Prejudice is a very difficult topic to discuss without someone getting his or her feelings hurt or emotions stirred. However, that is exactly one reason we recently acquired two rather disturbing (to most modern sensibilities) documents–to tell “the other” side of the story.
In 1899 Margaret L. Shepherd advertised four lectures she would give at Unity Hall in Hartford on October 5 and 6. Two of the lectures were exclusively for women. Her topic? Convent Life Exposed. The threat of the Catholic Church to America in general and Protestantism and women in particular. Her lecture titles were:
- The Priest and the Woman in the Confessional. Reasons why Protestants Should not Marry Catholics.
- Does Secret Confession to the Priest and Parochial School Education make Good American Citizens?
- The Nuns who are the Brides of Christ, and Private Life in the Nunnery
- Purgatory, Indulgences and Relics. Sacrilegious Frauds for Obtaining Money and Building up Religious Industries.
Shepherd claimed she had been a nun before leaving the order and through these lectures she sought to expose the evils of the Catholic Church. I found numerous newspaper articles claiming that she was a fraud. Two of the four pages of this advertisement are filled with testimonials to her character and veracity. She also published a book on the same subject. Who was the real Margaret L. Shepherd? Was she part of the wave of xenophobia that swept the country in the late 19th and early 20th centuries because “too many” foreigners (including Catholics and Eastern Europeans) were immigrating to the United States? Was she, or was she not, a fake?
The second document came in a frame along with a photograph of a Ku Klux Klan rally in Stamford and three pamphlets expounding the principles and beliefs of the Klan. I assume from the juxtaposition that this list of men were members of the Klan in New Haven. As a whole, the assemblage is quite frightening by today’s standards. Racism is a word thrown around a lot recently, given that we have an African-American as president, but these items and this list put names and faces on prejudice. These would be great starting points for a discussion of racism and the Civil Rights movement.
These provocative documents and a few more items about the Ku Klux Klan can be seen in our Research center.