Catholics in New York, 1808-1946
Catholics in New York 1808-1946, on view May 16 through December 31, 2008, at the Museum of the City of New York, will explore the social and political history of the diverse group of people who established the formidable Catholic presence in New York. The exhibition, the first of its kind, traces their growth from a tiny religious minority to a powerful force in the city and shows how, by organizing to build their own communities, institutions, and political organizations, Catholics reshaped the fabric of life in all five boroughs. A companion illustrated publication, edited by Terry Golway and published by Fordham University Press, will be available in the Museum’s Shop.
The exhibition is organized around three central themes:
- How Catholic community life revolved around New York's parishes, starting with the earliest, such as St. Peter's, old St. Patrick's, and St. Brigid's in Manhattan, and the distinctive subculture that arose in their heavily Catholic neighborhoods;
- The creation of a vast system of health, education, and social welfare institutions, including parochial schools, the New York Foundling Hospital, and healthcare centers such as St. Vincent's Hospital in Manhattan and St. Mary’s Hospital in Brooklyn, originally founded by Catholics to provide services that embraced their religion and that would be insulated from anti-Catholic prejudice; and
- The rise of Catholics as a force in New York politics, framed by such New York figures as William R. Grace (1832-1904), the Irish-born businessman who in 1880 was elected the first Catholic mayor of New York City; Alfred E. Smith (1873-1944), the governor from the Lower East Side who became the first Catholic to be nominated by a major political party for President of the United States, in 1928; Vito Marcantonio (1902-1954), the Congressman and American Labor Party leader from East Harlem; and many others.
Woven throughout all three sections is how this "community of immigrants" defended its Catholic identity in response to widespread anti-Catholicism. The exhibition begins with a prologue that looks at anti-Catholicism in the colonial period; it concludes with the implementation of the G.I. Bill, which paved the way to higher education, low-cost home mortgages, and ultimately the migration to the suburbs for many of New York’s Catholics, and with an epilogue that presents the new face of Catholic New York since World War II.
Interactive Online Feature:
Explore an interactive map of parochial schools in New York in 1945 and add your own memories and photos. View the map.
In addition to the exhibition, the Museum will present a number of evening public programs on topics related to Catholics in New York 1808 - 1946. The Francis and Ann Curran Center for American Catholic Studies at Fordham University, will also present the Bicentennial Lecture Series on New York Catholics.
Featured image: [Sachems of Tammany Hall, 1929], including Mayor James J. Walker and Governor Alfred E. Smith. Museum of the City of New York, gift of The Family of Geovernor Alfred E. Smith, 45.117.260