Celebrating a Wyoming Irishman: U.S. Senator Joseph C. O’Mahoney

On St. Patrick’s Day, the AHC celebrates one of Wyoming’s most famous Irishmen, Joseph Christopher O’Mahoney.

Joseph O’Mahoney (1884-1962) was a journalist, lawyer, and politician. A Democrat, he served four complete terms as a U.S. Senator from Wyoming on two occasions, first from 1934-1953 and then again from 1954-1961.


A serious young Joseph C. O’Mahoney, ca. 1905. UW American Heritage Center, Joseph C. O’Mahoney Papers, Accession #275, Box 390, Folder 45

O’Mahoney was Irish to the core. He was born in Chelsea, Massachusetts, to Denis and Elizabeth (née Sheehan) O’Mahoney. His parents were both Irish immigrants; his father, who came to the United States in 1861 from County Cork, worked as a furrier and fought for the Union of his adopted country in the Civil War as a member of the 28th Massachusetts Volunteers, a regiment of the famed Irish Brigade.

Even his wife was of Irish ancestry. He married Agnes Veronica O’Leary (1885-1963), also of Massachusetts, in 1913. She was the daughter of Michael E. O’Leary and Annie M. O’Leary. Michael O’Leary had also immigrated from Ireland.


Agnes and Joseph O’Mahoney celebrate their 46th wedding anniversary, 1951. UW American Heritage Center, Joseph C. O’Mahoney Papers, Accession #275, Box 390, Folder 59.

O’Mahoney recalled in an oral history interview later in life: “Oh, I was intensely interested in history and politics. I wouldn’t say it was predominantly the interest of my father. My mother was extremely well interested in current affairs, and was a very intelligent and able woman. But perhaps I would say that it was the heritage of a young man who was born into a family of Irish blood. The Irish people have always been interested in public life.”

Joseph O’Mahoney was referred to more than once as “a man who speaks for the wide-open spaces of Wyoming with a Boston accent.”


Joseph O’Mahoney in 1937 during his first term as a U.S. Senator, UW American Heritage Center, Photo File: O’Mahoney, Joseph C.

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All Things Wyoming: The Wyoming Pioneers Oral History Project

In 2014, the American Heritage Center completed a project funded by a generous grant from the Wyoming Cultural Trust Fund. The largest part of the project was to digitize the Wyoming Pioneers Oral History interviews which were recorded during the late 1940s and early 1950s under the leadership of Lola Homsher, one of the first employees of what is today the American Heritage Center.


Lola Homsher. Photo courtesy Wyoming State Archives

During her time at the University of Wyoming, Homsher conducted a program of oral history interviews with early residents of the state. Homsher noted proudly at the time that only a few other institutions, including the Library of Congress, were making such recordings.

The interviews were recorded onto SoundScriber discs, a dictation format introduced in the 1940s. The machine recorded sound by pressing grooves into soft six-inch vinyl discs, which can be played on turntables.


SoundScriber machine from 1944 advertisement. Photo courtesy Radio News Magazine, Vol. 32, No. 3 (September 1944): p. 43.  

Some of the topics of the project’s interviews include the Johnson County War, Cheyenne Frontier Days, the trial of Tom Horn, the University of Wyoming, the exploits of train robber Bill Carlisle also known as the “Gentleman Bandit,” and even the establishment of the Camp Fire Girls in Wyoming.

Mrs. Scott and Mrs. Allen of Laramie (unfortunately first names were not included) discussed the Camp Fire Girls program coming to Wyoming. The national Camp Fire Girls of America began in 1910, emphasizing camping and other outdoor activities for its members. Mrs. Allen moved to Laramie in 1913 to teach in the high school and she was “also made sponsor for the sophomore class.” Her class had several girls who wanted to organize a Camp Fire group. They started with four girls and presented their charter in spring 1914 and by the end of the year had ten members.

The program continued to grow, providing many activities for the girls, and at the end of the interview Mrs. Allen remarked that the Camp Fire program

…fits so nicely into the home life and it does a great job in the developing of girls…I don’t know of any other program that does so much in making fine womanhood…


Camp Fire Girls in Laramie, 1918 or 1919. UW American Heritage Center, Ludwig-Svenson Collection, Accession #167, Negative  #5009.

