Commonweal in the 1930s

From Our Archives

By its second decade of publication, The Commonweal was establishing its position as an important voice in, as President Franklin D. Roosevelt expressed in a 1939 letter to the editor, "insist[ing] upon the American traditions of freedom from racial and religious prejudices in public and personal life," and becoming, as Walter Lippman phrased it, "an indispensable American Journal, for the deeper problems which confront mankind today are, it seems to me, unintelligible and insoluble except by an understanding of that universal tradition which The Commonweal represents."  

As we continue to mark our ninetieth year in publication, we're focusing on a different decade every month through November. Below is a selection of stories, interviews, and editorial notes that appeared in Commonweal in the 1930s; make sure to visit this page in coming days, as we'll be posting more from the 1930s through the end of April. 

The 1930s, Part 1

The editors interview Jacques Maritain, the pseudonymous Heinrich Waellermann writes from Germany on the rise of Naziism and what it means for Catholics, Willa Cather gets in touch with our editors, and Virgil Michel considers the meanings of social justice. 

Defining Social Justice

The confusion resulting from a too glib usage of terminology has in our times been a most painful, and no doubt destructive, phenomenon. Even those persons anxiously and with good-will seeking to further social justice have been prone to use exact...

Escapism: A Letter from Willa Cather

My Dear Mr. Williams, You were asking me what I thought about a new term in criticism: the Art of "Escape." Isn't the phrase tautological? What has art ever been but escape? To be sure, this definition is for the moment used in a...

Crucifixion on the Swastika

One does not fully realize the meaning of modern Germany until he leaves the train after re-crossing its border; the feeling is indescribable: an overwhelming urge, like that of a man at the brink of an abyss, to leap, shout, to draw huge draughts...

An Interview with Jacques Maritain

Just before M. Maritain’s last sailing for Europe (December, 1938), the editors of The Commonweal put to him a number of questions. M. Maritain took these with him and has just sent back to us his considered answers, which we publish herewith...
The 1930s, Part 2

The editors compile a fascinating collection of responses to FDR's 1939 State of the Union Address, while George N. Shuster considers Piux XI. And, some familar names to readers of Commonweal: Dorothy Day, who writes from inside the Mott St. house of the Catholic Worker ("while writing this, we have nothing in the bank and are sending out an appeal for help this month"), while G. K. Chesterton returns with his thoughts on the St. Thomas, poet.

The Pope of the People

As I stood on the steps of St. Peter's last year, the ancient Roman street leading up to the basilica was being torn down and widened. It seems to me nothing could symbolize better the inner character of the reign of Pope Pius. For to the very...

The President's Message: A Symposium

THE PRESIDENT’S annual message to Congress this year was of such interest and importance that THE COMMONWEAL has sounded out a group of American Catholic observers, many of them contributing editors. We quote their replies. Religion By FAR the...

The House on Mott Street

We are literally sharing the poverty of those we help. Once the work of starting houses of hospitality is begun, support comes.

The Poetry of Saint Thomas

This is an extract from the last chapter of Saint Thomas Aquinas, by G. K. Chesterton, which is soon to be published by Sheed and Ward. It is often said that Saint Thomas, unlike Saint Francis, did not permit in his work the indescribable element of...


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Thank you for the Willa Cather piece. I know her only as a great American novelist whose novels I have begun to re-read lately. This is a fine piece on the meaning of art. 

I'm Looking for info on Katharine Chambers.  Maybe she wrote a poem in the March 1939 Commonweal named "On Each Face".

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