Mary Boyle O’Reilly: World War I Journalist

Mary Boyle O’Reilly was born on May 18, 1873 in Charlestown, Massachusetts. Her father, John Boyle O’Reilly, was a noted poet and Irish nationalist, and her mother, Mary Smiley (Murphy) O’Reilly, was a journalist.

In 1913, O’Reilly accepted a position as foreign correspondent for the Newspaper Enterprise Association, and was placed in charge of the London office. As war threatened in Europe, she traveled undercover to report from the continent. She was the first American journalist in Belgium and witnessed the burning of Louvain. She was subsequently held prisoner by the Germans. After her release, she remained in Europe and was present in Paris during the Battle of the Marne, and at Calais during the Battle of Loos. She returned to Belgium to work with refugees and also spent a number of months of 1915 in Warsaw doing relief work as people fled Poland. O’Reilly returned to the United States in 1917, and went on a speaking tour of the country on the topic of her war experience.

The below excerpts comes from the Mary Boyle O’Reilly papers. The text describes a heroic act by an American soldier after he received word that there were 1800 wounded soldiers being brought in to camp. The words that O’Reilly used to describe the soldier seem to be an appeal to American nationalism, as one can easily get a sense of the man’s machismo and heroic attitude from reading the excerpt.


Box 1, Folder 12, Mary Boyle O’Reilly Papers, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

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Hilaire Belloc: the Poet, the Author, and the Humorist

Hilaire Belloc, G.K. Chesterton, and Maurice Baring were a literary tour de force that in many ways were the culmination of the Catholic revival begun by the series’ earlier subjects. These three authors were close friends and collaborators who generated some of the best titles and works of the era. While the first two have surged in popularity since the time they were first published, the last has tragically declined into obscurity. Nevertheless, the British Catholic Authors Collection in the Burns Library contains considerable amounts of material on all three of the authors, which will be discussed in this and previous posts.

The Anglo-French writer Joseph Hilaire Pierre René Belloc was born in Celle Saint-Cloud, France, on July 27, 1870. His mother was an English citizen, and the family moved to England when Belloc’s French father died in 1872. Due to this move he often was called by the Anglicized form of his name, Hilary. He would later give this name to his son. Nevertheless his legal name was Hilaire, and he often chose to sign documents with this name or simply the initial. Thus, for simplicity’s sake our collection use the spelling Hilaire.

Hilaire Belloc attended the Birmingham Oratory School (founded by John Henry Newman) from 1880-1887, and had some contact with the aging Newman. After Belloc finished school, he returned to France to complete his compulsory military service to maintain his French citizenship. From 1893 to 1896 he attended Balliol College, Oxford, graduating with first class honors in modern history. Also in 1896 he married an American, Elodie Hogan, with whom he had five children – three sons and two daughters.

Belloc began his literary career with Verses and Sonnets (1895), and he always thought his poetry was his best writing. Next he published The Bad Child’s Book of Beasts (1896), a collection of nonsense verse that was so popular it sold out in four days and continues to stay in print. Belloc also worked a series of biographies that included Danton (1899) and Robespierre (1901). In 1902 Belloc published Path to Rome, perhaps his most representative work for its combination of his love for travel and his ardent Roman Catholicism, in it he recounts his journey on foot from Toul, France, to Rome, Italy.

The Title Page and some of Belloc's sketches in The Path to Rome

The title page and some of Belloc’s sketches in The Path to Rome, D919 .B44 1902b, British Catholic Authors Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Original illustrations by Belloc for the Path to Rome

Original illustrations by Belloc for The Path to Rome, Hilaire Belloc Collection, MS2005-03, Box 130, John J. Burns Library, Boston College. (Note that the top right sketch would be used as the image for the title of chapter one, as seen in the image above)

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William Stinson, SJ: Postcard Album, 1914-1919

The postcard below depicts Verdun, France following the Battle of Verdun fought from February 21 to December 18, 1916. The Battle of Verdun was one of the largest battles on the western front between the German and French armies. A memorandum from General Erich von Falkenhyn to Kaiser Wilhelm II reveals that the Germans designed Verdun to be a battle of attrition. Casualties on both sides have been estimated as high as 800,000, and between 40 and 60 million shells were fired over ten  months.


William Stinson, SJ, Papers, Box 2, BC.2005.128, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

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From Jesuitica to Graham Greene: A Student Intern’s Experiences with Conservation

As a Boston College student who had participated in the creation of an exhibit in the John J. Burns Library and enjoyed a great many more, I was always baffled when fellow undergraduates were unaware of its presence on campus. “You mean Bapst?” I’d be asked when discussing the location of a class, lecture, or exhibit. I’d reply that it’s the rare books library, a separate entity from Bapst holding a completely different collection of materials. Sometimes I’d receive a confused, “just rare books?” in response to my quick explanation, as I was often on my way out the door while these conversations were taking place. And the answer is yes… and no. I’ve come to discover that these rare books hold more than I expected during my recent summer internship and assistantship with Burns’ Conservator, Barbara Adams Hebard. These rare and wonderful volumes have been protecting and keeping voices from the past, voices from their owners, alive in the stacks of Burns Library.

As Conservation Intern and Assistant, I’ve seen and aided in the conservation of two very different collections. From the leather treatment of pre-suppression Jesuit volumes to protectively covering the library of Graham Greene among other duties, I’ve had the opportunity to handle over one hundred individual rare books. Within the two large collections I’ve mentioned, there are exciting differences from book to book. The leather volumes often have intricate gold designs or individual patterns imprinted in or painted on the binding. The languages of these Jesuits of the past range from French, Italian, Latin, and others I can’t readily identify. The paper and ink used varies, with some still remarkably rich as a result of handmade paper and quality ink.

