Take It On Faith With The Evolution of Christmas in the Annual Number of “The Tidings,” Los Angeles, Christmas 1924, Part Three

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

In this third part of a post delving into the diverse contents of the 1924 annual edition of the Los Angeles-based Roman Catholic weekly newspaper, The Tidings, we’ll look at an interesting variety of features related to Church activities during the year as well as those with specific Christmas content.

An example of the latter is one of several works of holiday fiction in the publication, this being “The Voice in the Room” by Anna C. Minogue (1874-1958), born in Kentucky to Irish parents and who was a journalist for a Catholic newspaper published by the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and a writer of many articles and books with religious themes.

This short story concerned David Lee, who is met waiting in the garden outside the house of the wealthy John Buchanan. Lee, we learn, was uprooted “from his peaceful pursuits and sent . . . across the seas to fight” and “the decorations which he had carried back on his coat [and] his shattered health” were testimony to his service for the American Expeditionary Force in the First World War.

Beyond that, however, when he was discharged and returned home to the United States “pestilence had killed the few who loved him, save one, and she had disappeared.” This referred to the terrible flu pandemic of 1918-1919 that killed hundreds of thousands of Americans and tens of millions of people worldwide. With the double tragedy of war and the pestilence, Lee “began to drift, finding work where he could” but, on this evening “he was going to make his stake and quit it.”

Buchanan, he learned, was going “to present his twin daughters with ten thousand dollars apiece” and Lee, having posed as a magazine salesman and obtained entrance to the house to scope it out, even getting an invitation from the servants to eat lunch with them and during which he learned much about the owner and his habits.

Lee’s plan was to steal the money, invest in oil and farm land in Texas and then reimburse Buchanan “for his involuntary loan.” As the entire household headed out to Midnight Mass to welcome Christmas, Lee used a key he had found from his earlier visit and stole into the mansion, but he found an elderly woman, two young girls and a middle-agd man in one room. In an adjoining room, the holiday hymn “Adeste Fideles”, also known as “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” coming in over the radio.

After hearing the song, all but the old woman left for Mass and she went to bed. Though shaken that someone remained in the house, Lee “was going to do this thing. He was no thief. He was only borrowing some money from this man, who could well afford it.” With a mask over his lower face and wearing cotton gloves to leave no fingerprints, Lee headed toward Buchanan’s bedroom, but when he entered, he heard “Merry Christmas!”

Staggered, Lee recognized the voice of Agnes, his long-lost sister and only survivor in his family of the pandemic, and learned that she was the singer on the radio program who then uttered the holiday greeting. Overwhelmed by the coincidence, Lee crept out of the house and pondered that “he had gone into that house to steal, and had heard Agnes wishing him Merry Christmas. As he wandered away, dazed, he entered a church and “when his eyes found the altar, he sank to his knees” and his conscience “passed sentence upon himself.”

Later that morning, he returned to the house to confess his intentions and the benevolent Buchanan pondered “who can measure what we owe them—the women who stand between” the desperate desires and the corrective conscience of men. Buchanan then informed Lee that Agnes just happened to be a friend of the twin girls, who arranged for her to sing to their grandmother. Agnes told the Buchanans that she had a brother who went missing during the war, lost her parents to the flu, and pursued her voice lessons by working in a music store as a clerk—and, the elder man told the younger, “her voice is making her rich, as well as famous.”

Then, Buchanan suddenly informed Lee that he was looking for a private secretary and confidential agent and hired him on the spot, adding that Agnes was joining the family for dinner so he would take Lee to reunite with his sister and then return for the holiday feast. After informing his daughters and mother of the stunning turn of developments, Buchanan proclaimed “It’s a Merry Christmas for us all!”

Among a few holiday poems is one simply titled “Christmas” by Catherine Hayes and a few of the lines include:

Sweetest story ever told,

Rings around the world: “Behold,

Tidings glad I bring;

For the Promised Lord is born

In the royal town this morn,

Christ, the Saviour King!”

Gladness speeds their winging feet,

Through the hushed and silent street,

Shepherds questing go . . .

Sweet the vision to behold,

Heedless of the wintry cold

Reverent they kneel.

Only Joseph, manly, true,

Tender Maid in mantle blue

Wraps her Infant fair;

Humble group of Heaven’s lending,

With their presence grace descending—

Earth is changed fore’er

A section on “Our Catholic Societies” included a lengthy report on the Knights of Columbus, a fraternal service order founded in 1882 and which grew by leaps and bounds in the early 20th century, by Joseph Scott, who was so prominent during his long life, which extended from 1867 to 1958, that he was known as “Mr. Los Angeles.” Scott happened to be born in Penrith, England, just three miles from Clifton, where William Workman was raised, in a remote section of the far north of the country.

