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Tennyson book cover

October 2021

In honor of American Archives Month, I have decided to highlight a letter handwritten by English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and later acquired by a private manuscript collector. The independent collector no doubt enjoyed obtaining the document. The art of collecting manuscripts is exciting.

However, if independent collectors go further and give such documents to archival repositories, they facilitate the perpetual use of the documents by scholars and the general public across the globe. Archives provide secure, temperature-controlled facilities to preserve these materials. Archives routinely acquire one-of-a kind, primary source documents which provide important clues about the lives of the people who wrote, received or were mentioned in them.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892) was the preeminent English poet during the Victorian era. Among his wide array of works are “Ulysses,” “In Memoriam,” “Crossing the Bar,” and “The Charge of the Light Brigade.” In 1884, Tennyson was raised to the peerage.

Hallam Tennyson (1852-1928), Alfred’s first son, worked as private secretary to his father. Upon the death of Alfred in 1892, Hallam acquired his father’s title, and in 1897 published Tennyson: A Memoir. Hallam also served as the 14th Governor of South Australia from 1899 to 1902 and the 2nd Governor-General of Australia from 1903 to 1904.

Lionel Tennyson (1854-1886), Alfred’s second son, found employment with the India Office in 1877. Lionel was less serious than his brother Hallam. On December 15, 1881, Alfred Tennyson wrote a letter to Lord Enfield to try to obtain a post for Lionel as a secretary. The letter is found in  box 1, folder 20 of the Edith Crocker – Andre de Limur Collection.  The letter reads as follows:

Tennyson letter

Dec.r 15th, 1881


Dear Lord Enfield,

I thank you most sincerely
& trust that Lionel may prove
as good a secretary as he & his
desire that he should. 

I have the honor to be
Yours very faithfully

A. Tennyson [signed]

As this letter suggests, Lionel, in 1881, sought to become private secretary to Lord Enfield (1830-1898, later 3rd Earl of Strafford), who served as Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs from 1871 to 1874 and Parliamentary Under-Secretary for India from 1880 to 1883. Alfred hoped to place his son Lionel in this position or one like it. On December 17th, just two days after Alfred’s letter, Lionel wrote a letter to Henry Cameron informing him that he had received the appointment.1  However, the secretary post was only for one year.

Lionel travelled to India in 1885, and on a hunting trip in Assam was stricken by malaria. Sadly, he died in April 1886 aboard a boat in the Red Sea, which was transporting him home to England. Alfred was devastated by the loss of his second son, and touched on his sense of loss in the poem “To the Marquis of Dufferin and Ava.”

By acquiring this letter, a private collector obtained a significant primary source document that sheds light on the life of Tennyson. This letter is now safely preserved in the Booth Family Center for Special Collections, where it is available to scholars worldwide.

1Ann Thwaite, Emily Tennyson: The Poet’s Wife (London: Faber and Faber, 1996), 545.

--Scott S. Taylor, Manuscripts Archivist

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Posted August 20, 2021 at 4:40pm ET

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Electronic Resources Updates
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Cousteau Society logo

July 2021

On November 18, 1976, world-renowned French marine explorer Jacques Cousteau sent a letter to U.S. Representative William H. Natcher, a Democrat from Kentucky and a longtime member of Congress. Enclosed with the letter was a copy of a telegram that Cousteau had sent to President-elect Jimmy Carter earlier that month. The telegram urged Carter to focus on the energy crisis facing the world. This letter and telegram are preserved in box 1 folder 40 of the William H. Natcher Papers.

Jacques-Yves Cousteau (1910-1997) was a French ocean explorer and environmentalist. He graduated from the French naval academy in 1933, and served as a gunnery officer in France in World War II. Passionate about undersea exploration, Cousteau developed new technologies to facilitate underwater research. He participated in the invention of the Aqua-Lung scuba system, sophisticated underwater cameras, and even a small submarine. In 1974, he established the Cousteau Society to promote the preservation of the world’s oceans.

Jimmy Carter (b. 1924) served as the 39th president of the United States. During his administration, America’s economy languished. Carter inherited an energy crisis whose origins traced back to the early 1970s, caused in part by an overreliance on foreign oil. Carter advanced an energy agenda that included taxation of oil companies, decontrol of natural gas prices, and use of synthetic fuels. His plans were essentially blocked by Congress. Nonetheless, Carter signed legislation to clean up toxic waste dumps, mitigate surface mining damage, and preserve land in Alaska from development. The federal Department of Energy was created during his term.

William H. Natcher (d. 1994), longtime Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Kentucky, was born in Bowling Green. He received a law degree from Ohio State University in 1933. He won election to the House 20 times. He set an astounding record by placing 18,401 consecutive votes over his years in Congress. In 1992, Natcher became chair of the House Appropriations Committee.


Cousteau Letter to Natcher

(Click to enlarge.)

Cousteau’s letter to Congressman Natcher was written on Cousteau Society letterhead, and sent from the Cousteau Society’s headquarters in New York City to Natcher in the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C. Of the enclosed telegram Cousteau wrote, “I feel it contains a message of paramount importance.” He proposed that environmental protection could be America’s new “national cause” and wrote, “We hope that you will support the new President should he resolve to embark on this historic, courageous and absolutely imperative venture.”

Cousteau telegram to President-elect Carter

(Click to enlarge.)

Cousteau sent the telegram to Carter’s home in Plains, Georgia on November 5, 1976. On behalf of “the international scientific and environmental communities,” Cousteau congratulated Carter on his victory in the presidential election. He optimistically thought Carter could promote “greater environmental care” for the planet. Cousteau suggested that America “declare with appropriate drama an all-out crusade to develop safe, renewable and abundant sources of energy” and concluded the telegram by writing:

President Carter’s pledge to solve humanity’s severe energy problems would help save the much-abused life-systems of our planet, would encourage peace among nations and obstruct the mindless forces which now imperil the world we will leave our children and the future of our species.