Several of the interviews mention the trial of Tom Horn. T. Joe Cahill, who was at the hanging of Horn on November 20, 1903, had this to say about Horn in his interview:

Personally I just absolutely bet, I bet anything yet in the world he was guilty. To my knowledge of the case, yes I do, I say very definitely he was guilty. Very definitely. Don’t think there’s any, there’s no question in my mind at all. I sat with him at four thirty in the morning just before we, before he took the jump off, tried my best to get something out of him but all he said was ‘just take it easy, now, take it easy.’ I sat down at four thirty and went on home, come back the next morning about eight o’clock and oh about ten, that when it was all over.


Tom Horn in the Laramie County Jail in Cheyenne braiding a rope while waiting for execution for the murder of a 14-year-old son of a sheep herder. The rope was actually a lariat and not the actual rope used to hang him as some stories speculate. UW American Heritage Center, Photo File: Horn, Tom


Photograph titled “Hanging of Tom Horn” showing the mob around the jail. UW American Heritage Center, Photo File: Horn, Tom

All of the interviews can be accessed through the UW Libraries online catalog.


Posted in Digital collections, found in the archive, Local history, oral histories, Uncategorized, University of Wyoming, Western history, Wyoming history | Leave a comment

Wyoming native and UW alumna returns to become AHC’s University Archivist

The American Heritage Center has appointed Sara Davis as the new university archivist.  The university archivist serves as a liaison between the AHC and University of Wyoming departments, faculty, staff, and student organizations to assist in records retention schedules, which are critical in terms of the legal value of records as evidence and the reliability of information, as well as collecting materials that help document UW. The AHC is the University of Wyoming’s official archival repository.

Sara Davis.jpg

Sara Davis, AHC University Archivist

Davis, a Wyoming native and UW alumna, left Wyoming to attend Simmons College in Boston to pursue a higher education at a nationally renowned American Library Association accredited program. Her intention was to one day return to her home state and share her experiences and knowledge to advance public information services.

While in Boston, Davis gained experience in the archives management field by working with the Appalachian Mountain Club, the University of Massachusetts Boston, and the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site and participating in professional organizations such as the New England Archivists and Society of American Archivists.  Additionally, Davis served as a consultant for the National Association of Olmsted Parks performing services for the National Park Service at the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site as their digital archivist and project manager.

“I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to return to a community that I feel dear to my heart — Wyoming, the Rocky Mountain Region, and the University — to help in the preservation of our history,” Davis says. “I look forward to engaging our community in preserving our history and playing an active role in collecting materials that document campus culture, the history of the University of Wyoming, its administration, programs, services, and members of its communities.”

The university archives are divided into three categories: official records of the University of Wyoming, the papers of UW faculty, and records of student and affiliated organizations.  Types of materials found in the university archives include class syllabi, departmental or committee minutes and records, diaries, scrapbooks, audiovisual materials, publications, announcements, and correspondence.  Overall, the university archives aim to collect documentation on the seven functions of an academic institution: convey knowledge, advance knowledge, confer credentials, foster socialization, maintain and promote culture, sustain the institution, and provide public service.

Davis holds an Associate of Arts in music from Laramie County Community College and two degrees from the University of Wyoming (Bachelor of Arts in humanities and fine arts and Bachelor of Arts in English with a minor in psychology). Additionally, she has a Master of Science in library science with a concentration in archives management from Simmons College and a digital archives specialist certificate from the Society of American Archivists.

Davis can be reached at sarad@uwyo.edu or at 307-766-6832.

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Talk and book signing, The Snow Chi Minh Trail

Snow Chi Minh

The AHC will host a talk and book signing by AHC Associate Archivist John Waggener on Friday, March 9, 2018, from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the Stock Growers room (room 219) at the American Heritage Center. 

A 77-mile stretch of Interstate 80 between Laramie and Walcott Junction has been dubbed the “Snow Chi Minh Trail.”

Long-haul truck drivers named it after a notorious mountainous roadway used by North Vietnamese soldiers to reach South Vietnam during the Vietnam War.

Residents warned highway officials of the adverse weather conditions around Elk Mountain and advised them not to build a road there.

