If I have learned anything in my ten months working in Special Collections, it’s that when processing a collection, you truly never know just what you might find.
Recently, while processing a collection called the Turner Family Papers (Ms2017-004) a series of family letters that span a century, roughly from the 1840s – 1940s, which includes three wars and multiple generations, I came upon a set of letters that had been thoroughly inspected – by little teeth! It became quickly apparent that these letters were one tough group.
In addition to surviving 100+ years to be with us today, they had survived being used as nesting material and meals for a variety of rodent populations before coming to live permanently (and safely) at Virginia Tech Special Collections. Of the 100+ letters, about 40 of the letters have significant portions missing.
The letters that have been subjected to this unsubtle nibbling are mainly from the 1940’s era and beyond, although there are a few years here and there that have pieces missing as well.
While certainly entertaining to look at, this nibbling poses a problem for archival staff. When collections are processed archivists complete a variety of tasks that span from organization, to transcription, to digitization and beyond. When at the transcription stage, it is important to be able to read what each document is saying – that’s difficult to do when parts of the letter are missing!
Many people have a variety of historical materials and fragile documents in their possession. With no room for them in the house, these materials are often stored in closets, basements and attics in particular. While this may seem like a harmless space for these items, there are a few factors that could potentially ruin your collection.
First, as we’ve discussed: rodents! Rodents frequently seek shelter inside crawl spaces, walls and other infrequently visited areas of your home; when you have unprotected materials such as paper and fabric, there is a risk that your items will be chewed and used as nesting materials.
A few other factors that can influence the safety of your historic materials are: exposure to fluctuating temperatures, humidity, water damage, insect damage, fading and darkening from exposure to sunlight etc. Below are some examples of letters from the same Turner Family collection that have been exposed to some sort of extra damage. Regardless of these examples of chewed and damaged items, the majority of this collection is in remarkable shape for its age.
As a way of prolonging the life of your documents and materials, try storing them in a place that you visit frequently so you can check on their condition as needed. Even better, call your local special collections office to discuss proper home care and even donation processes if applicable.
Visit us at Special Collections in Newman Library to see these letters in person.
More Tips and Tricks for protecting your historical documents from pesky pests!
Today marks the beginning of the 40th Annual Appalachian Studies Association Conference, taking place here at Virginia Tech! Our archivist Marc Brodsky has set up an exhibit in Special Collections to show off some of our collections documenting the history of Appalachia. Please come by to take a gander today or tomorrow during our open hours, if you are interested in what he has highlighted from our collections! If you can’t make it, take a lot at some of the display:
One of the earliest documents regards slavery in the 18th century from the Dickson Family Papers, Ms1988-094. An example is the following bill of sale for a “Negro Boy Named Elijah”:
We also have items from the Black, Kent, and Apperson Families Papers, Ms1974-003. Harvey Black, the great-nephew of Blacksburg’s namesake William Black, was a field surgeon in the Civil War. He served as the superintendent of the Eastern Lunatic Asylum in Williamsburg, then became the first superintendent of the Southwestern Lunatic Asylum in Marion upon its opening in 1887:
Here is the text of the first annual report for the Southwestern Lunatic Asylum, 1887:
Some of the other collections that I have not pictured here include
Occasionally I get the chance to work with something in our collections that give me shivers, and the notebooks that astronaut Michael Collins used on the NASA Gemini and Apollo spaceflight missions definitely fall into that category. I mean, it isn’t often that you get to handle and scan items that have actually been in space! You can see the online collection here.
Michael Collins is probably most famous for his role as the command module pilot on the Apollo 11 Mission, the first manned mission to land on the lunar surface. Collins orbited the moon while commander Neil Armstrong and lunar module pilot Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin descended to its surface.
In 1989, Virginia Tech Special Collections was honored to receive his papers, which cover Collins’ Air Force career, training at the U. S. Test Pilot School and Experimental Flight Center, participation in NASA’s Gemini and Apollo programs, and tenure at the State Department and NASM. While this collection has been heavily used by students and researchers for many years, it wasn’t until this past summer and fall of 2016 that we were able to get a large portion of it scanned and ready to go online. I’m really excited to get some of these items out there for the wider world to see.
