Today in History

Today in History: August 15

John Carroll: First Bishop of Baltimore

Wherefore it having reached our ears that in the flourishing commonwealth of the Thirteen American States many faithful Christians united in communion with the chair of Peter, in which the centre of Catholic unity is fixed…earnestly desire that a Bishop may be appointed over them…We willingly embraced this opportunity which the grace of Almighty God has afforded us to provide those distant regions with the comfort and ministry of a Catholic Bishop.

A Short Account of the Establishment of the New See of Baltimore in Maryland…,
Charles Plowden,
London: J. P. Coghlan, 1790,
12-13.
The Capital and the Bay: Narratives of Washington and the Chesapeake Bay Region, 1600-1925

Archbishop John Carroll
Archbishop John Carroll,
Gilbert Stuart, artist,
reproduced in Social Life in the Early Republic,
Anne Hollingsworth Wharton, author,
Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1902,
following page 84.
The Capital and the Bay: Narratives of Washington and the Chesapeake Bay Region, ca. 1600-1925

On August 15, 1790, John Carroll became the first bishop of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States. The son of a wealthy Catholic merchant, Carroll was born in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, in 1736 and had significant Revolutionary connections.* His cousin, Charles Carroll, was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence; his brother, Daniel Carroll, signed the Articles of Confederation and the United States Constitution.

After receiving a Jesuit education at the Bohemia academy in Cecil County, Maryland, Carroll studied abroad at the English-language Jesuit College of St. Omer in Flanders. He was ordained a Jesuit priest in 1761 and remained in Europe teaching philosophy and theology. When Pope Clement XIV dissolved the Jesuit order in 1773, Carroll returned to Maryland, serving local Catholics from a chapel built on his family's estate at Rock Creek, near present-day Forest Glen. In 1776, he took part in a diplomatic mission to Canada on behalf of the Continental Congress. Though the effort failed to win over Canada to the American cause, Carroll gained the friendship of Benjamin Franklin, who was important to his later success.

In June 1783, a small group of priests called together by Carroll met at the chapel at White Marsh (now known as Sacred Heart Church) in Bowie, Maryland, to discuss how the Catholic Church in the new United States would be governed and its property managed. The group drew up a constitution and petitioned Rome to appoint John Lewis, former superior of the Jesuits in Maryland as the superior of the American missions. In part through the influence of U.S. minister to France Benjamin Franklin, however, the Vatican appointed John Carroll instead.

Sacred Heart Church at Whitemarsh
Sacred Heart Church at Whitemarsh,
Bowie, Maryland,
Jack Boucher, photographer,
June 26, 1990.
Built in America: Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American and Engineering Record, 1933-Present

In 1784, John Carroll authored An address to the Roman Catholics of the United States of America. By a Catholic clergyman. Carroll and his fellow priests were, after the American Revolution, concerned that the Catholic Church be accepted by Americans, who were primarily Protestant and had a history of distrusting Catholic allegiance to the Pope. During further meetings at White Marsh, the need emerged for the appointment of an American bishop—one who was, in the spirit of the new nation, elected in a democratic fashion by American priests. In a petition dated March 12, 1788, priests John Carroll, Robert Molyneux, and John Ashton asked that an American diocese be created and that the selection of bishop be left to its clergy. The petition was granted and on May 18, 1789, John Carroll was elected by twenty-four out of twenty-six possible votes. Baltimore was selected as the seat of the American Catholic Church, where St. Mary’s Seminary was soon established. It was during these years that an academy (later college) at Georgetown was founded as well.

Carroll traveled to England where he was consecrated a bishop on August 15, 1790, at Lulworth Castle, England, home of his good friend Thomas Weld. Bishop Carroll returned to Baltimore on December 7, 1790, where he took up residence and preached his first sermon at St. Peter's church, which served as Baltimore's temporary cathedral until a basilica designed by architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe could be constructed.

John Carroll is considered the architect of the Maryland Catholic tradition, stressing ecumenicalism and civic participation across religious lines. He was elevated to archbishop of Baltimore in 1808, overseeing Catholics in five U.S. dioceses as well as the Danish West Indies. While he had quietly restored the Jesuits to Maryland through an affiliation with the still-extant Russian community, Carroll lived to see the worldwide restoration of the order by Rome in 1814. Archbishop Carroll died in December 1815, six years before the first permanent U.S. cathedral at Baltimore was consecrated.