A prominent attorney involved in such landmark trials as that involving the MacNamara brothers and their bombing of the Los Angeles Times building in 1910 and a 1940s paternity suit against famed comedian Charles Chaplin, Scott was also a longtime Board of Education member, a president of the Chamber of Commerce, sought-after speaker and heavily involved in Catholic charitable work.

He was also the first State Deputy of the Knights of Columbus and nationally known within the society with his report covering such issues as efforts to pass anti-parochial school laws as well as matters concerning Catholic schools in Los Angeles and the challenge of Catholics to both pay taxes to support public education and contrbutions toward maintaining parochial schools.

Also covered was a report by the state president of The Ancient Order of Hibernians, a fraternal society made up of Catholic Irish-Americans, which term, C.F. Horan offered, “is not a hyphenation, it is a reinforcement” of loyalty and patriotism to both Irish ancestry and traditions and American citizenship. He added that the Irish did not claim to the best Catholics “but for the last fifteen centuries they have shown the best average,” presumably in terms of representation and involvement.

The Catholic Order of Foresters is a fraternal benefit society which emphasizes life insurance as a key to financial well-being and state secretary Fred Walsh gave a report on the order generally, noting that the Los Angeles chapter was formed in 1896 thirteen years after the society was established. The financial secretary of the Young Men’s Institute, which started in San Francisco with a chapter newly organized in Los Angeles, reported that, while it hoped to build a clubhouse, gym, library and other institutions, there were activities held in 1924, including acncert and a baseball game with Hall of Fame pitcher Walter Johnson, who spent part of his youth in the Olinda oil fields in Brea, as a featured player.

For women, there was the Catholic Women’s Club, formed in 1916 and which dedicated its clubhouse in 1923, with Mrs. D. Joseph Coyne, its first vice-president and general curator, reporting that its many departments, such as Art and Travel, Drama, California History and Landmarks, French and Spanish, Music, Public Welfare, and more, were quite active. Meanwhile, there was a Business and Professional Women’s Section hosting dinners with speakers and a Study Circle on Church history, while dance and gymnasium classes were also set up.

This was the namesake firm of a 11-story commercial building (which still stands) in Los Angeles built by Walter P. Temple and associates and completed earlier in 1924,

The Ladies’ Catholic Benevolent Association, established about 1890, was stated to be “in the forefront ranks of fraternal societies” and among the most successful of the insurance fraternities. It was added that “the funds are invested first in mortgages on diocesan properties” as well as government bonds and municipal securities, while it gave generously to homes for the elderly and orphans and to hospitals and missions.

A corollary to the Knights of Columbus is the Catholic Daughters of America, with over 200,000 members in 1,000 courts, or chapters, in 1924, while $335,000 was given to charitable endeavor the previosu two years. There was also a Young Ladies’ Institute of thirty years’ standing in the state and with almost 10,000 members with Institutes in such local cities as Los Angeles, Anaheim, Alhambra, Glendale, Santa Mnica, Santa Ana, and Pasadena. There were sick and death benefits and an employment bureau, while the Anaheim group participated in Independence Day parades and the Pasadena contingent entered floats, including a first-prize winner, in the Tournament of Roses. Charity work for Catholic assistance homes and Americanization programs were also featured.

A special contributor addressed “The Immigrant Problem in Los Angeles” by answering five questions: Was there a problem? What was the importance for Catholics? What were Catholics doing for Americanization efforts? What were the needs of impoverished Mexicans in Los Angeles? and What were immigrants contributing to society?

It was reported that there were over thirty foreign-language newspapers in the city with about a quarter million regular readers, while twenty languages were spoken, from an estimated 500 Portuguese to nearly 43,000 Mexicans with another 120,000 persons represented in others, mostly Italian, German and French. It should be noted, however, that there was no representation of Asians in this report, which also observed that “the new Federal immigration law now in effect [the nation’s first such law, passed earlier in 1924] will seriously affect the number of immigrants coming in from certain countries” because of the quota system implemented and not withdrawn until the mid-Sixties. With respect to that first question, the stats provided “convey a general idea of the problem which is ours to meet” and the fact that this was followed by the statement that there were 50,000 or more Mexicans in Los Angeles and triple that in the county is telling.

For the second question, ther were Poles, Hungarians, Armenians, Slavs and others who were often Catholic, but the majority of immigrants of that religion were Italians and Mexicans, but the former, it was aserted, “offers few problems other than religious ones,” while the latter presented “a serious social and economic one as well.” Italians, it was stated, largely resided in Lincoln Heights, Boyle Heights and nearby sections, while Mexicans were concentrated in the Plaza area, what later became Chinatown, Palo Verde in the Elysian Hills, and the industrial section near the river and across it in “The Flats” of Boyle Heights, as well as in rapidly growing numbers at Maravilla and Belvedere Park [Gardens] in what soon became known as East Los Angeles just outside limits. Further out, such as in Watts, which was not annexed by Los Angles until 1926, Mexicans were migrating “and many of them are buying their own homes on the installment plan.”