The letter and telegram testify to Cousteau’s and Carter’s commitment to environmental issues. Throughout his lifetime, Cousteau advanced oceanographic research. For his part, President Carter has spent years well beyond his presidency promoting environmental projects and peacemaking efforts worldwide. Cousteau’s correspondence resonates in our own time as we continue to face major environmental and energy challenges.

Scott S. Taylor
Manuscripts Archivist 

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Students at St. Peter Claver School, St. Inigoes, Md.

June, 2021

The Georgetown University Library offers a wide variety of primary materials for those interested in learning more about slavery, emancipation, and African American history. In honor of Juneteenth—the holiday celebrating the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States—Library staff are highlighting materials from the manuscript, art, rare book, and archives holdings of the Booth Family Center for Special Collections and the Woodstock Theological Library. If you would like to know more about these items, or our other collections pertaining to slavery, freedom, and beyond, please contact us.

Rare Books

The Rare Book Collections hold works by Black writers exploring freedom, enslavement, the antislavery movement, and emancipation. Slave narratives—harrowing autobiographical accounts of individuals’ experiences of enslavement, usually written after escape—were particularly instrumental in exposing slavery’s horrors and galvanizing antislavery activism.

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, published in 1845, is perhaps the best known of these narratives. Taught to read the Bible by one of his enslavers, Douglass explores the impact of family separation, the violence of his enslavers on a Southern Maryland plantation, and the events leading to his escape to the North. The Narrative demonstrates the subversive power of literacy and the rationale for anti-literacy laws throughout the South. It quickly became a bestseller and solidified Douglass’s reputation as an exceptionally eloquent and insightful writer. Our 1846 copy of the work features a frontispiece portrait of Douglass, who would become the most frequently photographed American in the 19th century.

The Narrative of the Life of Frederik Douglass, title page and portrait

Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave (Boston, 1846).

Narratives by formerly enslaved people were also published after the culmination of the U.S. Civil War. Such texts often showed the extremely varied life experiences and accomplishments of Black individuals both before and after emancipation. One such text is Elizabeth Keckley’s 1868 narrative, Behind the Scenes, or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House. Born into slavery in 1818, Keckley became a successful dressmaker, and eventually used loans from her customers to purchase both her own freedom and that of her son. She moved to Washington, D.C. in 1860, set up a dressmaking shop, and became the dresser and personal friend of First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln. Our copy of Keckley’s narrative features the portrait of a successful businesswoman who was the close confidante of the most influential family in the country—and who had navigated life under enslavement, life as a free woman in slave society, and life after emancipation.

Behind the Scenes, or Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House title page and portrait

Elizabeth Keckley, Behind the Scenes, or Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House (New York: G. W. Carleton, 1868).

Our Rare Book Collections also contain a printed broadside of the Emancipation Proclamation. Such broadsides, widely produced and circulated, allowed members of the public to become intimately familiar with “The Great Event of the Age!”—the proclamation that declared enslaved people living in Confederate states to be free.

Emancipation Proclamation broadside

 “The great event of the age! Negro emancipation proclaimed!
Washington, January 1, 1863,
by the President of the United States of America, A Proclamation”
Newburyport, R. I.: A. J. Haynes, 1863.


The manuscript holdings of the Booth Family Center for Special Collections and the Woodstock Theological Library shed light on the lives of African Americans who lived and labored alongside the Jesuits in the mid-Atlantic region. Photographs from the Woodstock College Archives and the Archives of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus provide a particularly arresting glimpse into the rich communal lives of Black Catholics in Maryland.

After emancipation, some Black Catholics in the Maryland region remained loyal to the church and in the employment of the Jesuits, their former enslavers. Many participated in church sacraments and rituals, took pride in their Catholicism, and found community in their congregations. They established and contributed financially to their own sodalities, benevolent associations, feasts, and parish fairs—carving a separate social space that enabled them to provide one another with spiritual care, charitable assistance, and a common voice to address grievances within their churches. 

For example, at St. Alphonsus Church, which the Jesuits of Woodstock College ministered, Black people formed the St. Peter Claver Sodality. Its members reveled in the annual May Procession, a parade that honored Mary, the mother of Jesus. At St. Inigoes, the Black members of St. Michael’s Church separated from that parish to form St. Peter Claver Church. Its parishioners established a parochial school run by the Oblate Sisters of Providence to educate children of the poor agricultural community in that region. Both images—the May Procession and the Oblates portrayed with their students—suggest the importance of Black women in nurturing religious devotion and education in the 1920s and 1930s.

May Queen and attendants, St. Peter Claver Sodality

Dorothy Chance, Violetta Parker, Geraldine Parker, and Thomasene Chance
May Queen and Attendants, St. Peter Claver Sodality, Md., 1929
Woodstock College Archives, IP-3.5, Box 38

St. Peter Claver School c. 1933

Horace McKenna, S.J. and members of the Oblate Sisters of Providence with students of St. Peter Claver School, St. Inigoes, Md., c. 1933
Unidentified photographer, image found in a slide show used by the Jesuit community at St. Michael’s Catholic Church, Ridge, Md.
Archives of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus, Addenda Box 32
Click image to enlarge


The University Art Collection holds a growing number of works by Black artists and about the Black community in America. The following pieces address the promise of emancipation both from the contemporary vantage point and from subsequent generations, who continued to fight for its full realization. The Library is actively collecting in this area.

Nast's The Emancipation of the Negroes

The Emancipation of the Negroes, January, 1863—The Past and the Future in Harper's Weekly
Thomas Nast
Wood engraving
Click image to enlarge

Thomas Nast’s The Emancipation of the Negroes, January, 1863—The Past and the Future, straddles the pre- and post-emancipation eras. Printed for Harper’s Weekly shortly after the Emancipation Proclamation, this piece by Nast illustrates the horrific abuses of slavery on the left (violence, fear, objectification), but also the hopes of emancipation on the right (wages, property, education). A Black family is centrally located in a vignette of domestic tranquility, foregrounding the promise of emancipation. In a smaller vignette underneath, a New Year’s baby breaks the chains of an enslaved man.

