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Rev. William T. O'Connor papers

Identifier: IWA1184

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Scope and Contents

The Rev. William T. O’Connor papers date from 1922 to 1984 and measure 7.5 linear inches. The papers a split into two series: St. Ambrose College (1946-1984) and Labor Rights and Civil Rights (1922-1982).

The St. Ambrose series covers O’Connor’s career as a faculty member in St. Ambrose College’s sociology department. The series includes teaching materials for a labor seminar and materials related to O’Connor’s brother and fellow St. Ambrose faculty member, Rev. Edward O’Connor. The correspondence section of this series traces O’Connor’s contentious relationship with members of St. Ambrose College’s administration over his labor activism from the 1950s to his eventual forced departure from the college in 1966.

The Labor Rights and Civil Rights series focuses on O’Connor’s activism in the Quad Cities area through the 1950s and 1960s and includes newspaper clippings, correspondence with Quad City labor leaders, and three professional labor publications: Causes of Labor Unrest by A.F. Whitney, a Speaker’s Manual against Restrictive Labor Legislation, and Supplement to 1964 Labor Law Course. The bulk of the series is made up of bulletins authored by O’Connor that focus on labor rights and civil rights in the Quad Cities and social justice as it relates to the Roman Catholic Church’s Social Encyclicals. This run of bulletins is scattered but contains forty-five consecutive issues on the subject of racial injustice in Iowa from 1963. Also in this series are the results of a survey of Cook’s Point, a largely Mexican immigrant neighborhood in Davenport, Iowa, conducted by members of the St. Ambrose’s Human and Industrial Relations Club in 1949. The series continues with newspaper clippings about O’Connor and from pro-union newspapers, a 1959 report from Davenport, Iowa’s Committee on Human Rights, and documentation of an investigation into whether O’Connor was denied membership to the Rock Island Arsenal Golf Course because of his activism.


  • Creation: 1922-1984


Conditions Governing Access

The papers are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright held by the donor has been transferred to the University of Iowa.

However, copyright status for some collection materials may be unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owner. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility and potential liability based on copyright infringement for any use rests exclusively and solely with the user. Users must properly acknowledge the Iowa Women’s Archives, The University of Iowa Libraries, as the source of the material. For further information, visit

Biographical / Historical

Rev. William T. O’Connor graduated from St. Ambrose Academy and St. Ambrose College in Davenport, Iowa. After finishing his undergraduate education he continued his studies at the Catholic University of America in Washington D.C. and was ordained to the Roman Catholic priesthood in 1933. That same year, he returned to St. Ambrose Academy as a faculty member. He later joined the faculty of St. Ambrose College’s sociology department after earning a PhD in Sociology. O’Connor’s academic career was interrupted briefly by World War Two, which he spent as a chaplain in the Navy, returning to St. Ambrose after the war.

O’Connor’s career as a professor and as a priest was marked by his dedication to the cause of social justice. Known as a “labor priest,” O’Connor supported rights of workers to organize, taught labor education programs, and took out a newspaper advertisement encouraging local workers to vote in favor of union representation. He formed St. Ambrose’s Inter-Racial Club in 1948 and organized the Industrial and Human Relations Council in the Quad-Cities in 1949. In 1949, students from his sociology classes and members of the college’s Human and Industrial Relations Club produced an economic survey of Cook’s Point, a largely Mexican immigrant neighborhood in Davenport. O’Connor and his students used the results to draw attention to housing discrimination, advocate for more city services in the vicinity of Cook’s Point, and fight against the Davenport City Council’s plans to evict the residents. In 1951, O’Connor’s students from St. Ambrose and its sister college, Marycrest, formed the League for Social Justice.

Along with his brother Rev. Edward O’Connor, and their fellow priest, Rev. C.F. Griffith, O’Connor taught classes for a Summer Labor School in Davenport. The Labor School, which was open to members of the community, considered topics like unions, labor leadership, and their connection to Christianity.