In fact, the Union Pacific Railroad almost built in that area 100 years earlier and decided not to, even though it was more direct.

Despite the warnings, on October 3, 1970 the newly constructed stretch of Interstate 80 was dedicated.

It wasn’t but four days later that a winter storm wreaked havoc on travelers of the new road.

Some Wyomingites have since referred to the road as a “monument to human error.”

Come hear the fascinating history of this notorious stretch of interstate highway.

Posted in announcements, Authors and literature, events, faculty/staff profiles, Local history, Politics, Transportation history, Uncategorized, Western history, western politics and leadership, Wyoming history | Tagged | Leave a comment

Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1933 Inauguration as U.S. President

On March 4, 1933, newly elected President Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave the first of many inaugural addresses. This inauguration came in the midst of turmoil for the United States as the Great Depression was upon the country, causing life to be far from what it had been a decade prior. From this address came the famous line, “We have nothing to fear, but fear itself.” New York Daily News journalist Grace Robinson attended the ceremony.



Inauguration invitation and envelope, 1933. Box 65, folder 20, Collection #6941, Grace Robinson papers, UW American Heritage Center.

Starting in 1933, Grace Robinson became one of many journalists assigned to cover the presidency of Roosevelt and the work of then First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Mrs. Roosevelt was known for holding press conferences for female journalists which were then dubbed the “hen press.”



Inauguration ticket, March 4, 1933. Box 65, folder 22, Collection #6941, Grace Robinson papers, UW American Heritage Center.

Robinson sat fairly close to the platform on the Capitol steps during the 1933 inaugural. Following the ceremony, she attended the White House reception, that Mrs. Roosevelt received alone. Just minutes after being inaugurated, FDR had been called to an emergency cabinet meeting.


Inauguration program, March 4, 1933. Box 65, folder 21, Collection #6941, Grace Robinson papers, UW American Heritage Center.

Robinson attended future inaugurations of FDR and her collection contains materials that she kept from those events. The Grace Robinson papers also contains clippings and other notes about the FDR presidency.

– Submitted by Katey Parris and Brianna Reeves, students in the AHC Reference Department.

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Exhibit at the American Heritage Center honors Barbara Stanwyck, 1907-1990

Black and white photo of Barbara Stanwyck holding her Oscar Statue while standing in front of a large Oscar Statue, about 7 feet tall.

Barbara Stanwyck holding her Oscar Statue in 1982. From the Barbara Stanwyck photo file at the American Heritage Center.

The astounding and legendary life and career of Barbara Stanwyck began in Brooklyn, New York. The youngest of 5 children born to common laborers, Stanwyck was originally known as ‘Ruby Stevens.’ She became orphaned by the age of 4. After her mother’s death and her father abandoned the family, Ruby was raised primarily by her older, showgirl sister. Stanwyck left school to earn a living when she was 13, became a chorus girl at 15, and danced cabaret on Broadway in “The Noose” at 18. It was on Broadway that she was introduced as ‘Barbara Stanwyck’ for the first time. At the age of 20, while performing in Ziegfeld Shows, Barbara landed the lead in the Broadway show “Burlesque”, which led to contracts with Columbia Pictures and Warner Brothers.

Historical Ziegfeld Group photos of Barbara Stanwyck and Hal Skelly in “Burlesque”

While in her 20’s, Barbara acted in the films “Broadway Nights” (1927) and “The Locked Door” (1929). She almost gave up on her acting career, but decided to move to Hollywood to pursue film options. A young Frank Capra directed “Ladies of Leisure” in 1930 which was Barbara’s first considerable movie role. People that met Stanwyck described her as dedicated, modest, generous and beloved.

Black and white portrait photo of Barbara Stanwyck wearing a black sweater.

Portrait of Barbara Stanwyck during the filming of “Ten Cents a Dance” in June 1931. From the Barbara Stanwyck photo file at the American Heritage Center.

Barbara was also considered to be outspoken, much like some of the women she portrayed. Hitting the top of the A-list with the likes of Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, the role of women in film began to be redefined. Movies such as “Ladies They Talk About” in 1932 and “Annie Oakley” in 1935 paved the way for Stanwyck’s grand talent and Academy Award recognition.

