The Daughters’ stated purpose is to unite all Catholic women in a sisterhood “to know one another better, to extend our circle of friends, to centralize all our resources to better help one another, to be a greater force to content within the pursuit of good in our society.”
In the archive resides a handwritten constitution for the National Court, National Order of the Daughters of Isabella, a philanthropic organization founded in New Haven, Connecticut, on May 14, 1897, as an auxiliary to the Rev. John Russell Council of the Knights of Columbus. Named in honor of Queen Isabella of Castile, its motto is "Unity, Friendship and Charity."
The document itself is undated, but the catalog record dates it to July 25, 1907, which refers to the date the "National Circle, Daughters of Isabella" received its charter. It is divided into five sections, the first stating that the Board of Government is to be known as the National Court of the National Order of the Daughters of Isabella.
The handwritten document, whether a draft or unofficial copy, uses the word "Court" whereas the charter and organization use "Circle." The former will be used when referring to the language in the document, and the latter when speaking of the organization and its history.
Section 2 addresses powers, providing the National Court with "authority to make, alter, and repeal all laws, rules, and regulations for the government, management, disciplines, and control" of the organization, including those of any subordinate groups, such as a state or district council. It also authorizes the enforcement of those laws, regulations, etc.
Section 3 discusses the composition of the National Court, which includes its elected officers, a board of directors, and representatives of state courts, state regents, territorial deputies, and all past regents. The original incorporators, named on the Act of Incorporation granted by the State of New York, are named as life members.
Section 4 states "Alternates" but there is no additional text, and the final section names the National Officers as the Supreme Regent, Vice Supreme Regent, National Secretary, National Treasurer, National Advocate, National Chaplain, and six directors.
The document is written on letterhead from the Sacred Heart Parish, Cambridge. More research would have to be done to determine if there was a circle at the parish and, perhaps, members were involved in the formation of the national court. Or it might be that they were hoping to start a circle at the parish and copied the documentation to conform to other parts of the organization. At the time of writing we can only speculate.
The Daughters' stated purpose is to unite all Catholic women in a sisterhood "to know one another better, to extend our circle of friends, to centralize all our resources to better help one another, to be a greater force to content within the pursuit of good in our society." During their existence, their charitable works have extended to the support of orphans, missionaries, refugees, religious communities, and Catholic educational institutions and foundations.
Their work also includes, since 1931, overseeing junior circles to promote religious, civic, educational, and athletic training to young Catholic girls. Two years later, they established the Queen Isabella Foundation, which provides scholarships for students of the National Catholic School of Social Service at the Catholic University of America. In 1941 they began providing funding to educate men and women serving in the armed forces, and at times have supported Catholic radio and television programs. In 1961, they commenced publishing the Isabellan, a magazine for Catholic women reporting the activities of the Daughters of Isabella, Catholic news stories, and editorials.
Beginning with 67 charter members in 1897, by the end of 1907, The Pilot reported that there were 76 Courts in 17 states, with a total membership of 6,700. The article reveals proposals to expand into Canada, which it did in the 1920s, and eventually the Philippines in the 1950s, by which time it boasted over 100,000 members. Today, it claims to be one of the largest Catholic women's organizations, with a membership of over 30,000 women in the U.S. and Canada.
In 1963, the organization was legally renamed "Daughters of Isabella," and is currently governed by the International Circle, which meets biennially for legislative purposes and to elect its officers and directors. From 1929, state circles were authorized to form and meet every two years to create and revise agenda items and elect officers overseeing their various projects and programs. Local circles are intended to meet monthly.
The Daughters of Isabella welcome all Catholic women aged 16 and over to join their ranks. To learn more, please visit their website daughtersofisabella.org.
- Thomas Lester is the archivist of the Archdiocese of Boston.
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