St. Patrick’s Church, Washington D.C., 26 November 1914: the mood was somber the first Thanksgiving of the Great War
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. I thought I would share these photographs from the Pan American Mass held at Washington D.C.’s St. Patrick’s Church in 1914. St. Patrick’s Monsignor William T. Russell conceived the idea of a Pan American Mass after hearing President Taft’s Thanksgiving proclamation in mid November. The monsignor pitched the idea to his boss Cardinal Gibbon who signed off on the idea. The Pan American concept goes back to the Pan Am Expo held in Buffalo nearly a decade earlier. That is of course where McKinley was killed and Roosevelt ascended to the presidency in 1901. William Howard Taft attended all four Thanksgiving Pan American Masses during his presidency.
Though undefined in the crowd, William Jennings Bryan was in attendance that Thanksgiving Day. His attendance at the Pan American Mass assuaged concerns of Protestant exclusion and signaled America’s determined neutrality in the escalating war.
Woodrow Wilson was there in 1913 but conspicuously absent in 1914. It seems there was a messy public dispute after the 1913 Thanksgiving mass when Protestants complained about what they saw as the mass’s exclusion. Wilson was at his retreat house in Williamsport, Massachusetts with his daughter, the two quietly celebrating Thanksgiving while mourning the death of his wife and her mother Ellen. Mrs. Wilson had hied the first of August during what turned out to be the first week of the Great War. Three months later peace was the topic of the day in St. Patrick’s. The president’s personal aide, Joe Tumulty, and his Secretary of State, William Jennings Bryan, represented his that Thanksgiving day. Tumulty and Bryan were wise if subtle choices; Tumulty was a practicing Catholic and Bryan a devout Protestant pacifist. With war in Europe entering its fourth month Bryan’s attendance signaled to both domestic and foreign audiences that the United States was determined to stay out of it.
St. Patrick’s marked the Pan American Thanksgiving Mass well into the 1950s, with presidents, ambassadors and Supreme Court justices usually in attendance.
(images/Library of Congress)