Category Archives: Nativist Riots

The Daughters of Charity and the Women’s Suffrage Movement: Part 2

This is part 2 of our three-part series on the Daughters of Charity and the Women’s Suffrage Movement throughout the 1910s, leading up to the Presidential Election of November 1920.  The year 2020 marks 100 years since women in the United States won the right to vote with the ratification of the 19th Amendment on August 18, 1920.  Part 1 can be found here.  Part 3 will run next month.

James Cardinal Gibbons, Archbishop of Baltimore, delivered the commencement address to the young women graduating from the tutelage of the Daughters of Charity of St. Joseph’s College in Emmitsburg four times between 1911 and 1917.  In two of his four addresses, he used his platform to express his opposition towards the rise of the women’s suffrage movement on the grounds that it distorted the proper role of a woman, who, in his opinion, was that of a wife and mother in the home (See part 1 of this series).

In 1918, Father Edward J. Walsh, former President of Niagara University, offered a contrasting view.  In his commencement address, Father Walsh agreed Cardinal Gibbons about the role of women as caretakers and educators, he also supported women and their right to vote as they had possessed it a majority of states at the time (although not Maryland).  And while the priest never fully endorsed the suffrage movement in his speech, he recognized that times were changing, and women would no longer be content to remain on the sidelines of society or denied a place in the workforce. 

Although calling for women to “hold strong to the old traditions” and “keep the old ideals,” Father Walsh also recognized the need for feminine strength and courage in combining old roles with new ones; a small opening in the evolution of women’s rights and status rather than an immediate dismissal toward the movement that Cardinal Gibbons had previously espoused. 

However, a second development in 1919 showed that even Cardinal Gibbons opposition to the suffragists could be changed given the right incentive.  In the Provincial Annals for the year 1919, the shift in support is sudden and clear: 

Cardinal Gibbons cared very deeply about the role of Catholic parochial schools as a means of education, advancement for immigrant families, and a method of instilling faith and values.[1]  In Michigan women could already vote after an amendment to the state constitution in 1918.[2]

Just as Father Walsh’s comfort with women’s greater involvement with the world came at the heels of World War I, where women had entered the industrial workforce in ways not seen before, so too, did another.  In many part of America, anti-German and anti-immigrant sentiment was growing.  A strong portion of this was a resurgence of old anti-Catholic sentiment.  Newsletters like The Menace spread across the country, depicting Catholic schools as places where children were victimized, and proper Protestant families were broken up by shadowy anti-American figures.[3]

Masthead of The Menace, November 11, 1911.  The menace. [volume] (Aurora, Mo.), 11 Nov. 1911. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn89066178/1911-11-11/ed-1/seq-1/

Although these newspapers were often published in rural areas, they proved the most popular in the industrial cities of the Northeast and Midwest, where urban and immigrant Catholics had the highest level of visibility.[4]  The movement to ban parochial education in the State of Michigan began with the Wayne County Civil League – Wayne County being the location of the multi-ethnic city of Detroit.  Their bill really was as clear-cut as the Provincial Annals described, requiring attendance at public school and outlawing all private schools for children up to age 16. Although the Michigan Legislature defeated the bill, the  anti-Catholic group campaigned for a similar ballot initiative twice more in the next five years.[5]

When similar movements began to pop up in his own Archdiocese of Baltimore, Cardinal Gibbons made a very quick turnaround.  Realizing the need to organize and the potential for women to have a say in the direction of the country, references in the Daughters archives in 1920 and 1921 look very different from the decade beforehand.  In part three of this series, we will look at the accounts of the Daughters of Charity voting for the first time.


[1] John Tracy Ellis, The Life of James Cardinal Gibbons, ed. Francis L. Broderick, Popular edition (Milwaukee:  The Bruce Publishing Company, 1963), 47.

[2] Library of Michigan, “Woman’s Suffrage in Michigan:  A Timeline of the Movement,” June 10, 2010, accessed September 15, 2020, https://www.michigan.gov/libraryofmichigan/0,9327,7-381-88854_89996-518343–,00.html.

[3] Justin Nordtstrom, “A War of Words:  Childhood and Masculinity in American Anti-Catholicism, 1911-1919,” in U.S. Catholic Historian 20 (1), Winter 2002:  57-58; 67.

[4] Nordstrom, 61-62.