Taylor's The Negro Mother

The Negro Mother
Prentiss Taylor, 1932
Click image to enlarge

This work by Prentiss Taylor was printed in 1932 for Langston Hughes’ The Negro Mother and Other Dramatic Recitations, and graces both the cover and the titular poem. Prentiss’ print beautifully captures the spirit of the poem, which is written from the vantage point of a symbolic mother, encompassing the previous generations of the enslaved. It is a cry to the generation of the 1930’s not to forget their ancestor’s past enslavement, but to use that collective experience of oppression as an inspiration to face the obstacles of the present. It ends with the following hope-filled call:

Remember my years, heavy with sorrow -
And make of those years a torch for tomorrow.
Make of my pass a road to the light
Out of the darkness, the ignorance, the night.
Lift high my banner out of the dust.
Stand like free men supporting my trust.
Believe in the right, let none push you back.
Remember the whip and the slaver's track.
Remember how the strong in struggle and strife
Still bar you the way, and deny you life -
But march ever forward, breaking down bars.
Look ever upward at the sun and the stars.
Oh, my dark children, may my dreams and my prayers
Impel you forever up the great stairs -
For I will be with you till no white brother
Dares keep down the children of the Negro Mother.

Walker's The Occupation of Alexandria

The Occupation of Alexandria from Harper's Pictorial History of the Civil War
Kara Walker, 2005
Click image to enlarge

Kara Walker’s The Occupation of Alexandria comments on the way in which narratives of the Civil War often place the Black community in the background. The silhouetted figure of a Black nude woman, with a child emerging from her back, foregrounds the monstrosity of slavery onto the typical historical narrative of heroic battles and military actions. At the same time, the figure of the child emerging calls to mind the new beginning and new freedom brought about by the abolition of slavery. 

Georgetown University Archives

Extensive documentation can be found in the Archives and manuscripts collections regarding the career of Patrick F. Healy, S.J., who entered the Jesuit order in 1850 and served as president of Georgetown University between 1873 and 1882. Within these considerable holdings, only one document clearly acknowledges what is now widely recognized: he was the first Black president of any college in the United States. 

Patrick Healy was the third son of an Irish-American planter from Georgia, Michael Healy, and a woman enslaved by him, Mary Eliza Smith. Michael Healy sent Patrick to Holy Cross in 1844 with the intention that he “pass” as white. There was awareness among other students of Patrick’s racial ancestry. In a letter written on November 23, 1853 to George Fenwick, S.J, former teacher at Holy Cross who sold the people owned by his family in the 1830s, Patrick Healy confessed to “very intense” anxiety: “Placed in a college as I am, near boys who were well acquainted either by sight or hearsay with me & my brothers, remarks are sometimes made (though not in my hearing) which wound my very heart.” Acceptance by Fenwick, and probably by Jesuits who benefited from slavery, was critical for Patrick Healy and his siblings to pass as white. They needed to become part of the culture of slavery themselves.

For more information, see Patrick F. Healy, S.J.: Georgetown University President, 1873-1882, a guide to primary and secondary sources developed by University Archivist Lynn Conway. 

Patrick F. Healy, S.J.

Patrick Healy, S.J., c. 1873
Photograph by Julius Ulke


Healy letter to Fenwick 1853

Healy to Fenwick letter 1853

Patrick Healy, S.J., to George Fenwick, S.J., November 23, 1853
Archives of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus, box 74, folder 1
Click images to enlarge

--Cassandra Berman, Archivist for the Maryland Province Archives
--Mary Beth Corrigan, Curator of Collections on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation
--Adrian Vaagenes, Digital and Archival Services Librarian, Woodstock Theological Library

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Art Collection
Rare Books
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Detail from 1925 Commencement program

March 29, 2021

In celebration of Women's History Month, we are introduced to four religious sisters who received bachelor's degrees from Georgetown University in 1925.

In the first decades of the 20th century, Georgetown University was conferring degrees upon religious sisters.

While this was relatively unusual at the time, degrees were awarded to Sisters of the Visitation of Holy Mary from neighboring Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School, and to the Sisters of Saint Francis (SSF or OSF), who administered Georgetown’s hospital and nursing school.

For instance, almost 100 years ago, in 1925, four religious sisters received their bachelor’s degrees at Georgetown. Sister Rosaline Doyle (OSF), Sister Josetta Frank (OSF), and Sister Rosella Delaney (OSF) received the bachelor of arts degree. Sister Flavia Egan, likely with the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, earned the bachelor of science degree in nursing. While the women’s names were not included in the 1925 Commencement program, they were recorded as graduates of the College in the published alumni directory of 1957.

Rediscovering the Past

When Sister Rosaline reached 100 years of age, a contemporary campus publication, Georgetown Today, ran an article, “At 100, Her Service Continues,” written by student Steven Lauria (SFS’75). Georgetown Today is available in the GU Archives. Lauria’s January 1974 article begins, “On December 1, Sister M. Rosaline Doyle, O.S.F. (C’25) did something few others have done: she celebrated her 100th birthday. Sister Rosaline, one of the first four women religious to receive a degree from Georgetown, has been a member of the Order of St. Francis since 1890, when she entered the novitiate at the age of 16.” Rediscovering Sister Rosaline’s place in Georgetown history resulted from recent archival sleuthing done by archivist Ann Galloway while researching an inquiry from Bill Cessato.

Sister Rosaline
Sister Rosaline

Georgetown Today, January 1974

First, Galloway found—in an official Georgetown record in the GU Archives—that a Sister Flavia Egan had received the bachelor’s degree at Georgetown in 1925. Further official records searches revealed that University leadership, in 1925, had approved College coursework and the conferral of bachelor’s degrees for the sisters. “The question of conferring degrees upon the sisters was considered,” a contemporary record reads. “Because of the peculiar situation at the time, the following sisters were allowed by the President [and] Directors of Georgetown College to enter our college courses [and] have completed the requirements for a degree[.]” (It remains unclear what the “peculiar situation” was, but the document did name the four women, albeit with a couple misspellings.) 

