Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



First Advisor

Kenneth Aslakson




black, baseball, african, white, american, octavius


This thesis seeks to examine African American activist Octavius Valentine Catto's social and civic contributions to the African American community in Philadelphia and the nation during the Reconstruction era. Catto's militancy, courage, and devotion to the black cause, as a result of major religious and secular revolutionary ideology, offers an alternative view of the black experience in the North which was overshadowed by the myriad of research on Reconstruction in the South. Octavius Catto is part of a long tradition of black activists who led a wave of antislavery reform rooted in the secular political ideology of the American Revolution, which proposed that slavery was hypocritical and inconsistent with the ideals proclaimed in the foundational traditions of America, the Declaration of Independence. Intense racism and discrimination, due to the sociopolitical framework of the period, provides a focus for Octavius Catto's civil rights activism. How did Octavius Catto challenge the white sociopolitical structure? How did he gain the respect of Philadelphia’s white population while combating racist sentiment? Through the examination of Octavius Catto's formal liberal arts education, intense involvement in sociopolitical societies, recruitment efforts for black Union troops during the Civil War, and baseball career, this thesis demonstrates that Octavius Catto was influential in directing the progress of blacks within a white prejudiced nation. Octavius Catto founded the Pythian Baseball Club, the first all black baseball club to participate in and win an interracial challenge, which provided an alternative and novel path of civil and social activism. Evidently, the Pythian Baseball Club used baseball as a vehicle to battle race relations, uplift the status of blacks, and assimilate into the mainstream fabric of American society. This thesis is a qualitative study supported by extensive primary source documents which allow further examination of Octavius Catto's life. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania contains the Leon Gardiner Collection and American Negro Historical Society Collection, which constitutes the bulk of the primary source records researched for this project. These primary sources consist of the Banneker Institute Papers, the Pythian Baseball Club Papers and the Pennsylvania State Equal Rights League Papers. Through the meticulous examination of the language and content in correspondence letters, speeches, weekly periodicals, and social and literary organization law, this thesis outlines the ways in which Octavius Catto and fellow black leaders forged a path to social and civic equality in their respective communities. Despite the availability of primary source material relevant to Octavius Catto's life, secondary sources have provided extensive sociopolitical contextual information integral to the Reconstruction era and primary source material. The Department of History at Villanova University maintains a permanent online exhibit entitled “A Great Thing for our People: The Institute for Colored Youth in the Civil War Era,” which seeks to tell the early history of its graduates, including Octavius Catto, and how they helped shape the history of postwar America. This exhibit, along with other secondary sources, constitute the bulk of my secondary sources.