Joseph Mannard Feature

  • Joseph Mannard, an associate professor in the Department of History and an affiliated WGS faculty member, was quoted in the New York Times and the Washington Post on August 2 and 3, 2019.

    Mannard’s areas of specialization are 19th-century US social history and Roman Catholic nuns. The New York Times piece, “The Nuns Who Bought and Sold Human Beings: America’s nuns are beginning to confront their ties to slavery, but it’s still a long road to repentance,” discusses about how, in the early 1800s, the Catholic nuns of the Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School offered free school lessons. However, this came at the cost of enslaved children.

    The sisters at the Georgetown Visitation owned over 100 enslaved people, including children, men, and women. To expand their school and pay debts, the sisters would sell dozens of enslaved people (Swarns, 2019). But it was the socially progressive practice of these nuns teaching the enslaved people how to read and write was what was passed down through the Georgetown Visitation Preparatory Schools oral traditions and history of the school.

    No one thought they had ties to slavery. Yet, “seven of the eight first orders of Catholic nuns established in the United States owned slaves by the 1820s” (Swarns, 2019), and Joseph Mannard helped reveal that the eighth order did, too. Mannard’s findings helped showed that all first order nuns owned slaves in the 1820s.

    Recently Catholic nuns have been addressing their past and are asking for forgiveness. Mannard notes, “The nuns were slaveholders in much the same way other slaveholders were, and they didn’t feel guilt, I don’t think. I’m not even sure they thought a lot about it.” (Natanson, 2019)

    Mannard also quoted, “the public is just now learning about nun’s slaveholding practices because of a recently heightened national focus on race” (Natanson, 2019).