About the Sisters

Sister RosellaThe Sisters of Saint Francis of Philadelphia Archives in Aston, Pennsylvania provided copies of biographical, news (including a copy of the Georgetown Today article), and other materials about Sisters Josetta, Rosaline, and Rosella (see photo of Sister Rosella, left). According to the biographical material, Sister Rosaline (1873-1975), received a master’s degree in English from Villanova University in addition to her Georgetown B.A. Sister Rosella (1901-1985) went on to earn a master’s degree (thesis: “Demonstrative Pronouns in Late Latin”) and a Ph.D. (dissertation: “A Study of Clausulae in the Works of St. Ambrose”), both from The Catholic University of America. (Thanks to the CUA archives for confirming the degrees and sending the project titles.)  An obituary for Sister Josetta (1895-1965) in the North Adams (Massachusetts) Transcript noted, “She received her high school and college training at the Mother House . . . .”  Lastly, Sister Flavia (1877-1935, per a biographical outline provided by the Daughters of Charity in Emmitsburg, Maryland) served as the principal of St. Vincent’s Hospital’s School of Nursing in Bridgeport, Connecticut, according to obituaries in the Scranton (Pennsylvania) Republican and an unsourced news article preserved by the Bridgeport History Center. (Reviewed sources mention no Georgetown connection, so it is possible this is not the same person. However, in terms of timing and location, a December 1925 article in The Washington Post does list a Sister Flavia on the nursing staff at Providence Hospital in D.C. The biographical sheet and Scranton newspaper obituary place her at this facility as well.) 

Sister Mary Baptista Klein

Photo of the funeral Mass card for Sister Mary Baptista
Klein, VHM (1909-1998), courtesy of the St. Jane de Chantal Salesian
Center at Georgetown Visitation

Women Religious at Georgetown

While it is unclear if the four women religious attended College classes with men on the University’s campus, it is important to note that they were not the first sisters to receive Georgetown degrees. (That said, Sister Flavia may be the first person to have received a bachelor’s degree in nursing – something that would need to be investigated with more research.) Sisters from Visitation had already been receiving instruction from Georgetown professors at their monastery—adjacent to the university’s campus—and produced their first bachelor’s graduates in 1919.

“We were strictly cloistered during those days, and professors from Georgetown would come over and would teach a sister (or sisters) from behind a grille,” explained Sister Mada-anne Gell, VHM, the monastery archivist at Georgetown Visitation. “It was usually just one sister at a time in a class, but the Visitation rule required that no one sister could be with a man alone, so another sister was always assigned to be present in the class as well,” she noted. “No other sisters of any order accompanied them.”

The sisters received bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees, and one, Sister M. Baptista Klein, is listed in the 1935 Commencement Program as having received a Master of Arts in English.

Additionally, two Georgetown-educated nurses who were members of the Sisters of Saint Francis—Sister Mary Euphrasia Markham (Diploma 1920, John Carroll Award 1957) and Sister Joanilla Knott (Diploma 1916)—were recorded in the 1957 alumni directory as having received bachelor’s degrees in nursing at Georgetown in 1926. The women were not included in the 1926 Commencement program. Other sources—such as newspaper accounts and advertisements, archival records, and a written history of the nursing school by Dr. Alma Woolley—collectively seem to indicate that the two women, who were nursing school administrators, held their bachelor’s degrees.

Further Research

Certainly, Georgetown’s conferral of degrees upon women religious in the early decades of the 20th century is an area that merits much more thorough research, to gain a better understanding of the women’s biographies, the timelines and “firsts,” and how instruction itself occurred.

--Bill Cessato, Senior Director of Communications and Strategic Initiatives, School of Nursing and Health Studies
--Lynn Conway, University Archivist
--Ann Galloway, Assistant University Archivist

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Detail of baptismal record

March 19, 2021

In celebration of Women's History Month, Mary Beth Corrigan introduces us to two sisters who helped build a nurturing community for the Black congregation, free and enslaved, of Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Georgetown.

The Jesuits of the Maryland Province viewed the people enslaved by them both as a source of capital and as souls that they needed to save. It is now well known on  the Georgetown University campus that this twisted view of the humanity of the enslaved led to the Jesuit General’s sanction of the 1838 sale of more than 272 people, on the condition that families be kept together. 

Regardless, Black people remained a vital part of the Roman Catholic Church in the Washington D.C. area. Embedded within the Holy Trinity Church Archives is a partial explanation for this persistence, at least in Georgetown. Its earliest records reveal the leadership of sisters Liddy and Lucy Butler in the creation of a community of Black women who used the rites of the Catholic Church for their own purposes, specifically to help mitigate the impact of enslavement upon their families.1

Liddy and Lucy Butler probably arrived in Georgetown shortly after they were manumitted between 1790 and 1792. They were members of the well-known Butler family, who had successfully sued for their freedom by proving their descent from a white indentured servant named Nell Butler. The Butlers were one of several families who, with the backing of the Maryland Society for the Abolition of Slavery, challenged the legal basis of their freedom and threatened the wealthiest members of the Maryland gentry, including the Jesuits who had established Georgetown.2

William G. Thomas and his team of researchers at the University of Nebraska Lincoln have created “O Say Can You See: Early Washington D.C. Law & Family,”  a site that includes a digital collection of petitions for freedom, supporting documentation, and judgments. That collection provides some information on the background of Liddy and Lucy Butler. Of the cases filed by members of the Butler family, there was only one instance of women named Liddy and Lucy claiming the same mother, Elizabeth Butler who had eleven children in total. They had experienced the familial separations so common among enslaved peoples, collectively they sued nine different owners located in St. Mary’s, Charles, and Washington Counties. (Three of Elizabeth’s children were part of the suit against her owner Henry Hill in St. Mary’s County).3

