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Rediscovering T. A. Daly: Immigrant Voices in Poetry

Rediscovering T. A. Daly: Immigrant Voices in Poetry

Philadelphia’s own “Tom” Daly

You may not have heard of Thomas Augustine Daly – a native and lifelong Philadelphian; an Irish-American and a Catholic; a journalist, poet, and prolific author; and an early Villanova alumnus. Daly was best known for his humorous verse written primarily in Italian-American or Irish-American dialect. When we read these depictions of speech today, our initial reaction is likely one of cringe-inducing disgust or dismissal. Yet in his day he was a “universally loved figure in American literature” and perhaps as one reviewer claimed, “the most widely quoted in this country.” While other authors who wrote in dialect – so fashionable at the turn of the twentieth century - such as Joel Chandler Harris and Mark Twain, or James Whitcomb Riley and Paul Laurence Dunbar (to whom Daly has been compared), have endured, waned, or been re-evaluated, Daly seems to have fallen out of favor or been entirely forgotten.

This exhibition brings together newly digitized materials from Villanova University’s Distinctive Collections along with a majority of Daly’s published corpus. Daly’s notebooks, scrapbook, and published prose give us glimpses into his own life deeply rooted in Philadelphia's Irish and Catholic communities, while his poetry is strongly themed around a broader American identity through the everyday characters he created. His contemporary critics widely viewed his portrayals of immigrant characters as distinguished by sympathy and understanding rather than as harmful or offensive.

However, some of the works in this exhibition do include language that is discriminatory and offensive. Yet rather than censoring American history, there is value in addressing such texts for how they can provide understanding about why, how, and by whom racial and ethnic slurs were used historically to refer to particular groups of people. These materials can be used by students, faculty, and researchers to think critically and open discourse on topics such as racism, stereotypes and bias, the immigrant experience (historically, as well as today), cultural appropriation and authenticity, and to promote cultural awareness and sensitivity.

— Rebecca Oviedo, Distinctive Collections Librarian/Archivist (exhibit curator), April 2021.



Additional credit: Banner graphics by Joanne Quinn, Director of Communications & Marketing.

Comments or questions can be directed to dcde@villanova.edu.


Sources: For "universally loved figure" see: Katherine Bregy, The Catholic Transcript, Volume XXXIX, Number 31. Hartford: Connecticut, December 31, 1936, p. 7. https://thecatholicnewsarchive.org/. For "most widely quoted" see Franklin P. Adams, “Sunny Italians in Song,” The Saturday Evening Mail, October 27, 1906. [Scrapbook, pp. 56-57]. For comparisons see Louis Untermeyer, Modern American Poetry: a Critical Anthology. 6th rev. ed. New York: Harcourt, Brace and company, 1942. p. 169.