An inventory of the Catholic Educational Exhibit, World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, Photographs at The American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives
In May 1890, a group of Catholic educators and members of clergy and religious orders met and decided that a Catholic Educational Exhibit at the 1892 World's Fair, also called the World's Columbian Exposition, would be a fabulous way to showcase advances in Catholic education as an important part of American Christianity. The exhibit would also be a way to favorably present American Catholicism to the general citizenry, and the Catholic Congress that met in Boston in July 1890 agreed.
The Catholic Congress appointed a committee that in turn sent out an invitation for Catholic education institutional leaders and others interested in Catholic education to meet in Chicago on October 8, 1890. The twenty-one representatives that attended agreed an exhibit could potentially assist in eliminating or significantly decreasing animosity towards Catholics in general and their education system because there was simply not much known about it among non-Catholics. By December 1890, a pamphlet with information on compiling material for exhibits had been mailed to various education institutions, including grade schools and colleges. The board of directors met two more times, once at the Columbus Club in Chicago on July 1, 1891, and again at the Lindell Hall in St. Louis on November 30, 1891. At the final meeting, the board of directors recommended appointment of executive officers and how the CEE would be supported financially. Cardinal and archbishops agreed with the report and named J. L. Spalding, the Bishop of Peoria, the president and Brother Maurlein, president of Christian Brothers College (now University) in Memphis, the secretary and manager. Brother Maurlein's appointment may have been due to the strong presence of the Christian Brothers' educational exhibits at previous world's fairs. As a final sign of the exhibit's potential, Pope Leo XIII stated his support in a letter dated July 20, 1892.
An important aspect of the Catholic Educational Exhibit may very well have been to counter efforts of the American Protective Association (APA), which claimed that Catholics wished to impose their values on public schools. Beginning in 1869 in Cincinnati, Ohio, incidents between Catholics, the public schools, and national and state governments occurred, especially in the late 1880s and early 1890s in other Midwest states. Established in Clinton, Iowa, in 1887, by Henry Bowers, the APA sought to elect anti-Catholic officials and reached its most powerful point in 1894 before declining in the late 1890s. To the APA, the growing number of problems with Catholics and the public schools appeared to be an assault for a Catholic takeover. The takeover would not necessarily have to be through direct control, but could also be as a result of Catholics draining public funds for their schools, which the APA believed produced wicked children. The Catholic Educational Exhibit would make a strong stand for the positive aspects of the religion in a part of the country where the APA had decided to try and win significant political power in 1892 and 1893.
Within the Catholic community, the discussion as to whether Catholic education should be a part of the American education system became a more pressing issue as more and more Catholics immigrated to America by the mid-19th century. On one side, there were those that feared including Catholic education as part of the overall school system would simply create a non-religious curriculum. One the other hand, some people believed that the assimilation into American schools by accepting public funds had to take place so that immigrants could become a part of the country and not be simply considered "the other." By the 1870s, though, many states settled this issue by passing laws that prohibited funds from the public coffers being dispensed to parochial schools. Regardless of this lack of federal funding, Catholic school systems developed rapidly in the 19th century, both as a result of incoming immigrants and as a bulwark against a public school system viewed as either too Protestant or too secular. If the school's curriculum did not reflect the Catholic faith, then children would not be properly educated. In the early 1890s, however, around the time of the World's Fair, a debate emerged over the idea that sending children to public schools could be permissible as long as administrators did not use problematic educational materials. Dr. Thomas J. Bouquillon of Catholic University articulated this idea in the pamphlet "Education: to Whom Does it Belong?" Cardinal James Gibbons and Archbishop John Ireland advocated this position, and Archbishop Francesco Satolli, the first apostolic delegate to the United States, even appeared support the idea in a speech at the World's Columbian Exposition in 1892. By the next year, though, Pope Leo XIII reaffirmed the findings of the first Provincial Council of Baltimore, which in 1829 proclaimed that, essentially, Catholics required their own separate educational system in America.
Another aspect of the Catholic presence at the World's Fair tied into the formal name of the fair itself: the World's Columbian Exposition. American Catholics traced Christopher Columbus' heritage back to Italy and a Catholic background, so they could argue that a Catholic established the Christian heritage in the new world. During the mid-1860s, Catholics in America as well as newly arrived immigrants began to honor Columbus. This sanctification of Columbus only increased with the arrival of Italians who claimed Columbus as one of their own countrymen, and this idea of honoring Columbus as a Catholic, Italian, and American developed into "Columbianism." The festivities celebrating "Columbus Day" appeared in New York and had spread to other cities in America by the 1870s. In San Francisco and other seaports, celebrations included reenactments of the ships landing in the New World. As a result of Columbus' status among Catholic Americans, new buildings that served the community often included his name by the late 19th century. Despite the failed attempt to persuade the Vatican to canonize Columbus, a group of laymen nonetheless named him as their patron. Founded in 1882 in Hartford, Connecticut, the Knights of Columbus developed into the largest Catholic laymen organization in the world, and the largely Irish ethnicity of its founders indicated that the pride in Columbianism included more than just Italian Americans. Since Columbus discovered America, the Knights argued, they had just as much right to be full citizens of the country as Protestants, particularly those in the American Protective Association. In fact, the landing of Columbus (granted, in the Caribbean) signified the Catholic claim to the country just as Protestants could claim the Mayflower landing at Plymouth their right to be in the country.
