Manhattanville students at March on Washington

Social Action at Manhattanville

We are proud to share two digital collections that document the tradition of social action at Manhattanville.

The collections were made possible through grants funded by the Metropolitan Library Council and are generously hosted on their website.

 

In 1933, decades before the Civil Rights Movement transformed the nation, the Manhattanville community took a decisive stand in the fight against racism and discrimination. Over the next thirty-five years, as a founding member of the National Federation of Catholic College Students, Manhattanville created publications, hosted events, participated in demonstrations, and solidified its place as a beacon to other socially aware colleges.

 

The first digital collection features 150 items that focus upon Manhattanville’s early involvement in the Civil Rights Movement from Mother Dammann’s Principles Versus Prejudices Speech in 1937 to the March from Selma to Montgomery in 1965.

View the Collection


In 2013 Manhattanville expanded its NFCCS digital holdings through a collaborative project with fellow NFCCS member College of New Rochelle. The collection includes 200 additional documents and photographs from both of our archives that displays both colleges strong commitment to social action.

NFCCS Digital Collection

 

These digital collections bear witness to the individuals who worked for change, and salutes the tradition of social action that remains an integral part of Manhattanville today. To see selected items from the exhibits please explore the sections below.

 

 

At the start of the 1930s, the college consisted of just over 200 students. Though small, the school confronted the decade with a unique spirit and made headlines across the nation. It was not only the decision to admit an African American student in 1938 that captivated America, but also the passionate defense of this decision offered by college president G Dammann, R.S.C.J. that would establish Manhattanville as a true leader in the field of social action.
Catholic Action Council leaflet 1933
 

The Manhattanville Resolutions, May 3, 1933.

These resolutions mark the first decisive action by the Manhattanville community to condemn the racial discrimination of the day.
Typewritten letter from Father John LaFarge about admitting black student
 

John LaFarge, S.J. Letter to Grace Dammann, R.S.C.J. February 17, 1938.

Impressed by Manhattanville's independent spirit, Father John LaFarge approached President Dammann regarding the admission of an African American student.
Type written letter from Grace Dammann on blue parchment paper
 

Grace Dammann, R.S.C.J. Letter to Gertrude Bodkin, R.S.C.J. February 19, 1938.

Reverend Mother Bodkin responded with assurances that students would have no problems with an African American student, but warns however, "Those who will feel worst about it are some of our own nuns and the Alumnae." Days later the admission is put to a vote with 80% of students voting in favor of allowing the student to attend.
typewritten letter signed by Bodkin on yellowed paper
 

Gertrude Bodkin, R.S.C.J. Letter to Grace Dammann, R.S.C.J. February 22, 1938.

Reverend Mother Bodkin responded with assurances that students would have no problems with an African American student, but warns however, "Those who will feel worst about it are some of our own nuns and the Alumnae." Days later the admission is put to a vote with 80% of students voting in favor of allowing the student to attend.
Typewritten anonymous letter on yellowed paper
 

Anonymous Alumnae. Letter of Protest. May 1938.

Hearing of the decision, seven anonymous alumnae mailed this letter to alumnae, family members, and friends of the college. The letter asked alumnae to respond by Class Day May 31, 1938.
Handwritten letter of protest against admitting black students
 

"The Indignant Present." Letter of Protest to Grace Dammann, R.S.C.J. May 1938.

 
Typewritten letter of protest signed "an old graduate"
 

"An Old Graduate." Letter of Protest to Grace Dammann, R.S.C.J. May 19, 1938.

 
Typewritten letter of support from Mrs. Joseph Diggles
 

Letter of Support to Grace Dammann, R.S.C.J. May 15, 1938.

Letters of support far outnumbered the letters of protest sent to Mother Dammann.
"I wish to commend you for your progressive step in admitting young ladies regardless of their race into the full privileges of Manhattanville College."
Western Union Telegraph dated May 17, 1938 Protest with heartfelt dismay
 

Telegram of Support to Grace Dammann, R.S.C.J. May 17, 1938.

