Joseph Mannard, an associate professor in the Department of History and an affiliated WGS
faculty member, was quoted in the New York Times and the Washington Post on August 2 and 3,
Mannard’s areas of specialization are 19th-century US social history and Roman Catholic
nuns. The New York Times piece, “The Nuns Who Bought and Sold Human Beings: America’s
nuns are beginning to confront their ties to slavery, but it’s still a long road to repentance,”
discusses about how, in the early 1800s, the Catholic nuns of the Georgetown Visitation
Preparatory School offered free school lessons. However, this came at the cost of enslaved
The sisters at the Georgetown Visitation owned over 100 enslaved people, including
children, men, and women. To expand their school and pay debts, the sisters would sell dozens
of enslaved people (Swarns, 2019). But it was the socially progressive practice of these nuns
teaching the enslaved people how to read and write was what was passed down through the
Georgetown Visitation Preparatory Schools oral traditions and history of the school.
thought they had ties to slavery. Yet, “seven of the eight first orders of Catholic nuns
established in the United States owned slaves by the 1820s” (Swarns, 2019), and Joseph
Mannard helped reveal that the eighth order did, too. Mannard’s findings helped showed that
all first order nuns owned slaves in the 1820s.
Recently Catholic nuns have been addressing
their past and are asking for forgiveness. Mannard notes, “The nuns were slaveholders in much
the same way other slaveholders were, and they didn’t feel guilt, I don’t think. I’m not even sure they thought a lot about it.” (Natanson, 2019)
Mannard also quoted,
“the public is just now learning about nun’s slaveholding practices because of a recently
heightened national focus on race” (Natanson, 2019).