Several of the Butlers formed a community with their siblings and extended family in Georgetown. Many became active members of Holy Trinity Catholic Church. Liddy and Lucy Butler stand out in the records, bringing enslaved and free Black people into that religious community. Liddy first appears as a godparent (listed as a sponsor) of the Baptism of Mary Ann Adams, the daughter of Liddy Adams, a free Black woman of “St. Mary County now in Georgetown.”4 Liddy and Lucy Butler took on the critical role of godparent during Baptismal rites numerous times during the first 30 years of the parish. Holy Trinity Church historian William Warner has identified Liddy as godmother for 38 children and Lucy for 27 children. In looking at the entire extended family, Warner maintains that the Butlers served as godparent for approximately one out of every three Baptisms among Black people. Warner credits Liddy and Lucy for their partnership with the priests of Holy Trinity in promoting its Black membership. That membership accounted for approximately one third of the entire congregation until the Civil War.5

Detail of Holy Trinity Baptism record

On April 17, 1808, Charles and Nelly designated Lucy Butler
as the godmother of their 16-month-old daughter Theresa.
The parents and child were enslaved by Thomas Peter, who
owned a plantation in Sugarlands in Montgomery County.
In 1805, Thomas Peter had constructed Tudor Place
as the urban mansion for his family. It is now a house
museum on 1644 Q Street, N.W.
From the Baptismal Register, 1805-1845, Archives of the Holy Trinity Catholic Church, p. 29.

Liddy and Lucy Butler both reflected longstanding communal practices and helped shape them in ways these numbers do not reveal. Godparentage was the domain of women within this Black congregation. White parents almost always named both a godmother and a godfather, whereas Black parents frequently designated one or two women with the critical role of supporting the religious education of the child and finding “a good and virtuous nurse,” in the event of the death of parents or the sale of a parent.6 Free and enslaved people participated in the Baptismal rites, reflecting the acceptance of enslaved Blacks within the Black community. For example, on April 20, 1797, Lucy sponsored the Baptism of Richard, the son of Sarah who was enslaved by prominent Scottish merchant Robert Peter of Georgetown.7 Sarah presented her son Richard for Baptism without the participation of his father. It was not unusual for the Butler sisters to sponsor the Baptisms of children without the presence of their fathers. On April 12, 1798, they both served as godmothers for the Baptism of Stephen and Francis Butler, the son of Henny, without the participation of his father.8 Nearly two out of every five Baptisms performed for black children before 1830 were presented by their mothers without the participation of their fathers, a rate far higher than those presented by white parents. This high incidence of non-participating fathers reflects in part the secondary role of men in Catholic rituals generally. It is also possible that an enslaved mother might hide the identity of a Black father lest he be objectionable to the mother’s owner, or in Georgetown without license from his own owner. The other possibility is that the Black mother was concealing the identity of a white father who forcibly coerced her into a sexual relationship.

Confirmation records, Holy Trinity Church

Confirmation Register showing the participation of
teenaged Black women in the rite that signalled
their commitment to religious education and practice.
The sacrament was performed by Archbishop Samuel Eccleston
of Baltimore on November 26, 1837.
From the Baptismal Register, 1835-1858 Archives of the Holy Trinity Church, p. 431.

It is difficult to overestimate the importance of the community centered upon women and children which Libby and Lucy Butler helped to create. The rite of Baptism conferred a social legitimacy to the parent-child relationship that did not exist in the law. Black family and community members could formalize obligations to protect each other’s children in the event of slave trade or death of a parent. Baptismal rites also implied the recognition of family relationships, particularly the parent-child relationship, by the broader congregation, one that included the people who enslaved them or other community members. 

The 1838 sale shows that this recognition could be brazenly disregarded, even by those priests who administered the sacrament of Baptism. However, while Black people feared sale above all, other routine decisions by others could also potentially disrupt the parent-child relationship. Enslavers established work schedules and set parameters on “off” hours, thereby limiting the time that parents could spend with their children. The limited recognition of the parent-child relationship conferred by Baptism strengthened the position of Black mothers seeking the space from their enslavers to properly raise their children.  By standing as godparent to so many in the community, Liddy and Lucy helped the Black people of Georgetown use Holy Trinity Church for their own purposes. They helped create a model followed by other Black women who became the heart and soul of Trinity’s Black congregation.

--Mary Beth Corrigan, Curator of Collections on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation


1. Parish histories recognize the importance of the Butlers: William W. Warner, At Peace with All Their Neighbors: Catholics and Catholicism in the Nation’s Capital, 1787-1860 (Washington: Georgetown University Press, 1994), 89-92; Bernard Cook, “Holy Trinity History, Part IV: The Butler Sisters,” Holy Trinity Church, accessed March 17, 2021.I first began my own research of the Black community within Holy Trinity Church parish in the 1990s. See “A Social Union of Heart and Effort: The African American Family on the Eve of Emancipation” (Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Maryland College Park, 1996) and “Making the Most of an Opportunity: Slaves and the Catholic Church in Early Washington,” Washington History 12:1 (Spring/Summer 2000), 90-101. Accessed March 17, 2021.

2. Her children with the defendants listed parenthetically were Joanna (Mary Boarman of Charles County), Lydia (James Carrico of Charles County), Lydia (Nicholas Swingle of Washington County), Augustus ‘Gustavus’ (William Thomas of St. Mary’s County), Chloe (Nicholas L. Sewall of St. Mary’s County), Clara (Patty Shade), Ignatius (William Craik of Charles County), Lucy (Benedict Wheeler of Charles County), Jerry (Henry Hill of St. Mary’s County), Jess (Henry Hill of St. Mary’s County), and Phillis (Henry Hill of St. Mary’s County). See the visualization of the Butler family and the links to the document transcripts of the legal cases provided by OSCYS, “Butler Family Network,” O Say Can You See, accessed March 17, 2021

3. William G. Thomas argues that the freedom suits filed by the Butlers, Mahoneys, and Queens threatened the underpinnings of slavery in Maryland. He explores especially the freedom suits filed by the Mahoneys and Queens against the Corporation of Roman Catholic Clergymen. On the Butlers, see William G. Thomas, A Question of Freedom: The Families Who Challenged Slavery from the Nation’s Founding to the Civil War (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2020), 24-27. Eleanor Nell Butler had married an enslaved man, Charles, just as the laws regulating slave families were changing in Maryland. By the terms of a 1664 law, she assumed the enslaved status of her husband so that they would, in turn, pass on that status to her children. Shortly after her marriage, Maryland law changed, providing that the mother’s status determined that of her progeny. Even though Nell’s children had yet to be born, the new law did not apply to Nell and her children. Her descendants waited, looking for the opportunity to sue for their freedom. In 1787, Mary Butler won her case against her enslaver Adam Craig. After he lost his appeal in 1791, the descendants of Nell Butler, the extended family of Mary, sued for their freedom.