"Protest with heartfelt dismay the recent anonymous letter which I received concerning your just and splendid decision..."
 
 

Letter of Support to Grace Dammann, R.S.C.J. May 1938.

"Since it asked for letters of protest, I think it only fair for that letters of agreement also be sent."
 
 

Invitation to Class Day, May 31, 1938

Typescript draft of the "Principles Versus Prejudices" speech with handwritten notes by Grace Dammann, R.S.C.J. 1938.
 
 

"Principles Versus Prejudices". Tower Postscript. Summer 1938.

President Dammann's speech was reprinted in this alumnae publication as well as several national publications including The Interracial Review.

National Federation of Catholic College Students

The Creation of the National Federation of Catholic College Students (1937-1960) The growth of social action among the Manhattanville community led to interest in the Pax Romana organization. Pax Romana was an international Catholic Action organization based in Europe that sought to unite young people and share ideas regarding social action.
 
 

Winifred Byles Letter to Delegates October 4, 1937

Because Pax Romana only collaborated with other National organizations, Manhattanville student Winifred Byles invited delegates from area Catholic colleges to meet October 24, 1937 at the Manhattanville campus and form the National Federation of Catholic College Students.

 
 

Winifred Byles. Speech to Delegates October 24, 1937

It was at this October 24, 1937 meeting that the National Federation of Catholic College Students (N.F.C.C.S.) was founded. "Small fires have been lit, and while we watch these fires are spreading and joining one with another... …Why should one college not give to the next one the benefit of its fine activities?" The N.F.C.C.S. grew from sixteen colleges at its first meeting to 137 member college by 1947.

 
 

Interracial Forum March 1, 1947

In 1945 Manhattanville began hosting an annual Interracial Justice Week.  These weeks consisted of lectures, discussions, and cultural events.

 
 

Interracial Forum March 1, 1947

Manhattanville President Eleanor O'Byrne, R.S.C.J. (third from left) chats with John LaFarge, S.J.

Jocelyn Bailey and Teruko Ugaya playing piano together
 

"Picture Story: Principle Conquers Prejudice." Catholic Digest. September 1949

This Catholic Digest celebrated the diversity of the Manhattanville student body of 400 representing 21 countries. The photographs also captured the last few years of the college on its Manhattan campus. Manhattanville College moved to Purchase, N.Y. in 1952.

 
 

"N.F.C.C.S. Social Action May Establish Here." The Centurion. May 12, 1960

As the N.F.C.C.S. continued to grow and divide into various regions, the organization struggled to find a proper method of nation-wide communication. This spurred a reorganization of the entire N.F.C.C.S., resulting in four main branches of responsibility, each to be led by a particular campus.

 
 

1960 National Federation of Catholic College Students Annual Conference. Louisville, Kentucky

Manhattanville was elected the Seat of the Social Action Secretariat during the annual N.F.C.C.S. conference held in Louisville, KY from August 29-September 3, 1960.

 
 

The Social Action Secretariat - Publications (1960)

Immediately following the placement of the Social Action Secretariat at Manhattanville College, members of the group began to compose a series of booklets to keep N.F.C.C.S. members informed of the most recent developments in social action issues. Racial discrimination was the first topic tackled by the Social Action Secretariat (S.A.S.).

 
 

1960 National Federation of Catholic College Students Annual Conference. Louisville, Kentucky

1960 National Federation of Catholic College Students Annual Conference. Louisville, Kentucky

 
 

The Social Action Secretariat - Publications (1960)

Immediately following the placement of the Social Action Secretariat at Manhattanville College, members of the group began to compose a series of booklets to keep N.F.C.C.S. members informed of the most recent developments in social action issues. Racial discrimination was the first topic tackled by the Social Action Secretariat (S.A.S.).

For more information please contact:

  • Lauren Ziarko, Archivist and Special Collections Librarian

    Manhattanville College Library
    2900 Purchase St. 
    Purchase, New York 10577