[5] Timothy Mark Pies, “The Parochial School Campaigns in Michigan, 1920-1924:  The Lutheran and Catholic Involvement,” in The Catholic Historical Review 72 (2), April 1986:  223-224.

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“Nativist” riot in Philadelphia, May 9, 1844

Sister Mary Gonzaga Grace

Sr. Mary Gonzaga Grace (used with permission of Daughters of Charity Provincial Archives)


(Letter of Sister Mary Gonzaga Grace to Mother Xavier Clark, May 9, 1844 used with permission of Daughters of Charity Provincial Archives)

Nativism was a movement that was anti-foreign and anti-Catholic in nature. The movement began with an increase of German and Irish immigrants to America in the 1820’s and 30’s, many of whom were Catholic. At this time the majority of Americans was Protestant and saw Catholicism as a major threat to their way of life. Protestants believed that Catholics pledged their allegiance primarily to the Pope and this type of loyalty was seen as suppressing free thought and a threat to democracy.

In May and July of 1844 Philadelphia was at the epicenter of religious and ethnic rioting and violence aimed at Catholic and Irish immigrants. A first-hand account of one such riot in Philadelphia survives in our collection, in the form of a letter written by Sister Mary Gonzaga Grace (then head of St. Joseph Orphan Asylum) to Mother Xavier Clark, community superior of the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph’s, May 9, 1844.

Midnight
St. Joseph’s Asylum, Philada

My Beloved Mother,

Perhaps, before this letter shall have reached you, many of your poor children and their Orphans may be launched into eternity; called to appear in the presence of their God and their judge without a moment’s preparation. We are in the midst of frightful dangers, a great portion of our peaceful city is the scene of dreadful riot and bloodshed: two of our churches burned to the ground, St. Michael’s up in Vennington this afternoon and St. Augustine’s about half past nine to night – St. John’s has been guarded since Monday night and St. Mary’s is now surrounded by a strong detachment of the military besides a patrol. St. Joseph’s & Holy Trinity as well as St. Mary’s churches have removed all the sacred vessels, vestments xc into private houses, the clergymen have left their dwellings, the Bishop his house, the Priests and students have deserted the Seminary – every one seeking a night’s lodging in the family of some friends. Three police officers now guard our asylum, and we know not what moment our dear little ones must be roused from their peaceful slumber to fly for their lives. Threats have been made positively to destroy St. John’s church to night: and in consequence the poor Sisters and Orphans have been obliged to retire to some good families for a shelter because if the church were burned, the Asylum would certainly catch – several of our friends have kindly offered us, also, to bring the children to their houses, but we cannot hear the thoughts of scattering them unless we were sure of imminent danger – the managers think it can’t be possible that the mob could be so reckless as to attack helpless female orphans

Last night we did not close our eyes till two o’clock and now it is near that and we are watching still. S Albina and I. Eusebieg are here from St. John’s they were afraid the former might become excited in case there were danger and they concluded we, were safe, down here: God grant it may be so! I am fearful it will be worse tomorrow night: the military are out upon duty but it seems of no use. They have burned whole rows of houses and shot many as they passed along.

The commencement of the disturbance was chiefly this, many of the citizens had assembled to adapt some resolutions with regard to political affairs when some Irish Catholics insulted them and made such a noise that the spoken could not be heard, one word brought out an then until a battle ensued – the truth is, it is nothing but a party of Protestants leagued against the Catholics, under the names of native Americans and the Irish It is believed to be, actually, more religion than politics which is the cause of the riot.

Do pray for us very hard dear Mother, for what will become of us if the Asylum should be attacked how could we escape with ninety nine helpless children, seventy of whom would not be able to assist themselves even to get out of the mob and they have sworn vengeance against all the Sis and their institutions; we have every reason to expect the same fate.
Adieu dear Mother pray for your poor distressed children.

Ever yours affectionately
S. Mary Gonzaga

May 9/44
5 o’clock in the morning
we are safe yet, thank God.
9 o’clock – a little quiet, the Governor has issued a proclamation that the mob be fired upon this it seems will be likely to put a stop to the riot.

S. M. G.
Haste
Mother Xavier
St. Joseph’s Valley
near Emmitsburg, MD.

For more on the 1844 Nativist riots in Philadelphia, see Chaos in the Streets: The Philadelphia Riot of 1844, an online exhibit from Villanova University.

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Filed under Nativist Riots, Sisters of Charity Federation, Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph's, U.S. History