Before the Apollo missions, Collins was also involved in the Gemini missions, serving as pilot of Gemini 10, launched July 18, 1966. During this mission, Collins and commander John Young set a new orbital altitude record and completed a successful rendezvous with a separate orbiting space vehicle, paving the way for modern day space vehicle maneuvers such as docking with the International Space Station. Another notable achievement from this mission was the successful completion of two spacewalks by Collins. Collins was the was fourth person ever to perform a spacewalk (referred to by NASA as an EVA, or Extravehicular Activity), and the first person to ever perform more than one.
After retiring from the NASA astronaut program in 1970, Collins worked for the US State Department and the Smithsonian Institute, serving as the first director of the National Air and Space Museum. The collection also includes many items related to his later work, as well as many items sent to him by adoring fans and space enthusiasts from around the world. What’s now online is just a portion of the collection, hopefully we’ll be able to get more up soon. You can see the finding aid for the collection here.
This year for Women’s History Month, Special Collections has some special things going on! We will have a display on the second floor of Newman Library near the main entrance. “Remarkable Women Throughout History: Snapshots from Special Collections” is a month-long display (March 1-31) with posters, items in exhibit cases, and a book display from the circulating collection. In addition, we will also have more materials from our collections on display in the exhibit cases in our reading room on the first floor near the cafe. We invite you to visit our exhibits during the month of March and learn about our collections and some of the remarkable women represented in them. (We’re grateful to our amazing colleagues throughout the library who helped us make this happen, as well as the students who delved into our stacks and boxes to find the stories of these women to share.)
For the fifth year running, our “What’s Cookin’ @Special Collections?!” blog will continue its “Women’s History Month” series, highlighting the contributions of women to the culinary and agricultural fields! You can view the posts to date here: https://whatscookinvt.wordpress.com/category/feature-items/womens-history-month/. New posts should also show up under this category as they are published. We don’t have all the posts planned out just yet, but we know will be featuring the work of Frances Harriet Whipple Green McDougall (cookbook author, artist, and activist), Mrs. D. A. Lincoln (author and educator), and Ellen Swallow Richards (one of the first women to teach at MIT).
A Young Blacksburg Woman Falls Victim to Infatuation
We may be just a little late for Valentine’s Day, but of course the subject of love is never passé. And that brief, trite introduction leads us to the 1919 diary of a young Blacksburg woman named Olivia Tutwiler. Pouring her heart into a small composition book, this young schoolteacher gave vent to the frustration and consternation caused by a crush that she had on a cadet at nearby Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College and Polytechnic Institute—now Virginia Tech. Along the way, Tutwiler provides us with some insights into what life was like for a young woman in a small, sleepy college town a century ago.
The diary spans the first two months of 1919 and was written by Tutwiler while she was away from work—her school in nearby Riner, Virginia, apparently having been closed during an influenza outbreak. Purchased at a local estate sale 95 years later, the diary was donated to Special Collections last year. Whether Tutwiler maintained a journal only during this short period or was a lifelong diarist, we don’t know.
Tutwiler’s diary is somewhat unusual in that the entries are written as though addressed to the object of her affection. The entry for January 1 sets the tone for much that follows: “So dear boy I saw you again to-day and spoke to you too. … Oh boy if you only knew how much I love you.” On the following day, Tutwiler provides a description of the young man: “I couldn’t help thinking of you. I like your black hair its [sic] so nice and crisp with just a little bit of curl and blue eyes. What makes you have dimples and be so altogether good looking and adorable,” she writes.
For the next several weeks, Tutwiler chronicles her failed attempts at winning the affection of this young man. Each time romance seems about to blossom, however, her desires are waylaid by a a miscalculation, the cadet’s reticence, or Tutwiler’s own pride and code of conduct. On January 5, she summarizes the challenge of her lovelorn melodrama:
You’re really the most extraordinary boy I’ve ever seen. No one seems to be able to get anything out of you one way or the other. I used to think you cared a lot for me but I’ve evidently been mistaken from all I hear and see. Its [sic] a funny thing how boys will be in love with one girl and still try to make all the others think he’s wildly in love with them by acting if not speaking. They all seem to do it and I suppose youre [sic] no exception to the rule.
Frustrated by the young man’s seeming hesitancy and insincerity, Tutwiler on January 14 reports taking the as much initiative as she dared within the strictures of polite society of the day:
I had to see you so I called you up to come down tomorrow night so I could see about the bastket-ball game + candy pull…. And you’ll never know that it was mostly to see you. How your voice changed when you knew it was me over the phone. Like you were so glad. Were you? I do hope you will take me to one of the games. And I went in the drug store just to see you too. Foolish and crazy but you don’t know so what difference does it make?
