Catholic Americanization: The Work of NCWC Community Houses (1919-1921)

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Jeanne Petit, Hope College

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During WWI, the National Catholic War Council (NCWC) encouraged patriotism among American Catholics to aid in the war effort and prove Catholic loyalty to America. As many immigrants at this time were Catholic, the NCWC especially promoted patriotism in Catholic immigrant communities. Toward the end of WWI, the NCWC established National Catholic Community Houses in cities across America. Catholic laywomen, called “secretaries,” ran the houses by organizing classes and activities. These programs were often meant to Americanize immigrants by instructing them in such things as English, living skills, and American civics. In our research, we specifically examine the community houses in Cincinnati, Ohio and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. These houses similarly conducted Americanization work but also took on unique projects to fit the needs of the communities they served. The National Catholic Community House in Cincinnati was located in an area that was home to a large population of Hungarian immigrants. Due to the reluctance of the youth population to attend the classes offered by the Community House, the secretaries were forced to employ creative methods to reach this demographic. The NCWC also established two houses in Milwaukee, one in the Polish district and one in the Italian district. The community houses there became temporary boarding houses for many girls entering the city for work. As these girls did not always meet the moral standards of the secretaries, the secretaries learned to adapt and address the unique situations of each girl. This often meant that they had to meet girls where they were in regards to morals and lifestyles.


This research was supported by a Pagenkopf Grant and the Crossroads Project.

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