4. Marriages and Baptisms, 1775-1805, Archives of the Holy Trinity Church, p. 6. Accessed March 17, 2021

5. Warner, William, At Peace with All Their Neighbors, 91.

6. Collet, Peter, Doctrinal and Spiritual Catechism (New York: B & J Sadler, 1853), 155-156.

7. Marriages and Baptisms, 1775-1805, Archives of the Holy Trinity Church, p. 18. Accessed March 17, 2021

8. Marriages and Baptisms, 1775-1805, Archives of the Holy Trinity Church, p. 39. Accessed March 17, 2021.

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Antislavery movement medallion

February 25, 2021

Early in this Black History Month, Woodstock Theological Archivist  Adrian Vaagenes alerted me to a journal entry in the papers of Stephen Dubuisson, S.J., part of the Maryland Province Archives held here at Booth.

Stephen L. Dubuisson, S.J.In an entry in his journal on January 29, 1832, Jesuit priest Stephen Dubuisson related the following incident, witnessed by an acquaintance on an unnamed street in the District of Columbia:

“A negro-buyer led some [enslaved people]… on the avenue. A member of Congress passing by, one of the negroes put up bound fists, and struck the tune ‘Hail Columbia.’”1

A second witness told Father Dubuisson of “the horribleness of the scene.” Yet another stated that there were “now 13,000 free people in the District” — a crude estimate of the number of free Blacks in the city. No mention was made of the number of enslaved individuals; it is possible that the speaker, like many white people, may have found the growing population of free Blacks to be alarming.2

The scene Dubuisson described is striking, of course, because of its visibility and its location: a slave trader leading people, either recently purchased or about to be sold, down a busy avenue in the young country’s central seat of government. This may have been near our present-day Mall, an area that at the time contained several slave pens.

Dubuisson journal entry

Dubuisson journal entry

But far more arresting are the specific actions of the enslaved man: described as raising his bound fists in the air and singing “Hail Columbia” so that a passing congressman must hear him and confront the physicality of his enslavement. The raised fists may have called forth the printed image of the “supplicant slave” — a kneeling Black man, bound wrists clasped and held up high, accompanied by the caption “am I not a man and a brother?” — which had been circulating in antislavery circles since the late 18th century.3 Yet in Dubuisson’s short description, there is suggestion that the man’s fists were raised not in supplication, but in defiance, forcing viewers (including a congressman) to contend with the horror of both his literal and figurative shackling.

Antislavery movement medallion

From John Greenleaf Whittier's
Poems written during the progress of the abolition question in the United States,
between the years 1830 and 1838.
Rare Book Collections, Levy PS3250.37

And then there was the man’s choice of song. For much of the 19th century, “Hail Columbia” operated as the de facto national anthem, describing the country’s hard-won independence and the ensuing sweetness of liberty, brotherhood, and freedom from figurative bondage — none of which would have been available to enslaved people, who as property were denied legal personhood, let alone the rights of republican citizenship.

Further, by the middle of the century, antislavery activists were using — and frequently reworking — the lyrics of “Hail Columbia” to illustrate the hypocrisy of American freedom in relation to slavery.4 In an 1861 edition of the antislavery newspaper The Liberator, for example, the song was reimagined with these opening lines: “Hail, Columbia, traitor’s land! Hail, ye negroes, captive hand…”5

The entry in Father Dubuisson’s journal makes clear that “Hail Columbia” was not just a tool of savvy publishers in the throes of the mid-century antislavery movement, but was in fact used by enslaved people in the early 1830s — as the antislavery press was just beginning — to publicly protest their condition. This is corroborated in the early (1817) antislavery publication by the white physician Jesse Torrey, who related a very similar scene, described to him by a member of Congress, in which “a drove of manacled colored people were passing by” the Capitol when one raised his chains “as high as he could reach” and “commenced singing the favorite national song, ‘Hail Columbia! Happy land….’”6

The fact that Stephen Dubuisson, a prominent white Jesuit and former president of Georgetown College, noted this incident in his journal also deserves examination. Dubuisson’s life was deeply entangled with the Atlantic slave trade and the labor of enslaved people. The son of slave-owning Creoles in Saint-Domingue (now Haiti), he and his family fled the colony for France in 1791, just before the outbreak of the “uprising” that would become the Haitian Revolution. As a young man, he became a Jesuit novitiate in 1815 at White Marsh, a tobacco plantation in southern Maryland that had, since the 1760s, been home to more enslaved people than any other Jesuit residence. 

After a short stint as the president of Georgetown College in the 1820s, Dubuisson served as pastor at several churches in D.C., Maryland, and Philadelphia, where his parishioners would have included both free and enslaved African Americans, as well as French slave-owning families who, like his own, had fled Haiti for the United States. And in 1836, Dubuisson revealed his thoughts on slavery. In a manuscript held by Archivum Romanum Societatatus Iesu and transcribed by the Georgetown Slavery Archive, he explained that while caring for slaves was difficult, and while the slaves themselves were often “excessively bad,” the Jesuits should neither sell the nearly 300 individuals they owned, nor should they free them, as “free negroes do not know where to go” and would be unable to deal with the “miseries and dangers” of life outside of bondage. (This was just two years before the Jesuits sold 272 enslaved individuals to traders in Louisiana.)7

While it may not be possible to find out more about the specific incident noted in Stephen Dubuisson’s journal, we do know that this was not an isolated incident; as Curator Mary Beth Corrigan notes, there were numerous crowded slave pens near the Capitol, the District of Columbia had “the most active slave depot in the nation,” and we have firsthand accounts of similar acts of defiance.8 Further, both the enslaved man who “hailed Columbia” in protest, and the free Jesuit who documented this action, reveal that the dichotomy of slavery and freedom permeated all aspects of life in the young nation’s capital. Moreover, enslaved people visibly and vehemently rejected their confinement, and in doing so, they established the parameters of its eventual dismantling.