Just who was this reportedly handsome fellow, who won the heart of at least one steadfast admirer? Unfortunately, his identity will have to remain a mystery. Throughout her diary, Tutwiler refers to her beloved only as “dear boy.” She slips on one occasion (January 18) and uses his given name, Charles. A little digging found that there were no cadets named Charles in the VAMC class of 1919. There were two in the class of 1920, but neither had black hair. The class of 1921, however, had no fewer than five students named Charles—plus a Charlie—all with dark hair. Of these, only Charles Thornton Huckstep had hair with “just a little bit of curl.” Though his hair doesn’t appear jet black in his photo, he seems the most likely candidate.
Given the lengthy discourses about her crush, we might be excused for imagining Olivia Tutwiler pining away alone in her room and for expecting her diary to hold nothing of interest. In fact, however, Tutwiler lived a very active social life, and her diary would be of interest to local historians as a record of a young woman’s activities in Blacksburg early in the 20th century. Tutwiler frequently attended VAMC basketball games, parties (including her own Valentine’s Day party), and movies. She also picked up some temporary work at the Extension Service and was active in her church.
Also of interest to local historians would be Tutwiler’s mentions of the flu epidemic, soldiers returning from service in World War I, and road and weather conditions. Researchers might also benefit from her passing comments about acquaintances, such as this catty remark on January 7: “Miss Logan has her spring hat already [sic]. Doesn’t it seem foolish to be wearing one with snow and ice on the ground?” She also briefly shares her opinion of a number of cadets.
Even as Tutwiler set her heart on an unobtainable suitor, so too did she inspire unreciprocated feelings among several other young men. January 5: “I like Bush a lot and I believe if I’d fall in love with him.” January 17: “Its [sic] funny that you and Fred should both like the same picture isn’t it. He insisted that I give him one this afternoon but I didn’t.” January 23: “[Johnnie] asked me if I wanted to wear his V.P.I. class ring.” January 25: “Oglesby insisted on one of my pictures but nothing doing.” February 9: “I didn’t know [Pat]’d ever try to kiss me but he did twice and I had to tell him a few things.” February 17: “Had a letter from Hampton to-day and he said … how much he loved me…”
When Tutwiler finally returns to her school on February 2, we learn something of her experiences as a young teacher in a rural community, as she navigates between parents and school officials. At her boarding house, she endures local gossip and less-than-desirable living conditions, while at work, she contends with a crowd of indifferent and unruly students, as in this entry from March 4: “Gee but I’ve had a time to-day. I just got so mad at dinner when two of my kids set the field on fire. The seventh grade just doesn’t seem to know a thing…. I kept Frank and Fred in until 4:30 to day [sic] and made them learn poetry. They certainly are bad. I had to slap both of them to-day.”
Never far from Tutwiler’s thoughts, however, is the elusive cadet.
By January 27, Tutwiler is already questioning her feelings: “Do I love you or do I not?” Her entry of February 6 reflects deeper thoughts, as she questions her motivations: “I want you oh so much dear dear heart or is it only what you stand for now.” Her February 25 entry finds the young teacher looking into the future, wondering what it will bring: “I would like to know how all this is to turn out and whether you’ll ever love me or I’ll ever love Bush. We may all drift apart and perhaps I’ll fall in love with some one else.” By this time, just a few weeks after commencing her diary, Tutwiler seems ready to admit a temporary defeat and look for love elsewhere.
Mentioned only a few times in passing within Tutwiler’s diary is the name “Bunker.” Henry Harris “Bunker” Hill, a native of Scottsville, Virginia, obtained both his bachelor’s (1907) and master’s degrees (1909) in chemistry at VAMC. By the time Olivia Tutwiler was pouring her deepest feelings into a composition book, Hill had already been employed as a professor with the university for a dozen years.
In 1922, Olivia Tutwiler married Hill, and the couple would have two children. She continued to teach, eventually opening a school of her own in the Blacksburg Presbyterian Church. She retired from education in 1969, following a 50-year career. Of teaching, her obituary quotes her as saying “I certainly have had a good time teaching and I surely do hate to quit. I have been most fortunate, not only to have a job I like to do but to be paid for it.” Though things didn’t take the direction she wanted in 1919, Olivia Tutwiler seems to have had a happy life. One has to wonder, though, whether she sometimes took out her diary after a long day and pondered over her youthful infatuation.
