Commonweal in the 1940s

From Our Archives

By its third decade in publication, Commonweal was growing accustomed to being, "as in every period... criticized by both the Left and the Right," according to Rodger Van Allen, author of The Commonweal and American Catholicism. Castigated for the "anaemic brand of Catholicity served up by the Skillins, the Maritains .. and their lily-livered ilk;" for being "the sole consolation of the Anti-God forces" and soft on Communism; and for being an outstanding example of the "war-mongering Catholic press" (Pravda), the magazine was actively engaging such issues of the day as race and racism, social and criminal justice, and culture—even as then-special editor Michael Williams encouraged an editorial policy that avoided "the brand of partisanship he saw in most Catholic publications."

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 1940s; make sure to visit this page in coming days, as we'll be posting more from the 1940s through the end of May. 

The 1940s, Part 1

One great writer on another: J. F. Powers comments on the work of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Also, Dorothy Day pens an appeal on behalf of three men wrongly convicted of a murder in California, and Ellen Tarry (the first African-American picture book author) writes of her disappointment that "in Catholic circles many have lamented the fact that the Negro writer [Richard Wright] who has arisen as the spokesman for his race should be a communist." And, Luigi G. Ligutti Térèse looks at the history of popes and agriculture in the context of the rural life movement.  

Dealer in Diamonds and Rhinestones

Mr. Pegler, on hearing about Scott Fitzgerald's death in 1941, said it "recalls memories of a queer bunch of undisciplined and self-indulgent brats who were determined not to pull their weight in the boat and wanted the world to drop...

King, Ramsay, and Connor

Day and a group of labor lawyers go to San Francisco's San Quentin prison to defend three innocent men convicted of the murder of an engineer on a cargo ship in 1936

Native Daughter: An Indictment of White America by a Colored Woman

As a Negro, I have been greatly pleased to note the haste with which the literary world has acclaimed Richard Wright, author of the book Native Son, as the greatest writer of his race. I rejoice not only because, like Richard Wright, I am a Negro,...

The Popes and Agriculture

One late afternoon in June, 1741, Pope Benedict XIV was walking slowly up the hill which leads to the main entrance of Castel Gandolfo, followed by a small retinue of officials. To the west was the setting sun; to the east the Pontine marshes;...
The 1940s, Part 2

Robert Penn Warren contributes a remembrance of Commonweal contributor Paul Rosenfeld, while Thomas Merton considers the deeper meanings of "the contemplative life." And, the editors write movingly in response to the decision by the United States to use atomic weapons against Japan. 

Paul Rosenfeld: Prompter of Fiction

On a night in November 1913, between 42nd and 43rd streets in New York, Paul Rosenfeld, then a young man recently out of Yale and waiting for a job to open up on the Times, was struck by a sudden thought which changed his life and probably has had a good deal of influence on the lives of some other people. The thought was that he didn't have to get a job if he didn't want one. He realized...

On Anti-Semitism

People don't like being told of atrocities. They don't like atrocious problems. They don't like problems which might perchance result in some self-examination. They would prefer to ignore the problem of anti-Semitism, yet nazi ferocity...

Horror and Shame

Two months ago we were writing about poison gas. We said: "To the Orient we are bringing the latest inventions of our civilization. There is only one we have not brought. It is gas. If we use that we will have brought them all. Gas is no worse...

Poetry and the Contemplative Life

The term “contemplative life" is one that is much mistreated. It is more often used than defined, and that is why arguments about the respective merits of "active" and ''contemplative" orders generally  end...
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Would that today's Commonweal editorial policy followed the advice of the 1940's then-special editor Michael Williams who encouraged an editorial policy that avoided "the brand of partisanship he saw in most Catholic publications."

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