Herb Juliano

Herb's Archive this month is an excerpt detailing the acquisition of a famous Dante collection and his book on the role of women.




John Zahm and his students.

When the new library was finished in 1917, a special room, at Zahm's request, was set aside for his Dante collection. Like Pope Leo XIII, he had become interested in Dante, especially during his stay in Rome, 1896-1898, and he began the collection shortly after his return as Provincial. Much of the Dante library, collected by the famous Dantofilo of Italy, Giulio Acquaticci, was purchased by Father Zahm in 1902-1903. The chief translations of the poet's work in over thirty languages and dialects, together with etchings, paintings, marble busts, and medallions of the Italian poet were acquired. He hoped there would be a Dante Chair established at Notre Dame and that his gift would precipitate this action. His enthusiastic quest for Dante material continued to the time of his death and made this Dante collection of over five thousand books the third best in the United States.

During the last years of his life and even during the South American writing period, he wrote other historical books. These included two volumes calculated to interest all women, suffragettes and anti-suffragettes, as well as scholars and general readers interested in the growth of education and science. The first volume, Women in Science was decidedly apologetical as it described the long struggle of women for educational opportunities from earliest times in ancient Greece to the days of 1913. He related how they had been the colleagues, if not the peers, of the famous men-educators and scientists, and emphasized that their minds were as capable and receptive as any great men. Enthusiastically, he agreed in essence with Peter Lombard, that "Woman was not taken from the head of man, for she was not intended to be his ruler, nor from his foot, for she was not intended to be his slave, but from his side, for she was intended to be his companion and comfort." At long last, he exclaimed, over all the Western World, a new era of acceptance had begun.

Woman's long struggle for intellectual freedom is almost ended, and certain victory is already in effective and so concentrated has been their work during recent years that they have accomplished more toward securing complete intellectual enfranchisement than during the previous thirty centuries.

A good judge of the past, he realized that leisure time enabled woman in the modem generation to achieve intellectual advancement.

This study proved to be a popular seller. Reviewers called it a wonderful book, having the romantic interest of a novel

and the inspiration of a battle hymn:  it was declared a "must" for every woman's suffrage club. Within five years, a reading audience concerned with the second-class status of women purchased over a thousand copies of this volume.

A second volume, hybrid in character and less universal in appeal, appeared in 1917, and was entitled Great Inspirers. It contained excerpts from the lives of four women who inspired St. Jerome and Dante. In a sense the book was an antidote to the excesses within the suffragette movement, for it was a sensitive study of the role women had played as gentle guides and sources of encouragement to great men -"of the power which they are secretly, but not less effectively wielding from the family hearth to the homes of science and the halls of legislation."  This book led the reviewer of the New York Freeman's Journal to predict on March 10, 1917, that "It will be a long time before Catholics in this country form a true appreciation of the work of Fr. Zahm as apologist...the form of his apologetics is valuable because it is primarily constructive."


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January 2004
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