Stained glass image of Archbishop John Carroll
Design Drawing for Stained Glass Window: AD 1790, John Carroll, First Bishop of Baltimore, First N. American Seminary, St. Mary's Baltimore AD 1800,
drawing: watercolor, graphite, ink,
J. & R. Lamb Studios, 1950-90.
Prints & Photographs Online Catalog

Learn more about the role of religion in Maryland and the nation:

*With the intention of more accurately reflecting a solar year, Britain and its colonies replaced the Julian (Old Style) calendar with the Gregorian calendar in 1752, adjusting all dates forward by eleven days. At the same time, New Year’s Day was moved from March 25 to January 1. John Carroll's January 8, 1735, birth date therefore became the New Style date of January 19, 1736.

Florence Kling Harding

I owe allegiance to only one boss—and she sits right over there in that box. She's a mighty good one too.

Warren G. Harding, campaign speech, 1910;
quoted in Lewis L. Gould, ed.,
American First Ladies
(New York: Garland, 1996), 373.

Mrs. Warren G. Harding
[Mrs. Warren G. Harding, Three-quarter Length Portrait, Seated, facing left],
[between 1920 and 1923].
By Popular Demand: Portraits of the Presidents and First Ladies, 1789-Present

Florence Mabel Kling DeWolfe Harding, First Lady during the Warren Harding administration (1921-23), was born on August 15, 1860. An outspoken supporter of woman suffrage, Mrs. Harding cast her ballot in the presidential campaign of 1920 for her husband. She was the first American First Lady afforded that right, as the Nineteenth Amendment had been ratified the previous summer.

The eldest child of a prosperous Marion, Ohio, capitalist, Florence Kling learned about business from her father. When Warren Harding suffered a lengthy illness a year after their 1891 marriage, she put these skills to work by taking over his duties as owner/operator of the Marion Star.  When he recovered, she remained as business and circulation manager.  "I went down there intending to help out for a few days," she later recalled, "and stayed fourteen years." Under Mrs. Harding's skillful administration, the newspaper prospered.

A mother (divorced, with a young son from a first marriage), wife, and business manager, Florence Harding was one of the first women to bring a professional identity to the role of First Lady. In 1914, Harding entered the U.S. Senate race at her urging. When Harding was nominated as the Republican candidate for president in 1920, "The Duchess," as he referred to his wife, campaigned enthusiastically for his election. "I have only one real hobby—my husband," said Mrs. Harding. President Harding openly acknowledged the importance of his wife to his political success.

During President Woodrow Wilson's illness the White House had been closed to the public. Mrs. Harding reopened the house and gardens and presided over a crowded social calendar, graciously performing her ceremonial duties as First Lady. She talked freely, though not for quotation, with reporters and initiated the practice of providing “photo opportunities” to the White House press corps. The Hardings gave lavish garden parties to aid World War I veterans and were the first presidential couple to regularly show films after dinner to their White House guests. In her personal style and enthusiasm for automobiles and airplane adventures, Florence Kling Harding embodied the exuberant spirit of the 1920s. She also made the welfare of wounded and hospitalized veterans her personal cause, getting to know many of the patients at Walter Reed Army Hospital by name, encouraging individual veterans to contact her about problems with their care, and becoming directly involved in the affairs of the Veterans Bureau. 

Mrs. Warren G. Harding Standing With Soldier at Walter Reed Hospital
[Mrs. Warren G. Harding Standing with Soldier at Walter Reed Hospital],
March 30, 1921.
Prints & Photographs Online Catalog

Florence Harding continued to exercise powerful political influence over her husband during his presidency. “He does well when he listens to me and poorly when he does not,” she once confided to a White House staffer. When President Harding died suddenly in San Francisco on August 2, 1923, the scandals that ruined his administration were beginning to break; the discovery of corruption in the Veterans Bureau was particularly upsetting to the First Lady. Mrs. Harding accompanied her husband's body back across country by train while Vice President Calvin Coolidge assumed the presidency. Long plagued by repeated bouts of kidney disease, Florence Kling Harding passed away on November 21, 1924.

President Warren G. Harding With His Wife in Garden.
[Pres. Warren G. Harding, Half-length Portrait, Standing, Facing Right; with his Wife in Garden(?)],
October 25, 1920.
Prints & Photographs Online Catalog

Learn more about the life and times of Florence Kling Harding: