The Centennial Fountain

(This post follows up on the last blog about the history of the Temperance Movement)

With the approach of the centennial celebrations in Philadelphia to mark the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the Catholic Total Abstinence Union of the Diocese of Philadelphia wanted to partake in the festivities. To do so, the organization proposed building a fountain in Fairmount Park to celebrate temperance, Catholicism, and Irish-heritage. In order to accomplish this plan, in 1873 the group brought a proposal forward at the third annual convention for Catholic Total Abstinence Union of America (CTAU). The resolution passed with the stated goal of the fountain being a “testimony to the patriotic feeling of the Catholic Total Abstainers all over the United States.”[1]


CHRC Catholic Standard, March 25, 1876, SB1, page 224

With the approval and backing of the national society, the Philadelphia chapter began planning and fundraising. After an original design focusing on the connection between America and Ireland was rejected, a main theme around Moses striking the rock to give water to the Israelites was chosen.[2] The change was due to the Moses allegory of life giving water being better focused on the CTAU’s mission to encourage people to turn away from alcohol. While the main Irish American connection was removed, the CTAU incorporated it into other elements including four statues of famous Irish-Catholics in American history. The men chosen for this honor were Commodore John Barry, founder of the United States Navy, Archbishop John Carroll, first Bishop of Baltimore, Father Matthew, founder of the total abstinence movement in Ireland and America, and Charles Carroll, signer of the Declaration of Independence.[3]



The committee in charge of the fountain began to accept proposals for the statues in October of 1874. They choose Herman Kirn, a German sculptor, to create the five statues by April 1876 agreeing to pay $10,275 for the work.[4] Since there was only two years to complete the project, the committee also hired contractors for other parts of the fountain, such as Hobbs and Sons for the structures, basins, and pedestals and Comber and Co for the granite work.[5] Work began on the fountain on July 5th 1875 with the groundbreaking, giving the workers only a year to finish the construction.

In order to pay for the project, the Philadelphia chapter of the CTAU began to have public rallies to raise donations. While they were able to raise $11,000 by 1875, the committee still needed more money and so reached out to the CTAU for support.[6] However, many other societies in the CTAU were reluctant to fundraise for the project because they saw it was a purely Philadelphia endeavor.[7] Due to this concern, the entire CTAU had raised barely half of what Philadelphia did in the same time.[8] In order to make up the difference, at the fifth annual convention the CTAU passed a resolution for every society to raise one dollar per member in order to help cover the costs.[9] By the time the fountain was completed it would end up costing $54,000, with the statues going $5,000 over budget.[10]

CTAU Fountain, Herman Kirn w. John Carroll

Herman Kirn with statue of John Carroll

As the centennial year approached, the fountain was still far from completion as none of the statues were finished and only a fourth of the granite work was done. Indeed, it was not until April of 1876 that Kirn completed the first statue of Commodore Barry and since Kirn was working in Germany, it did not reach Philadelphia until June. There were a number of reasons for the delays including payment debates between the CTAU and Kirn as well as problems with the marble that Kirn received.[11] Due to these delays, when the CTAU had the official dedication and celebration parade on July 4th 1876, only Barry was installed. However, the rest of the fountain was ready, so Governor John Carroll of Maryland was able to turn the water on, which flowed into the 16 drinking basins.[12]

 Centennial Exhibition from Observatory, George's

Centennial Exhibition from Observatory, George’s Hill (note the single statue on the left pedestal)

As the centennial year and the exhibition came to a close, the fountain still remained unfinished. It would not be until March of 1877 that the other three corner statues were finished and the statue of Moses would not be installed until July 4th 1877, over a year late.[13] Despite this, the fountain was considered a huge success with one newspaper stating that it was an “expression of the sterling patriotism which has ever characterized the Catholic Church in America.”[14] While the Centennial Fountain was not ready for the centennial and now no longer functions as a fountain, it still stands as a monument to the Catholic Total Abstinence Union and the work of Catholics in America.


Photo by Colin Varga

Visit the archives to see more images and information on the building of the fountain and the centennial celebrations.

  • [1] Joseph Gibbs, History of the Catholic Total Abstinence Union of America, (Philadelphia: 1907), 26.
  • [2] Daria Gasparini, “A Celebration of Moral Force: The Catholic Total Abstinence Union of American Centennial Fountain,” Master’s Thesis (University of Pennsylvania, 2002), 7.
  • [3] Gibbs, History of the Catholic, 34.
  • [4] Gasparini, “A Celebration of Moral Force,” 25.
  • [5] Ibid., 31-32.
  • [6] Gibbs, History of the Catholic, 34
  • [7] Gasparini, “A Celebration of Moral Force,” 22.
  • [8] Gibbs, History of the Catholic, 34.
  • [9] Ibid., 34.
  • [10] Gasparini, “A Celebration of Moral Force,” 24.
  • [11] Gasparini, “A Celebration of Moral Force,” 40.
  • [12] Gibbs, History of the Catholic, 40.
  • [13] Ibid., 45.
  • [14] Ibid., 42.

Temperance Movement

Temperance movements have a long tradition in the United States, with the aim to not only eliminate drinking but to also improve the fabric of America. The first temperance society formed in 1789 in Connecticut and throughout the 19th century they spread across the country.[1] By 1841 there were 26 temperance and abstinence societies operating in Philadelphia alone.[2] One of those societies was the Total Abstinence Society, a Catholic organization founded in 1840 by an Augustinian priest named Moriarty.

Our Mother of Sorrows Total Abstinence Society

Our Mother of Sorrows Total Abstinence Society

Increasingly Catholic temperance societies become more popular, partly due to the effects of Father Matthew, a priest who helped start the temperance movement in Ireland and then traveled America from 1849-1851 to spread the cause.[3] With the growth in local societies, usually based around either parishes or dioceses, the need for a unifying national organization arose. So in 1872 in Baltimore, a national convention was held with 177 societies representing over 26,000 members.[4] It was here that the Catholic Total Abstinence Union of America (CTAU) was formed to help in establishing directives for both temperance and benevolence activities. An interesting side note, the proposed name first included “of the United States” instead “of America” but objections from Canadian societies also in attendance resulted in the change.[5]

Members of the union pledged to “abstain from… the sin of intemperance” and to “change the wretched abode of the drunkard into a home of peace and prosperity,” highlighting the belief that drinking not only threatened the salvation of the soul but also endangered the functioning of society.[6] In addition to the national union, many societies also created regional unions as well. For instance, the Catholic Total Abstinence Union of the Diocese of Philadelphia formed in March of 1872, comprising of two societies and 150 members.[7]

Catholic Total Abstinence Union

Catholic Total Abstinence Union

In order to fulfill its mission and pledge, the CTAU relied on public rallies in order to gain support and convince people to give up alcohol. In addition, the union made use of numerous newspapers, such as Boston’s The Pilot or New York’s Catholic Society Journal of America in order to spread the message of temperance.[8] Another way that the CTAU and other temperance societies tried to increase abstinence was through the building of public drinking fountains, as they believed that better access to clean water would keep the poor from turning to beer and liquor. Indeed, a fountain in New York declared that “There is no poison in my cup! Drink and Live,” which illustrates the concern that without clean water to drink, the people would continue to drink the poison of alcohol.[9] (The building of the most famous CTAU fountain, the Continental Fountain will be discussed in a future blog.)


CTAU printed material, AC0077 CHRC

The membership of the CTAU continued to grow during its early years, gaining an additional 400 society branches by 1876. However, the following year the union complained about a fall in per capita members, blaming it on the growing acceptance of abstinence and thus decrease in need for the societies.[10] This decrease likely influenced the CTAU’s decision to allow women societies to become honorary members in 1878 and then full active members by 1880; although they had to send male delegates to the annual convention.[11] Membership began to increase by the turn of the century, with over 1,000 societies associated with the CTAU, giving them a membership of over 66,000.[12]

President Roosevelt speaking before C.T.A.U. delegates and United Mine Workers of America

President Roosevelt speaking before C.T.A.U. delegates and United Mine Workers of America

One of the largest events held by the CTAU was the 1905 annual convention in Wilkes-Barre, PA when President Teddy Roosevelt spoke as the keynote to over 80,000 people. The Catholic Total Abstinence Union continued have its annual meetings even after the passing of the 18th amendment, which outlawed the production and sale of alcohol. After the 21st amendment repealed Prohibition, the CTAU continued to function well into the mid twentieth century. While total abstinence failed to take hold as national policy, the rise of temperance societies, including Catholic Total Abstinence Union, are an important chapter in the history of the United States.

Annual Convention, Catholic Total Abstinence Union of America, August 9, 1939

Annual Convention, Catholic Total Abstinence Union of America, August 9, 1939

To learn more of the CTAU come to the archives to see the papers, ephemera, and photos. See our online catalog for a list of material.

  • [1] Joseph Gibbs, History of the Catholic Total Abstinence Union of America, (Philadelphia: 1907), 11.
  • [2] Daria Gasparini, “A Celebration of Moral Force: The Catholic Total Abstinence Union of American Centennial Fountain,” Master’s Thesis (University of Pennsylvania, 2002), 47.
  • [3] Ibid., 47.
  • [4] Ibid., 49.
  • [5] Gibbs, History of the Catholic, 19.
  • [6] Gasparini, “A Celebration of Moral Force,” 49.
  • [7] Ibid. 50.
  • [8] Ibid., 51.
  • [9] Ibid., 53.
  • [10] Gibbs, History of the Catholic, 42 & 44.
  • [11] Ibid., 49 & 58.
  • [12] Ibid., 159.

A Brief History of the Growing Pains of the Church in Philadelphia

While the founding of Philadelphia as a diocese dates back to 1808 when it was separated from the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the history of the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania dates back another hundred years. The first Mass in Philadelphia was said in 1708 in a private home; however, the first church would not be built until 1729 when St. Thomas the Apostle in Glen Mills was built.[1] The Catholic community continued to slowly expand so that by 1785 there were three more parishes, Old St. Joseph’s, Old St. Mary’s, both in Philadelphia and St. John the Baptist in Ottsville, Bucks County.[2] Furthermore, at this time there were only five priests for the entire state.[3] As Philadelphia was a major metropolitan hub, its population continued to increase with immigrants coming from counties across Europe.  With the influx of these immigrants, Holy Trinity Church in Philadelphia, the first ethnic church in the country, was built in 1789 for the German Catholics and by 1808 the population of Catholics in the city had grown to 30,000.[4]


Catholic Historical Research Center Digital Collections

The original boundary of the Diocese of Philadelphia included all of Pennsylvania, Delaware, and South Jersey. The first bishop was Michael Francis Egan, who had only 11 priests and 12 churches under his jurisdiction in Pennsylvania.[5] As the first bishop, Egan faced problems in establishing authority, with the trustees who ran Old Saint Mary’s Parish posing the biggest problem. Trustees were incorporated religious congregations that owned and managed the church property. The trustees at Old St. Mary’s challenged Bishop Egan’s authority on the ability to appoint and dismiss priests assigned to the church. The conflict was left unresolved as Egan passed away on July 22, 1814 and his replacement, Henry Conwell, was not appointed for another six years.[6]

Bishop Michael Egan, n.d.

Bishop Michael Egan, n.d.

Similar to Egan, Conwell struggled with the trustees of Old St. Mary’s. The conflict came to a head when Conwell excommunicated William Hogan, a popular priest from the parish. This was due to the fact that Hogan and members of the parish had continued to push against the authority of Bishop Conwell.[7] Even after Hogan was excommunicated, Old St. Mary’s supported him by ordering all “episcopal insignia be taken down” from the church and that Hogan resume his position as pastor of the parish.[8] The schism would even gain the attention of the Vatican, which sided with the authority of the bishop in a 1822 ruling.[9]

Engraving of Old St. Mary, n.d.

Engraving of Old St. Mary, n.d.

With the questions of authority resolved, the Church continued to grow under Conwell and his successor Francis Kenrick. Kenrick was actually appointed as coadjutor to Conwell in 1830 and would become the third bishop in 1842 upon Conwell’s death.[10] It would be under Kenrick that the church in Philadelphia would greatly expand, with the building of Saint Charles Seminary and the establishing of the first diocesan newspaper, the Catholic Herald.[11] By the end of Kenrick’s time as bishop in 1851, the diocese had added 80 churches, 90 priests, and 150,000 Catholics from when the diocese was founded in 1808.[12]


Catholic Historical Research Center Digital Collections



[1] Thomas Hughes, History of the Society of Jesus in North America vol. II, (London: Longmans, Green and Co, 1908) 473; Archdiocese of Philadelphia Catholic Directory, (Philadelphia:, 2018).

[2] Archdiocese of Philadelphia Catholic Directory, (Philadelphia:, 2018).

[3]John Gilmary Shea, Life and Times of the Most Rev. John Carroll, Bishop and First Archbishop of Baltimore, (New York: 1888).

[4] Thomas Rzeznik, “Roman Catholic Parishes,” The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia,; “A Brief History of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia,” Archdiocese of Philadelphia,

[5] The Catholic Standard and Times, (July 29, 1976); “The Catholic Church in Pennsylvania before 1800,”

[6] Christine Friend, “Philadelphia’s First Bishop,” CHRC (February 22, 2010),

[7] Martin I. J. Griffin, “Life of Bishop Conwell,” Records of the American Catholic History Society of Philadelphia, vol. 25, no. 2 (June, 1914), 160.

[8] Martin I. J. Griffin, “Life of Bishop Conwell,” 161.

[9] Thomas Rzeznik, “Roman Catholic Parishes.”

[10] “A Brief History of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.”

[11] Katherine DeFenzo, “Bishop Francis Kenrick and His Journals,” CHRC (August 20, 2015),

[12] “A Brief History of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.”

Thomas Nast Anti-Catholic Cartoons

In the last blog post, Nast’s anti-Irish cartoons were examined, revealing beliefs that the Irish were inferior and unable to handle American liberty. This made the Irish a threat to the United States and thus a focus of Nast’s criticism. Connected to this anti-Irish sentiment was also a strong Anti-Catholic feeling throughout the county. Thomas Nast’s cartoons dealt with Anti-Catholicism in two different ways, the first focused on the menace of the pope and the second dealt with the threat to the public school system.

The Promised Land," as seen from the Dome of St. Peter's, Rome

“‘The Promised Land,’ as seen from the Dome of St. Peter’s, Rome”

Tied to His Mother's Apron-Strings

“Tied to His Mother’s Apron-Strings”

One of themes conveyed through Nast’s cartoons was that the pope was looking to rule the United States by converting its people to Catholicism. This could be seen in his cartoon drawn in 1870 where the pope and other clergy stand atop St. Peters Basilica and greedily eye America as the promise land. Furthermore, with the inclusion of the weapons in the background, it is clear that Nast is suggesting that unless America is vigilant, it risks conquest by the papacy. This perceived threat of Rome is seen elsewhere in Nast’s work, such as with a cartoon showing Uncle Sam offering to free an American Catholic priest from the Pope’s plans to rule both church and state. This is an important cartoon since it suggests that the problem with Catholics is not their faith but rather their allegiance to a foreign power, and thus if Catholics removed that, then they would be acceptable.

A Roman Catholic Mission from England to the "heathens" of America

“A Roman Catholic Mission from England to the “heathens” of America”

In addition to anti-papal sentiment, Nast seems to question the merit of Catholicism on a whole in another cartoon where he drew a Catholic priest trying convert a recently freed African-American family. However, behind his back the priest holds a pair of shackles, implying that through Catholicism the family will be enslaved again. It is also interesting to note, that in the background is a public school which the family was heading towards, which directly connects into Nast’s other theme that education is the way to fight Catholic enslavement. Through these three cartoons, Nast demonstrated the idea that the pope, by having authority over American Catholics, was a threat to the United States government and its people.

The American River Ganges. The priests and the children

“The American River Ganges. The priests and the children”

Another reason for Nast’s anti-Catholic drawings was a fear that Catholics were attacking the public school system, which Nast saw as integral to the foundation of the United States.[1] The reason Nast and others were concerned over the public school system was at this time Catholics were protesting the use of Protestant bibles and prayers at schools and wished to see the practice ended. Furthermore, the rise of parochial schools and some attempts by politicians, most notably Boss Tweed, to use state money to help fund these parochial schools raised concern that these religious institutions would replace the public school system completely.[2] One of Nast’s most famous cartoons, “The American River Ganges,”  published in 1871 depicts bishops shaped as crocodiles coming to devour children as a public school lays in ruins. Thus, the cartoon demonstrates a belief that Catholicism by destroying public schools will destroy the future of the country. Additionally, in the background of the cartoon, an image of the Vatican with both the papal and Irish flags flying as well as a building titled “the political Roman Catholic school,” reveal the origins of these threats to America.

Tilden's "Wolf at the Door, Gaunt and Hungry." Don't let him in

“Tilden’s ‘Wolf at the Door, Gaunt and Hungry.’                 Don’t let him in”

Indeed, Nast was deeply troubled by the Church’s attempt to infiltrate the public school system as seen in two cartoons drawn in 1876. The first depicts a wolf with a papal and Democrat party collar trying to force its way into a school room as the children barricade the door. Nast makes clear that public schools need to be made safe from the Catholic menace since they are the “bulwark of the American Republic.” Indeed, in the background of the cartoon, Uncle Sam can be seen grabbing a gun above a plaque that reads “free for all; no sectarianism,” implying that the only way to protect the schools, and by extension America, is to eliminate the Catholic Church. The second cartoon takes much of its inspiration from Hamlet as Uncle Sam banishes a nun trying to teach at a public school to a convent. An interesting aspect of this cartoon is a parody of a quote by Lincoln that reads “a government of the priests, by the priests, for the priests shall perish from the earth.” This illustrates that Nast believes that Catholicism is incompatible with American democracy and will eventually die out once people are free from the Church. Additionally, Nast’s anti-Catholic sentiment was made even clearer by the use of the Shakespeare quote that the nun, representing the Church, makes monsters out of men. Indeed, when coupled with the phrase, “our public school system must and shall be preserved,” it reveals that Nast saw Catholicism as a threat to the very core of America.

Madness (Yet there's method in it)

“Madness (Yet there’s method in it)”

Thomas Nast’s cartoons from the 1870s expressed his strong anti-Irish and anti-Catholic feelings and his fear these forces would destroy America. With a circulation on average of 100,000 and reaching peaks of 300,000 Harper’s Weekly not only was a vehicle for spreading these sentiments but was also a reflection of its readership’s feelings, since Nast would not have remained widely popular if his audience disagreed with his cartoons.[3] Thus by studying this cartoons one is able to come to a better understanding of the social conflicts and prejudices that existed in America during the late 1800s.

Visit our archives or our digital collections for more historic cartoons.


  • [1] Benjamin Justice, “Thomas Nast and the Public School of the 1870s,” History of Education Quarterly, Vol. 45, No. 2 (Summer, 2005), 180.
  • [2] Ibid., 182.
  • [3] Joshua Brown, Beyond the Lines: Pictorial Reporting, Everyday Life, and the Crisis of Gilded Age America, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006), 62; Niall Whelehan, The Dynamiters: Irish Nationalism and Political Violence in the Wider World, 1867–1900, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 225.