--Cassandra Berman, Archivist for the Maryland Province Archives

Title page of Jesse Torrey's A Portraiture of Domestic SlaveryNotes:

  1. Maryland Province Archives, Box 12, Folder 3.
  2. For a discussion of white fear of the free black population in the District of Columbia, see Mary Beth Corrigan, “The Ties That Bind: The Pursuit of Community and Freedom among Slaves and Free Blacks in the District of Columbia, 1800-1860," in Southern City, National Ambition: The Growth of Early Washington, D.C. (Washington, DC: George Washington University, 1995).
  3. This image, which became one of the most iconic of the transatlantic antislavery movement, originated on a medallion made by British pottery manufacturer Josiah Wedgewood in 1787.
  4. Laura Lohman, Hail Columbia!: American Music and Politics in the Early Nation (Oxford University Press, 2020), 277.
  5. “Hail, Columbia!” The Liberator (April 19, 1861).
  6. Jesse Torrey, A Portraiture of Domestic Slavery (Philadelphia, 1817), p. 44. (See title page above. Rare Book Collections 94A284.) Thank you to Mary Beth Corrigan for alerting me to this incident, which is also quoted in her article “Imaginary Cruelties? A History of the Slave Trade in Washington, D.C.” Washington History, vol. 13 no. 2 (2001-2002), p. 5.
  7. “Dubuisson Memorandum” (1836), Provincia Maryland 1005, II, 4, pp. 1-8, Archivum Romanum Societatis Jesu.
  8. Mary Beth Corrigan, “Imaginary Cruelties? A History of the Slave Trade in Washington, D.C.” Washington History, vol. 13 no. 2 (2001-2002), p. 5.
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Georgetown Map 1793

December 1, 2020

Last month Cassandra Berman, Archivist for the Maryland Province Archives, sat down (virtually) with volunteer Kathleen Oakley to talk about her project this summer in the Booth Family Center for Special Collections.

What do you study, and what was the project you were working on for the Booth Family Center for Special Collections? 

Kathleen OakleyIn the summer of 2020, I was fortunate to work with the Booth Family Center for Special Collections and Professor Adam Rothman of the Georgetown Slavery Archive to commemorate the history of slavery at Georgetown University by creating a walking tour of significant sites on and near campus. At Skidmore College, I study American Studies and Dance. This project provided me with the opportunity to expand upon my interest in American history and culture by studying a new setting located close to my home.

Was this project your first exposure to public history and archival materials?  What had your knowledge of archives and primary sources been prior to the project?

Prior to working on this project, I had no significant experience in these areas. I had seen materials in Skidmore’s special collections and archives a number of times, but I never had the opportunity to work with them directly. I have, however, always had an interest in how we can tell stories through primary source material, and I was excited to explore the digital archives for this project.

What was it like to work on such an important topic?  How did this challenge your understanding of history, and of Georgetown?

This project was of particular significance with the rising national discourse on systemic racism and injustice in America following police violence against Black individuals. I think that Georgetown’s work on slavery, memory, and reconciliation serves as a reminder of the deep, often overlooked, historical ties many American institutions have to slavery and institutionalized racism. I hope this work challenges other institutions to reexamine their past and use this awareness to build an inclusive, just future. Similar initiatives should be undertaken at a variety of educational institutions. Many private schools in the Maryland-D.C.-Virginia area, for example, were founded in reaction to the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision declaring that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional; these schools attempted to uphold the segregation of young students.

Healy Hall

Healy Hall, commemorating Georgetown College President Patrick Healy,
who had been born into slavery in 1834.

How did you approach this project given COVID-19 restrictions?  Did this present any new opportunities for approaching the project creatively?

This project was completed fully remotely to accommodate COVID-19 safety guidelines. Meetings were held over Zoom, and the only access I had to campus was to photograph the sites themselves. While it was strange to work on an archival project without ever seeing the physical archives, the unusual situation pushed me to approach the project creatively. I wanted to design a walking tour that was engaging and fully accessible to accommodate our new, virtual world. The online setting of this project allows it to be accessed by anyone, from anywhere. I hope this expands the reach of the walking tour and the archival material on which it is based.

Philodemic Room

Philodemic Room, in which Georgetown students
debated the morality and legality of both slavery and abolition.

Has your work with archives and public history influenced your studies or your career objectives?  If so, how?

This project inspired in me a new interest in archives and public history. As a senior in college, I am looking at many options for the future, including programs and careers in museum studies and archives. Regardless of what path I choose, this experience has provided me with many skills that I can use throughout my academic and professional career.

What would you like other students to know about special collections?

There are an incredible number of fascinating resources in Special Collections that put forward important details and share captivating stories that inform our understanding of America’s past, present, and future. The staff is knowledgeable and welcoming, and I hope all Georgetown students get to interact with the Booth Family Center for Special Collections.

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Detail from Lisa Sergio Papers photograph

We're celebrating #AmericanArchivesMonth this October with reflections on the subject from some of our archivists here at the Library.

October 26, 2020

When I think about my own experience as an archivist, my thoughts always go back to the first major collection I ever processed: the personal papers of Italian-born NBC radio broadcaster Lisa Sergio (1905-1989). 

Personal papers are testaments of an individual’s life. Invariably such a collection will include personal letters, journals, photographs, and artifacts, a great proportion of which are hand-created and selected by the individual. This kind of material can bring a person to life by fleshing out their interests, thoughts, relationships, and physical surroundings in a way that no secondhand biographical account can achieve. The experience of plunging into someone’s life through their personal papers and paraphernalia and recording the discoveries—an activity that archivists call “arrangement and description”—is matchless.  While I was processing her collection, I felt as though I were immersed in Sergio’s living autobiography, and by the end of the project, I felt like I’d made a friend. 

