A Common Cause: David Goldstein and Martha Moore Avery

Over the summer, the archivists at the John J. Burns Library have been processing the papers of David Goldstein and Martha Moore Avery. Goldstein and Avery spent their lives as campaigners, even if what they campaigned for changed dramatically over the course of their lives. When they met in the 1890s at Boston meetings of the Socialist Labor Party, David Goldstein was a twenty-something Jewish Socialist and member of the Cigarmakers’ International Union, a recent transplant to Boston from his childhood home of New York; Martha Moore Avery was a forty-something widow with a Unitarian background, who had joined the SLP as a reaction against Nationalism. They were dedicated supporters of the socialist cause, with Avery making a living as a public speaker for the party, and both  holding “free-speech meetings” where the rights of the workers were made paramount.

Buttons, undated, David Goldstein and Martha Moore Avery Papers, MS.1986.167, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

But with the new century came new ideals: after the prominent socialist George Herron left his wife and family (for a younger woman) and cited socialism’s “free love” as justification, Goldstein and Avery began to push for more religious moral instruction in the Socialist Party – despite stern refusals by the party’s leadership. By 1903, both had left the Party. Avery converted to Catholicism that year, with Goldstein following suit two years later in 1905. From that point on, their lives were dedicated to campaigning for a different cause. After working together to write Socialism: The Nation of Fatherless Children, they founded the Catholic Truth Guild (later Campaigners for Christ), and lectured on the virtues of marriage, family, and religion – and the perceived evils of women’s suffrage, divorce, and Communism. Avery would later go on to help found the Philomatheia Club at Boston College, a women’s auxiliary devoted to Catholic education, and Goldstein would tour the country lecturing until his audience dried up with the Great Depression.

David Goldstein lecturing from a Catholic Truth Guild automobile outside Mission Dolores in San Francisco, California, circa 1928-1929, David Goldstein and Martha Moore Avery Papers, MS.1986.167, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

The David Goldstein and Martha Moore Avery Papers document more than half a century of the lives of these two campaigners, in writings, artifacts, scrapbooks, and photographs. Their letters chart the shift in the pair’s ideologies, from their Socialist Party days right through their Catholic campaigns. Goldstein’s letters and scrapbooks tell the story of his travels across America. Notes and programs from their lectures demonstrate a willingness – even an enthusiasm – to use controversies of the day to highlight the virtues of Catholic teachings. Meanwhile, photographs from Goldstein’s tours show off the custom-made lecture cars he drove from city to city, the tools of the trade of a master showman.

Telegram from “Josef Stalin,” 1952, David Goldstein and Martha Moore Avery Papers, MS.1986.167, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

While Goldstein’s focus in the later part of his life seems to display a singularly conservative zeal, occasional items also show Goldstein as a more complicated man. Even after his break with Socialism, he maintained his membership in the Cigarmakers’ International Union; indeed, despite his anti-Socialist stance he remained staunchly pro-union, trying to fight the growth of Marxism within the working class by substituting Catholic social teachings. And he was certainly not a man without a sense of humor: one item from his collection is an (almost certainly fake) telegram from Josef Stalin detailing how reading Das Capital gives him a headache(!). Overall this collection is a wonderful resource for the study of turn-of-the-century American Socialism, from two of its greatest proponents-turned-critics, as well as for the study of early nineteenth-century evangelical Catholicism and those who espoused it. This collection is now completely processed and available to the public. Please see the finding aid or contact the Burns Library for more information, either by phone at 617-552-4861 or by email at burnsref@bc.edu.

  • Richard Burley, Burns Library Archives Student Assistant.


Campbell, Debra. “A Catholic Salvation Army: David Goldstein, Pioneer Lay Evangelist.” Church History 52.3 (September 1983): 322-332.

Campbell, Debra. “Goldstein, David.” American National Biography Online (February 2000). Access Date: Thu Sep 04 2014. http://www.anb.org/articles/08/08-02189.html.

Goldstein, David. Autobiography of a Campaigner for Christ. Boston: Catholic Campaigners for Christ, 1936.

Phelps, Connie. “Avery, Martha Moore.” American National Biography Online (February 2000). Access Date: Thu Sep 04 2014. http://www.anb.org/articles/08/08-01771.html.

About John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections at Boston College

Located in the original Bapst Library building on Boston College's Chestnut Hill campus, the John J. Burns Library offers students, scholars, and the general public opportunities to engage with rare books, special collections, and archives.
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