Lived Catholicism and Working-Class Consciousness: The Case of Grace Holmes Carlson, 1906–92

Friday, January 5, 2018: 1:30 PM
Columbia 5 (Washington Hilton)
Donna Truglio Haverty-Stacke, Hunter College, City University of New York
Grace Holmes Carlson was born in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1906 into an Irish and German working-class Catholic family. Raised in faith, she was educated by the Sisters of Saint Joseph from elementary school through college. In 1933 she earned a PhD in psychology at the University of Minnesota, where she met and married Gilbert Carlson. Radicalized, in part, by Minneapolis’ historic 1934 strikes, she left the Church by the late 1930s. She became an organizer for the Socialist Workers Party, rising in its ranks to become a member its National Committee in 1942 and its vice presidential nominee in 1948. Carlson abruptly left the SWP in 1952 and returned to the Church. During the final decades of her life, however, Carlson was not a “god-that-failed” former communist. She was a practicing Catholic again with strong ties to women religious and priests, but she refused to engage in redbaiting of her former Trotskyist associates and remained committed to criticizing the inequities of capitalism. Examining how Carlson lived her Catholicism helps explain the choices she made before, during, and after her years in the SWP. Her commitment to social justice, her understanding of the importance of the lay apostolate, and her response to a Gospel mandate to involve herself in worldly affairs in order to “restore all things to Christ” came from the Josephites’ influence, as well as from other sources of Catholic teachings. This paper will examine how Carlson lived her faith and how that faith formed and reformed her throughout her life. Her story thus fills a gap in labor history by reminding us of the significance of religion in shaping and transforming working-class political consciousness in important and often unexpected ways.
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