Photo of Lisa Sergio with Helen Keller

Photograph of Helen Keller with Lisa Sergio, 1938.
Photo credit: Haas, N.Y. 
(Lisa Sergio papers GTMGamms172, 14:58)

There’s a kind of magic that happens when working with personal papers. The order of the materials is defined by the life to which they belong, and it is the duty of the archivist to follow the path laid out by the individual who created them. While processing the Lisa Sergio papers, the standout memory is that the collection came to life once the storage boxes were opened. As I arranged the material, I felt her relevance reviving and that I was assisting in making her lifetime achievements as a woman and an advocate for peace, women’s and human rights, discoverable to the world again.

Recruited by Mussolini as a news commentator for Rome’s 2RO Radio, Lisa Sergio was known as the “Golden Voice of Rome” and was instrumental in establishing shortwave radio programs in 21 languages. In 1937, an arrest order was issued against Sergio for her persistent anti-Fascist sentiment. She fled to the U.S., eventually gaining citizenship in 1944.  Already well‐known to American radio newscasters for her broadcasts in Italy. Sergio was invited to be a guest commentator for NBC by David Sarnoff, president of the Radio Corporation of America. Over the ensuing five decades, Sergio was commentator for New York City's WQXR and ABC radio in New York City, and for WMAL radio in Washington, D.C. With the advent of television, Sergio also hosted programs for NBC‐TV and ABC‐TV. 

During the late sixties, Sergio began extensive lecture tours around U.S. universities in response to the anti‐war movement. She spoke about women’s rights, the detrimental effect of war, and the promotion of peace. Her travels also took her to India, Israel and Jordan, where her focus was on improvement of living conditions, especially for women. She came into contact with both humanitarian and political leaders, including Raj Kumari Amrit Kaur and Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s minister of health and  prime minister, respectively; King Hussein of Jordan; and Anwar and Jehan Sadat of Egypt. Sergio’s dedication to humanitarian causes garnered her recognition, as well as the friendship of eminent Americans who included Helen Keller, Jacqueline Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Photo of Lisa Sergio with Martin Luther King Jr.

Photograph of Lisa Sergio with Martin Luther King, Jr. Undated.
(Lisa Sergio Papers, GTM.Gamms172; 14:38)

The Lisa Sergio papers, GTMGamms172 are open to researchers at the Georgetown University Library Booth Family Center for Special Collections.

--Lisette Matano, Manuscripts Archivist

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Detail from Parmelee's Road to Vermont

October is American Archives Month. To celebrate, we asked Georgetown undergraduate student Sophie Bennett about her experience working at the Booth Family Center for Special Collections with the University Art Collection this summer.

October 21, 2020

What do you study, and what have you been working on at the Booth Family Center for Special Collections?

Sophie BennettI am a sophomore at Georgetown, studying art history and French. This summer, I researched women printmakers and identified keywords for works in the Booth Family Center for Special Collections by those women printmakers. 

What have you learned about special collections and archives during your time at Booth?  What had been your exposure to special collections before you started working at Booth?

Before this opportunity, I had the chance to enjoy works from Georgetown’s special collections a few times as part of my art history courses. I suspect that being an art history student is advantageous in that regard; many people do not question the value of seeing a work of art in person. I would argue that viewing rare books or manuscripts actually has some of the same benefits as viewing an artwork in person. It isn’t just about being able to get a closer look—there’s also power in being in a space that’s designated for reflection. I think that enables a person to understand the gravity of an important document. 

Having worked with Booth this summer, I’ve certainly gained an appreciation for its function as a space for people to learn in an intimate way. This appreciation grew as I learned about the breadth of the collection but it was also a result of our current circumstances, where museums and libraries are more inaccessible or closed altogether due to Covid restrictions.

Can you tell us about an especially interesting item that you've come across in the Art Collection?  What did you do to find out more about it?

More than a single item, I was fascinated by the lives and shared experiences of some of the female printmakers in the collection. It was wonderful to see that Booth has accrued works from a range of female artists, some very well known and others barely recorded in history. Women printmakers at both ends of the spectrum worked hard to sustain their careers; and by virtue of their gender and the time in which they lived, female artists relied on the same kinds of paying jobs to keep their artistic careers afloat. Both Wanda Gág and Marie Laurencin, for example, illustrated children’s books. It’s made me think a lot about the subjects and media that women artists have turned to in history, and whether those patterns were a reflection of choice or of gender norms. It makes me especially appreciative of the fact that artists such as Gág and Laurencin are represented beyond those traditional roles in the collection and given the opportunity to be viewed as artists with a diverse skill set.

Laurencin's Alice dans le Vallee

Marie Laurencin
Alice dans le Vallee
Lithograph, 1930

Has your work with the Art Collection influenced your studies or your career objectives?  If so, how?

I find myself thinking a lot more about what it means to have a functional collection. In art museums, a tiny fraction of the works in their possession are on view in a given month. I used to find this fact quite frustrating, but I’ve grown to see that a collection has to be quite diverse and expansive before you can start curating shows and engaging with the public. The smaller and more uniform the collection, the worse equipped the institution is to present relevant material to its audience. I’ve also learned how important it is to honor the works of an artist by researching their life; for one artist I researched, the only source I could find was from a family member a couple of generations down from her. If we had waited too long, the family lore would have become less reliable or even have disappeared. That ongoing commitment to learning more is how you give an artwork, and its creator, meaning and depth. Should I be so fortunate as to end up working in the art world, I hope to resist the temptation of a mainstream name, or simplified narrative of an artist’s life, in hopes of uncovering complicating but important biographical details or a new artist.

Parmelee's Road to VermontTerry Parmelee
Road to Vermont
Woodcut on paper, 1978


What would you like other students to know about special collections?

Undergraduates use quiet spaces to study—as in, review. But quiet spaces can also be used to study—as in, analyze. I believe that learning is even more enriching when it is unhurried and unguided. The Booth Family Center for Special Collections is the perfect place for an unhurried and unguided experience, and I hope that more students use it for that purpose; that is, as a place to remember the joy of learning.

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Art Collection