Columbianism did not only circulate among Catholics. In 1892, presidential candidates Grover Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison encouraged public school children, standing under the flag, to recite the Pledge of Allegiance as a way to recognize the importance of Columbus as the World's Fair opened in Chicago on October 12. All of this Columbian "civil religion" played an important role at the World's Fair as 24 million people visited the grounds and viewed the manifestation of American identity. The exposition's official dedication, however, did not occur until October 21, 1892 for a variety of reasons with one of them being that fair organizers argued that the change in calendars over the centuries rendered October 12 the incorrect date.
The enormous Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building designed by architect George B. Post housed the Catholic Educational Exhibit. The largest building in the world at the time, it required seven million feet of lumber, five railroad carloads of nails, and three-dozen railroad carloads of glass. Requiring more iron and steel than the Brooklyn Bridge, the structure loomed over the grounds as high as a nineteen-floor building. After receiving a white mixture of plaster, cement, and fiber to quickly coat the outside walls, the Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building joined the other structures as part of the "White City."
Despite the fact that educational exhibits, particularly Catholic educational exhibits, had come to play a more important role in more recent fairs and other large events both abroad and in the U.S., establishing space among the tools of industry turned out to be no easy task as the fair organizers allocated more space to the manufactures than liberal arts exhibits. Although organizers requested 61,000 square feet of space for the Catholic Educational Exhibit in May 1892, the space requested by the Manufacturer's section reduced the entire Liberal Arts space from 200,000 to 90,000 square feet leaving the Catholic Educational Exhibit with about 10,000 square feet.
After months of meetings with World's Fair officials, the Catholic Educational Exhibit eventually wound up with 29,214 square feet, which allowed for 65,000 square feet of space for displays on walls and tables, every square inch of which exhibitors used. Despite only having seventeen or eighteen attendants at a time, only some schools reported musical volumes missing when their materials had been returned. Many of the vestments and other valuable material objects were placed behind wire or other security features, perhaps as a precaution against potential anti-Catholic vandalism. On the other hand, the patriotic decorations that adorned the exhibit area may have explained the absence of vandalism. Fifteen large United States flags hung above the alcoves and 150 smaller ones lined the walkways. According to a local Chicago newspaper, the Catholic Educational Exhibit far exceeded other United States school exhibits in such patriotic displays.
In the end, the Catholic Church as well as non-Catholics considered the exhibit a success. Although the exhibit did not solve the problems of nativism, the educational community within the Catholic Church no doubt benefited from coming together at a time of both internal and external strife.
The Catholic Educational Exhibit, World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, Photographs consists of fifty 8"x10" photographs documenting the building, hall, and alcoves where Catholic educational institutions displayed objects and printed material from 1892-1893 during the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois. Although the educational exhibits occupied 115 alcoves, the photographs document less than half. Of particular interest is the photograph with Brother Maurelian, Monsignor Satolli, and Monsignor O’Connell on October 22, 1892, the date of the exhibit dedication. The photographs were previously housed in a scrapbook, and captions from the photographs are included in the item descriptions. A digital reproduction of each photograph may be accessed by clicking on the "Image" link above the descriptions.
The Catholic Educational Exhibit, World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, Photographs consists of 50 photographs aaranged as they were found in the photograph album.
Restrictions on Access
The photograph album originated from the Special Collections/Archives at Mount Saint Mary's College in Emmitsburg, Maryland, and they donated the album to the National Catholic Education Association. The NCEA then sent album to the CUA Archives. The album may have originally been one of those produced following the World's Columbian Exposition and presented to members of the Catholic Church heirarchy.
Donated by Kelly Fitzpatrick in 1995.
The photographs were removed from a deteriorating album and sleeved in mylar. The photographs remain in the order in which they were found.
Processing completed in June 2004 by Pamela Chambliss. EAD markup completed in March 2006 by Jordan Patty. Scanning completed in February 2007 by Patrick Cullom, Marcella Fredriksson, and Marianne Giltrud. Digital archival object links updated in 2015 by Paul Kelly.
The American Catholic History Center and University Archives:
William James Onahan Papers
Cardinal Francesco Satolli Papers (microfilm)
John L. Stoddard Photographs
CUA Rare Books Department:
The World’s Columbian Catholic Congresses and Educational Exhibit ... : To Which is added an Epitome of Catholic Church Progress in the United States ... (1893, c1892)
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division:
University of Maryland Architecture Library:
This record series is indexed under the following controlled access subject terms.
O'Connell, William, 1859-1944
Satolli, Francesco, 1839-1910
Sheel, George Valin (Brother Maurelian)
Catholic Church United States
Catholic Church Education United States
World's Columbian Exposition (1893: Chicago, Ill.)
Barton, George. Columbus the Catholic: A Comprehensive Story of Discovery. Baltimore: John Murphy and Company, 1893.
Desmond, Humphrey J. The A.P.A. Movement: A Sketch. Washington: The New Century Press, 1912.
Maurelian, Brother. Final Report: Catholic Educational Exhibit, World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893. [Chicago, World's Fair?]1893.
Muccigrosso, Robert. Celebrating the New World: Chicago's Columbian Exposition of 1893. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1993.
Rothman, Stanley, "The Politics of Catholic Parochial Schools," The Journal of Politics 25, no. 1 (1963): 49-71.
Schlereth, Thomas J. "Columbia, Columbus, and Columbianism," The Journal of American History 79, no. 3 (1992): 937-968.
Wallace, Les. The Rhetoric of Anti-Catholicism: The American Protective Association, 1887-1911. New York: Garland Publishing, 1990.
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