You can read Olivia Tutwiler Hill’s diary in its entirety here. We’ll soon add a complete transcript of the text. The diary’s finding aid contains more biographical information on Tutwiler. We also hold the papers of “Bunker” Hill, the finding aid for which may be found here.
In honor of Black History Month, I thought I’d take this week to talk about the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows. If you’ve watched television or attended a movie in the last 50-60 years, you’ve probably seen a reference to Freemasonry or Masons. While the Masons have become a mythic symbol in popular culture that is often associated with conspiracy theories and the Illuminati, they originated like many secret fraternal organizations in a much more mundane environment: essentially as a guild or union and likely in the 14th Century (depending heavily on the history you read and what you consider the meaning of “originate”). Over the centuries many similar organizations were formed or broke away from Freemasonry. One such organization was the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows (GUOOF).
According to their organization’s published history, the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows was formed as a fraternal society in similar fashion to other Masonic societies. Its primary defining characteristic was its inclusivity. Anyone was welcome to join regardless of social status. Unfortunately, that inclusiveness led to a division in the order around the topic of race. In 1842/1843 New York, an effort was launched by a group from the Mother A.M.E. Zion Church to found a chapter of the GUOOF in America. They petitioned the current existing Odd Fellows lodges in America (members of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows) but were denied because the petitioners were black. Since one member of the church, Peter Ogden, was a member of a GUOOF lodge in England, he set sail to secure a charter for a new lodge. On March 1, 1843, the Philomathean Lodge No. 646 of the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows was established in New York. From that time on, the GUOOF in America became a fraternal organization with primarily (while not exclusively) black membership.
Sometime in the early 1900’s (likely around 1904), Tadmore Light Lodge No. 6184 of the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows was founded in Blacksburg, VA. By 1910, their roll showed 23 members.
According to the Blacksburg Museum & Cultural Foundation, Tadmore Light Lodge had built or occupied a lodge hall in Blacksburg by 1907. The Odd Fellows Hall became a central part of New Town, an African American neighborhood in Blacksburg. The records from Tadmore Light Lodge show that the organization was active from the early 1900’s through the late 1960’s, holding regular meetings and social gatherings, collecting dues, and supporting members financially.
In the 1930’s, during the Great Depression, the GUOOF, like many other mutual support organizations, coordinated economic support efforts, insurance, and estate management for its members. The organization had regular reports from its Endowment Department about the amount of funds raised and who had been helped by those funds.
In 1899, the GUOOF was the most powerful organization in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. There were 19 lodges and over 1000 members in the city. The organization had $46,000 in property, including two lodge halls. The organization also had its own newspaper, The Odd Fellows Journal.
Members of the lodge in Blacksburg connected to the larger fraternal society through district conferences and national publications, including The Odd Fellows Journal. By the mid-1940’s, the Blacksburg lodge was receiving another publication: The Quarterly Bulletin. The Quarterly Bulletin was published in Philadelphia and appears to possibly have replaced The Odd Fellows Journal.
Of course, while the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows was an integral part of the community and helped to keep black Americans on their feet through the Great Depression and the Jim Crow era, it was also a secret fraternal society. As with any fraternity, it had its initiation ritual and required a firm commitment from its members. As early as 1929, the Applicant’s Agreement was worded like a legal contract – binding unless the law said it wasn’t (and even then only the part the law struck down became null and void).
Applicant’s Agreement, 1929 (Front)
Applicant’s Agreement, 1929 (Back)
The ritual changed a few times over the years and we have at least 2 different versions in our records (possibly 3). Joining the GUOOF involved an elaborate and solemn ceremony. Everything from the positions of people in the room to what was said was laid out in detail in the ritual book. I’ll give just a glance at the ritual, showing the initial setup and definition of some roles within the organization (the full book is much too long to share here – AND as a member of a fraternity myself, I would feel guilty sharing another organization’s secrets). Enjoy!