Clip from the film Annie Oakley (1935)

The 1930’s and 40’s brought continued success. In a field traditionally dominated by men, Barbara held her own and became a beacon for other women to follow. Displaying determination, commitment, and tenacity, she rose above ordinary roles. One of her most famous roles was in the 1937 film, “Stella Dallas.” Starring opposite John Boles, this moving film displayed Stanwyck’s incredible acting range as class and station issues arise. In a review of the 1941 movie, “Ball of Fire,” where Barbara starred with Gary Cooper, The New Yorker said, “…[her] confidence is charming; she is like a cocky street urchin in spangles.”   [The New Yorker, Dec. 2013]

From comedies and dramas to thrillers and westerns, in the 1950’s and 1960’s, Barbara Stanwyck continued to portray feisty women. In “The Cattle Queen of Montana” (1954), fending off greedy land grabbers and hired killers, she stakes her claim in the cattle business.  Despite the mediocre script, Barbara co-starred with Ronald Reagan and continued to be a shining star. In the 1964 movie, “Roustabout” starring Elvis Presley, Stanwyck played strong-willed, Maggie Morgan, the almost-bankrupt owner of a traveling carnival. Mae West was originally slotted for the role but Stanwyck was cast instead. Barbara’s talent was almost lost on this film, but at least one co-star was so mesmerized by her, he worked hard to live up to her level of professionalism. The only remarkable thing about making this movie, in Elvis’ opinion, was getting to work alongside Stanwyck.

Black and white photo of 4 people standing in front of a trailer with a boom microphone visible in front of the people. Elvis Presley is on theleft wearing a leather jacket, with Joan Freeman and Barbara Stanwyck standing opposite him and Leif Erickson standing behind Barbara Stanwyck. Next to Elvis is a signature of his full name.

The cast of “Roustabout” on set in 1964. From left to right: Elvis Presley, Joan Freeman, Barbara Stanwyck, and Leif Erickson (behind Stanwyck). Stanwyck affixed this photo into her copy of the script for the film. From the Barbara Stanwyck papers, Box 15 at the American Heritage Center.

Barbara transitioned into acting for television and did so with ease. Her television career included “The Jack Benny Program” (1932-1955), “Goodyear Theater” (1957-1960), “Zane Grey Theater” (1956-1961), and “The Barbara Stanwyck Show” (1960-1961). She received a Prime Time Emmy Award for “The Barbara Stanwyck Show”. She became a fast favorite in the series, “Big Valley” (1965-1969). Throughout the remainder of her career, she remained dedicated and continued to portray strong female leads. Eagerly moving into the 1970’s and 1980’s, her course continued through television with “The Thornbirds” (1983), a made-for-television miniseries, and “The Colby’s” (1985-1987), a prime time soap opera spinoff of “Dynasty”.  Barbara’s role in “The Colby’s” was brief; she only stayed for the first season. She felt her character, Constance, wasn’t going any place, but Barbara was!

In a letter addressed to, “The Student Writers and Film Historians at The University of Wyoming” Barbara encouraged us to “…pay attention to dialogue… refresh our memories…and re-read a few…” of the scripts (80+) she has donated. She insisted that, “Dialogue is the foundation.”

Scan of a letter written on Barbara Stanwyck's letterhead describing some of her thoughts about film and acting.

Letter written by Barbara Stanwyck that came with a donation of scripts to the American Heritage Center in October 1986. From the Barbara Stanwyck papers, Box 22, Folder 2 at the American Heritage Center.

Often referred to as “The Best Actress Who Never Won an Oscar”, Barbara Stanwyck was presented with her honorary Oscar in 1982 by John Travolta. He later commented that the experience was his ‘Supreme Oscar Moment’. Stanwyck led a fairly personal private life and never remarried after her divorce in 1951 from Robert Taylor. Generous, humble and, typical of Barbara, at the 1984 Golden Globe Ceremony, where she was awarded the award for for ‘Best Supporting Actress in a Series’, Barbara focused on Ann-Margaret, for her performance in “Who Will Love My Children”. Selfless, talented and overcoming great odds, Barbara Stanwyck’s incredible life and career spanned the majority of the 20th century. When asked about life and endurance, Barbara would say, “I want to go on until they shoot me.” Barbara’s request for no funeral services or memorials was honored and after her cremation, her ashes were scattered over Lone Pine, California.