By comparison, in Graham Greene’s collection, the bindings from his 20th century collection  are much less notable than the much older Jesuit  books. However, the understanding that some of these books influenced his lauded written creations is exciting in and of itself. Also of note is that some of them came to us with the pages uncut, a sign that those particular books were not the ones impacting the author’s literary or historical pursuits. Continue reading

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The Harsh Realities of War

These images were taken by German soldier, H. A. Reinhold and are part of the H.A. Reinhold Papers, 1908-1997. A native of Hamburg Germany, Reinhold chronicled his war experience by taking pictures throughout Europe. Although many of his images captured the routine, day-to-day happenings of a soldier’s life, the ones below were chosen based on the extreme destructiveness that they exhibit. These images can serve as a sharp contrast to the government-produced propaganda images that we have been seeing. The fact that each image was taken in a different location helps to emphasize the overwhelmingly destructive nature of this conflict and the harsh reality of war.

This image was taken in an unknown city sometime during the war; likely in France due to the French writing on one of the buildings. Soldiers can be seen marching through this badly damaged city. Like in many of Reinhold’s other photos, it is quite apparent from this photo that destruction was ubiquitous during the war.


Box 25, Folder 1, H. A. Reinhold Papers, MS.2003.60, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

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Three Movable Books

This year, the Movable Book Society holds its eleventh biennial conference here in Boston, and the John J. Burns Library is providing a display of three items from our collection starting Wednesday, September 14th.



The Plagues of Egypt volvelle, turned to display the first, seventh, and tenth plagues, respectively. Hagadah li-yeladim, BM675.P4 z687313 1948 GENERAL, John J. Burns Library, Boston College

The Hagadah li-yeladim – the “Children’s Haggadah” (1948) – allows children to follow along with the Passover Seder. This text features a total of five movable images. The first features a pull-tab allowing the reader to make Baby Moses float forward and back among the bulrushes, while a flap reveals or conceals the Egyptians about to discover him. The second and third operate as opposites sides of the book’s sole volvelle, the technical term for a disk of paper sandwiched in the middle of two sheets that may be turned (via an exposed edge on the side) to make different aspects appear in the cutout window. The first side of our children’s Haggadah’s volvelle sets a succession of slaves to work between two Egyptian taskmasters; the second side reveals the Ten Plagues of Egypt in gruesome succession from fish gasping in a red blood river to a man wailing over an empty cradle. Further on, the flight across the parted Red Sea features the attacking Egyptian army, which the reader can sink into the water at his or her leisure (see video below). The final moving element shows a modern-day Passover scene; the pull-tab reveals in three successive stages a young boy in the process of finding the hidden matzo.

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Summer Reading… and Eating

The archives staff recently completed work on three collections related to American mystery author and political activist Rex Stout. We had great fun learning all about Stout and his work as an author through the material he created and retained himself, from the perspective of a collector (Judson Sapp), and from the relentless research of his authorized biographer (John J. McAleer, PhD).


“Nero Wolfe” Comic Strip, drawn by Mike Roy. Box 66, Folder 5, Rex Stout papers, MS.1986.096, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Stout’s books star a genius-but-reclusive detective, Nero Wolfe, and his more adventurous sidekick, Archie Goodwin. The books inspired several radio and television series over the years, but one of our favorite spinoffs is the Nero Wolfe comic strip, which ran during the 1950s in American newspapers.  (See the pre-publication proofs from our collections, above.)

Photograph of Stout with popovers and Too Many Cooks-themed centerpiece from Wolfe Pack dinner. Box 41, John J. McAleer papers, BC.1995.016, and Box 56, Judson C. Sapp papers, MS.1996.022, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Besides being a crime-solving genius, Wolfe was also known as a gourmet, and likewise Stout loved cooking and collecting recipes. He published a Nero Wolfe cookbook, as well as this collection of more personal recipes in The American Magazine. Like many of Stout’s enthusiasts, his biographer sought to make connections between Stout’s tastes and Wolfe’s.  Included in the in-depth interview questionnaires mailed back and forth between Stout and McAleer is this humorous tidbit regarding food: Stout did indeed enjoy peanut butter, donuts, and finnan haddie (separately, we hope!)

In his political life, Stout was part Archie, part Nero. His active, Archie personality was involved in groups such as Freedom House and the Society to Prevent World War III, and his scripts for the World War II radio series, Our Secret Weapon, were passionate, at times even virulent. But in this episode from October 4, 1942, “The Lie Detective,” Stout channels his inner Nero and dissects Axis Powers propaganda in order to rebut it, piece by piece.

Three stages of an episode of Our Secret Weapon: source material, script, and finished product. Box 48, Folder 2, and Box 51, Folder 11, Rex Stout papers, MS.1986.096, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Stout’s fans are extremely dedicated and form a group known as the Wolfe Pack. Our collections also contain some of their memorabilia, including mugs, bags, and even a photograph of the great detective’s canine namesake.


Stout fan memorabilia, Box 42, John J. McAleer papers, BC.1995.016; Box 45, Judson C. Sapp papers, MS.1996.022; and Box 1. Folder 3, Rex Stout papers, MS.1986.096, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

To learn more about Rex Stout and his work, please consult the new finding aids for the Rex Stout papers, the Judson C. Sapp papers and Collection of Rex Stout, and the John J. McAleer faculty papers, or contact the Burns Library reading room at 617-552-4861 or

  • Annalisa Moretti, Processing Assistant, John J. Burns Library
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