelt his landslide victory in 1936. Estimates of the number of Catholics voting for FDR range from 70% - 81%. None of this Catholic support was taken for granted during the campaign of 1936, however, nor did all Catholics support a second term for Roosevelt. To the contrary, relations between certain prominent Catholics and members of the Roosevelt administration were strained. Father Charles Coughlin, a former FDR supporter who had become an outspoken critic of the President during the 1936 campaign, actively campaigned against him in the months before the election. Father John Ryan, on the other hand, publicly supported Roosevelt during the campaign, delivering a national radio broadcast under the auspices of the Democratic National Committee on his behalf. This website features previously unavailable audio and documents related to the presidential campaign of 1936 and the involvement of each priest in that campaign.

See "Background" to begin.