From 1951-1966, O’Connor published a Labor Bulletin in which he argued for unions and civil rights from a Roman Catholic perspective and documented local social justice issues such as the eviction of Cook’s Point residents. For years, local business leaders and donors to St. Ambrose College had objected to his activism, and in 1966 Monsignors P.D. Moore and S.E. Menke placed O’Connor on leave from St. Ambrose College. The next year he was reassigned as the pastor of St. Mary’s Church in Davenport, Iowa.

O’Connor served on the Iowa Civil Rights Board-Clinton in 1969, and was the chaplain of the Quad-City Labor Relations Board. He was a pastor for St. Mary’s Church, Davenport, Iowa; St. Irenaus Church, Clinton Iowa; and St. Anne Church, Welton, Iowa before his retirement in 1979. O’Connor died in December of 1984.


7.50 linear inches

Language of Materials



Roman Catholic priest and labor rights advocate who taught at St. Ambrose College, Davenport, Iowa.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The papers (donor no. 1557) were donated by Bill Gluba in 2018.

Related Materials

Mary Terronez papers, Iowa Women’s Archives, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City, IA

Rev. Marvin A. Mottet Oral History, Iowa Women’s Archives, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City, IA

Rev. William T. O’Connor papers, St. Ambrose University Special Collections, Davenport, IA

Separated Materials

Anderson, Marian. My Lord, What a Morning. New York: The Viking Press, 1956.

Auerbach, Irving. Are Unions Necessary? Norwood, MA: Plimpton Press, 1957.

Barbash, Jack. Labor Unions in Action: A Study of the Mainsprings of Unionism. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1948.

Barbash, Jack. The Practice of Unionism: An Inside Picture of Labor Unions Today. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1956.

Bucchieri, Theresa. Keep Your Old Folks at Home. Canfield, OH: Alba Books, 1975.

D’Aria, Daniel. You Shall Not Steal, Nor Covet Your Neighbor’s Goods: Reflections on the Commandments. Boston, MA: Pauline Books and Media, 1995.

Dankert, Clyde E. Contemporary Unionism in the United States. New York: Prentice-Hall, 1948.

Davis, Keith. Human Relations in Business. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1957.

Gardiner, Harold C. The Great Books: A Christian Appraisal. New York: The Devin-Adair Company, 1949.

Gardner, Burleigh B., and David G. Moore. Human Relations in Industry: Organizational and Administrative Behavior. Homewood, IL: Richard D. Irwin, Inc., 1964.

Golden, Clinton S., and Harold J. Ruttenberg. The Dynamics of Industrial Democracy. New York: Harper and Brothers Publishers, 1942.

The Labor Committee of the Twentieth Century Fund. Partners in Production: A Basis for Labor-Management Understanding. New York: The Twentieth Century Fund, 1949.

Lester, Richard A. Labor and Industrial Relations: A General Analysis. New York: The MacMillan Company, 1951.

Liturgy of the Catholic Burial Rite and Mass of Requiem. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1971.

MacDonald, Lois, and Emanuel Stein. The Worker and Government. New York: The Affiliated Schools for Workers, Inc., 1935.

Miller, J.R. Silent Times: A Book to Help in Reading the Bible into Life. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell and Co, 1914.

Millis, Harry A., and Royal E. Montgomery. Labor’s Progress and Some Basic Labor Problems. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1938.

Peterson, Florence. American Labor Unions: What They Are and How They Work. New York: Harper and Brothers Publishers, 1945.

Richberg, Donald R. Labor Union Monopoly: A Clear and Present Danger. Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1957.

Taylor, Albion Guilford. Labor Problems and Labor Law. 2nd ed. New York: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1950.

Weeks, Robert P. Machines and the Man: A Sourcebook on Automation. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc, 1961.

Rev. William T. O'Connor papers
Anna Tunnicliff
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Iowa Women's Archives Repository

100 Main Library
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City IA 52242 IaU
319-335-5900 (Fax)