A selection of materials from the Barbara Stanwyck papers will be on display in the loggia of the American Heritage Center Monday, March 5 through Saturday, March 10, 2018. The entirety of the Barbara Stanwyck papers are available for research use in the reading room of the American Heritage Center.

-Vicki Glantz, Archives Technician

Exhibit designed by Vicki Glantz & Katey Parris.

Posted in announcements, events, exhibits, Motion picture actors and actresses, motion picture history, popular culture, television history | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Votes for Women! Remembering Carrie Chapman Catt, Suffragist

Agnes Wright Spring (1894-1988), a protégé of University of Wyoming professor and librarian Dr. Grace Raymond, published a wonderful set of anecdotes in 1981 titled Near the Greats. Through her years as a prominent historian in both Wyoming and Colorado, Agnes kept notes on “interviews, incidents, wisps of gossip or hearsay and pertinent facts about the persons with whom I crossed trails or in whose shadows I walked.”


Agnes Wright Spring, ca. 1913. Agnes Wright Spring papers, UW American Heritage Center.

One of those greats was Carrie Chapman Catt (1859-1947), a national leader in the woman suffrage movement. Catt campaigned for the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which gave U.S. women the right to vote in 1920. She served as president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association and was the founder of the League of Women Voters and the International Alliance of Women.

Below is an excerpt from Spring’s recollections of Catt:

Carrie Chapman Catt was a classmate of Dr. Grace Raymond Hebard at the University of Iowa in the early 1880s and was a close friend.

At the time of Mrs. Catt’s first visit to Laramie, about 1912, I was assistant to librarian Hebard, who asked me to meet Mrs. Catt at the train and escort her to Dr. Hebard’s home, the Doctor’s Inn. I met the train with Mr. Howard’s team and hack and found Mrs. Catt very cordial. She was a striking looking woman, beautifully dressed.


Carrie Chapman Catt, 1914. Photo courtesy Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

In the autumn of 1916 when I went to Columbia University I met Mrs. Catt’s niece, Ruhe Lynn of Walsenberg, Colorado. She was living in Whittier Hall where I resided. We became good friends.

In December, Mrs. Walter McNabb Miller, an official of the New York equal suffrage movement and a close friend of Mrs. Catt, employed Ruhe and me to do some vacation work. We were to canvass big apartment houses to try to obtain names of women who wanted to vote. New York then did not have equal rights.


Women march through Manhattan for voting rights in 1913. Photo courtesy Corbis.

We were paid by the hour. We would go to a big apartment house and select a buzzer on a top floor. If the owner buzzed the door so we could get in we would then work our way up through the apartment house.

Some doors would be slammed in our faces at the words “Equal Rights.”


Men looking at materials presented by the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage. Photo courtesy Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

When we asked one woman if she would like to vote, she stomped her foot and said, “I hope you never get the vote!” We smiled and said, “We have the vote. We are from Colorado and Wyoming.”

We had such difficulty in getting doors opened if we mentioned we were from the Equal Suffrage Association that we changed our tactics and said we were “two young women from Columbia University.”

Those were the magic words and doors opened.

We did succeed in getting a large number of names on our petition. And we hoped we had helped “the cause.”

In June 1921, I was happy to renew my friendship with Mrs. Catt when the University of Wyoming gave her an honorary degree. I think this one was the first one granted by the University. Dr. Hebard entertained her at a tea in her garden for Mrs. Catt.


Carrie Chapman Catt (center) at a gathering in celebration of her honorary degree from UW, 1921. Dr. Grace Raymond Hebard is shown left center. Grace Raymond Hebard photo file, UW American Heritage Center.

The Grace Raymond Hebard papers and Agnes Wright Spring papers contain fascinating materials about Carrie Chapman Catt, the woman suffrage movement, and Hebard’s and Spring’s participation in that movement.

Posted in Local history, Suffrage -- United States, Uncategorized, University of Wyoming history, Western history, Women -- suffrage, women's history, Wyoming history | Tagged , | Leave a comment