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November 5, 2004 • Volume 13 Number 5

Joseph F. O'Connell, member of the Class of 1893, and first BC grad to go to Congress.

From the Archives

"Born a Democrat, and baptized a Catholic," is how the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York once described himself. Politics offered a way up for generations of Irish-Americans in America's big cities in the 19th and 20th-centuries, as it did for two members of Boston College's Class of 1893 who were elected to Congress, writes University Historian Thomas O'Connor:

In a year when the United States is caught up in the excitement of a major presidential election, it is interesting to note that two members of the same graduating class in 1893 would be the first two Boston College students to achieve success and fame as members of the United States Congress.

They were heady days, when Boston College was still located in the South End only a decade before it would move to the Heights on Chestnut Hill. The students had chosen maroon and gold as their official school colors, and T.J. Hurley '85 had written the school song called "For Boston." The college was growing, the activities were increasing, and the students were becoming proud of their achievements and confident of their futures.

Joseph F. O'Connell of Dorchester, who had already made a name for himself as the principal organizer and captain of BC's first football team in 1892, graduated the following year and went on to become the first graduate of Boston College to go to the United States Congress. "Establishing his own Young Men's Democratic Party, nicknamed the 'Red Devils,' Joe...was soon viewed as a bright young fellow with a voice to wake the dead and the oratorical skills to waft them on high," son Lenehan O'Connell '34 recalls.

In 1906 he defeated the state senator from South Boston, Edward L. Logan, after whom the Boston airport was later named, and served in the 60th and 61st Congresses from 1907 to 1911. After his defeat by James Michael Curley, Joseph O'Connell returned to Boston and resumed the practice of law with the prominent law firm he had established that now has been in operation for more than a hundred years.

A second member of that same 1893 class also set out on a political career after his graduation from Boston College. John J. Douglass of East Boston, who won the Fulton Debating Prize and whose name still appears on the wall in the Fulton Society Room in Gasson Hall, served four terms in the Massachusetts House. In 1924, he defeated Peter Tague in the Democratic Primary in the famous 10th Congressional District, and went on to serve four consecutive terms in the House of Representatives. After his retirement, John Douglass was named commissioner of Boston's penal institutions.

"From the Archives" offers commentaries on historic BC images from the Burns Library collection.

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