As for Americanization, it wasn’t just teacing English or Civics, it was “imparting the ideals of America” including “freedom of opportunity,” the effort “to develop spiritually, intellectually and physically, learning what citizenship entailed, appreciating what democracy was and “providing them an opportunity to contribute their share for the common good.” Also highlighted was finding a man jobs “for which he is fitted” and a woman “betterment of her home conditions”while Catholicism was uniquely suited “as one of the strongest bulwarks against Bolshevism, and a safeguard for the integrity of our Republic.”

Regarding the needs of poor Mexicans, housing was paramount, as “although he pays a high rest, he can find nothing but a dilapidated house or perhaps a few rooms, in which to live,” while sanitary conditions were such that illness and juvenile delinquency were considered an obvious result of substandard housing. Almost as vital was employment because “these people want to work” and it was essential to have a means for “providing emergency work for them, instead of making it necessary for them to accept charity.”

This led to the last point, having to do with the immigrant’s contributions to society and the answer deserves a full quote:

Much has been said of what we are trying to do for the immigrants but we must not overloook the fact that he has a great deal to offer to us. After all, is not America what it is today because of the contributions from many lands? Are not every one of us, except the [American] Indian, either immigrants ourselves, or the descendants of immigrants? Is there not an opportunity for each one of us, from whatever land we or our forefathers may have come, to do our part in maintaining for America the place we feel it now occupies as the greatest country in the world?

Lastly, there is a report on “The Diocesan Council of Catholic Women” issued by Mary Julia Workman (1871-1964), grand-niece of Homestead founders William and Nicolasa Workman and daughter of the late William H. Workman, former mayor and city treasurer of Los Angeles. A long-time schoolteacher (she retired in 1923), Workman was also heavily involved in Catholic charitable endeavors, most notably the establishment of the Brownson House, which worked with immigrant communities, including with Americanization programs, and was honored by Pope Pius XI for her years of contributions.

In her article, Workman noted that the diocesan council was formed in April 1923 as a branch of the national organization and the current year included the loaning by the national council of Dr. Anne M. Nicholson to conduct field work for the local chapter, including meetings in the eight southern California counties embraced within the its domain to talk with priests and women parishioners. In June 1924, the new regional council met and there were “Catholic speakers of note, experts in social and moral questions” andothers who participated in the proceedings, which culminated in Workman’s election as the organization’s first president.

Using the 1920 census for data, a quota system for membership fees and other means of financial system to be contributed by the eight counties for the council’s budget, though it was hoped that individual member fees would suffice in providing the necessary funds for staffing an office with a salaried executive secretary, Mary K. Clary, a California native and recent graduate of the National Catholic Service School in Washington, D.C. stationery and like expenses.

Also important as part of the development effort was “to secure the affiliation of existing organizations of Catholic women,” while those locales that wanted to form an organization could avail themselves of the use of the executive secretary for assistance on request of a county president of the council. Another key project was to connect with recently arrived immigrants through the national council’s immigrant welfare offices at Ellis Island, El Paso and Washington, D.C. because “many foriegn-born Catholics have been lost to the Church in times past because whn they were strangers in a strange land they made other than Catholic contacts and formed other than Catholic associations.” The goal was to have a chairperson in every city and town and, for larger municipalities, in every parish.

In noting that the upbuilding of the council would take much effort, Workman added,

Women are capable of great service in the cause of religion and in the building of a sound national life. In the world of today, woman’s genius for humanity is needed in alliance with man’s genius for commce, in order to keep uppermost those human and spiritual values that are sometimes overlooked amid the complexity and competition of the modern commercial world. In all that relates to the conservation of human life, the preservation of the home, the educaton and the welfare of children [and] right conditions of living, women have an important part to play. In the grave matter of internaional co-operation to prevent war and to substitute methods of conference be[t]ween nations for methods of conflict, women also have a profound interest. It is they who give of tir very life when they send their sons to take part in the brutal and useless arbitrament of war.

She went on to note that “the holy women of old followed the Saviour of mankind to Calvary when all of the apostles, save one [John], had fled.” These women did not falter, but increased their devotion, faith, love and sympathy and this same spirit, Workman continued, was present in modern efforts.

“The Council of Catholic Women,” she added, “seeks to make women conscious of their united power for good” by harnessing the intelligence and energy of its members “in the advancement the cause of right and truth in the world of today.” Should this be accomplished, “there will surely dawn again that day that came to reward the women who followed the Saviour, for they will be among the first to see a world risen with Christ from the darkness of the tomb of materialism to a new life of renewed spiritual vigor.”

Tomorrow, we’ll conclude this four-part post with a look at features pertaining to the growth and development of Los Angeles (built, as expressed by Workman, by “man’s genius for commerce” and reinforced by pages of portraits of “Representative Men of Southern California,” though none of women), editorials about Christmas, and another Christmas poem, so please check in for that.

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