If you want to know more, stop by Special Collections and ask for the Blacksburg [Virginia] Odd Fellows Records, 1902-1969, Ms1988-009. The records include financial records, correspondence, minute books, brochures of several annual conferences, by-laws and odd issues of the Odd Fellows Journal for the men’s lodge. There are also correspondence, minutes, and financial records for the women’s group – the Household of Ruth (check back next month for a blog post about the Household of Ruth in honor of Women’s History Month).
Sherwood Anderson’s “The Cornfields” first appeared in print his first collection of poems, Mid-American Chants, in 1918. It’s the first poem in the book, too. So, a lot of “firsts” here. It would be dangerous for me (a two-time English major and avid poetry consumer) and a long read for you, if I were to launch into an interpretation of “The Cornfields.” Besides, one of the great joys of poetry is finding your own message alongside an author’s, tucked away inside their words. Editions of Mid-American Chants were issued and reissued over many years (we have three in Special Collections), but one of the things that makes “The Cornfields” stand out is that in 1939, it was published on its own:
In this form, it is a four-page booklet, produced by the House of Russell publishers in New York. It consists of the pages above, plus a short author biography at the end. Our recently-acquired copy also includes another small folded sheet of paper called “Trends of the Times: Poets Now Publishing in Brochure Form.” It’s basically an argument by the publisher for authors to publish individual poems, rather than entire volumes–ultimately because it’s a cheaper and more profitable format. It suggests that Anderson’s poem could have easily been a test case or advertisement for other authors. Anderson was a prolific and well-known author at the end of the 1930s, after all, and if he did it, perhaps others would follow suit. Our copy of the 1939, single version of the poem will be one of only 4 known copies in academic libraries, so we are quite pleased to add it to our holdings.
Of course, there’s a danger, too, in publishing a poem that was originally part of a collection on its own. The cover of the 1918 edition of Mid-American Chants features a simple image: an ear of corn next to the title and author. As a whole, a number of the poems rely on images and concepts relating to corn and agriculture more broadly, and there are themes of conflict and struggle in throughout, especially the growing industrialization of America and the urban v. rural contrast of the time. “The Cornfields” is only a small piece of Anderson’s voice in the larger volume. We can certainly appreciate it on its own…but also as part of a larger narrative, too. You can read Mid-American Chants online, if you’re curious to see more of Anderson’s poetry (he would published one more collection in 1927, A New Testament).
Before we part ways with Anderson, just a note about some other resources we have here. We’ve previously had a post on Sherwood Anderson and some of the “newer” manuscript materials (acquired in 2015) we had to share. At the time, the collection was being processed–now we can say it’s done (more on that in a moment)! Because of local ties to Anderson, we were also acquiring some other accessions relating to people in Anderson’s extended personal and professional circle during 2015 and 2016–A sort of of literary and artistic group of people in Southwest Virginia, if you will. I’m glad to say that, at long last, ALL of these collections are processed! I think we’ll need to work on some sort of visualization to clarify the relationships between people, but for now, here’s a list, complete with links to the finding aids and, where it isn’t obvious, an explanation of the connections in brackets:
Sherwood Anderson Collection, 1912-1938 (Ms1973-002). Correspondence among author Sherwood Anderson and family members, most notably letters written by Anderson to his daughter Marian, as well as some of his professional correspondence. Also includes research material about Anderson.
Marvin H. Neel Papers, 1933-1988 (Ms2016-022). This collection includes biographical resources, ephemera, correspondence, and writings and woodcut prints by and related to Marvin H. Neel (1908-1978), created between 1933 and 1988. [Neel corresponded with Lankes and the two were artistic collaborators.]
Mary Sinton Leitch Correspondence with J. J. Lankes, 1932-1950 (Ms2017-001). The collection includes 27 letters (some with covers and envelopes) written by Mary Sinton Leitch to J. J. Lankes between 1932 and 1950. Introduced by a mutual friend, Leitch and Lankes maintained a more than 18-year correspondence that contained conversations of personal news & friends, the Virginia literary and art scene, and their own writing and artistic efforts (including Lankes collaborations with poet Robert Frost). [Lankes was a friend and artistic collaborator of Anderson.]
Of course, the bulk of Sherwood Anderson’s papers are housed at the Newberry Library in Chicago, where Eleanor Copenhaver Anderson donated them in the 1950s. But if you’re in or near Blacksburg, we encourage you to stop by and make a connection. In addition to the manuscript collections, we have more than 260 books and publications by Anderson in Special Collections, too (plus one, when “The Cornfields” is cataloged)!