Thursday, March 26, 2015

Women's History Month: Women in Men's Clothing

Post by Jayne Ptolemy, Manuscripts Curatorial Assistant

In mid-July 1860, travelling salesman George P. Slade wrote a letter to a female correspondent about his experiences plying his trade in the Midwest. In his attempts to sell fruit trees, he covered a great deal of territory, including the Illinois prairies which "spread out like a map before me as far as the eye could trace." He also encountered a wide range of people, from struggling farmers to a dulcimer salesman. Slade had a gift of the gab, and people offered up stories to him, including one man who described how he met his wife. "…he said that he got acquainted with her when she was dressed in mens cloths and chopping cord wood. Her father had abused her and she put on men's clothes and went to work at wood chopping and no one knew she was a woman until her father came after her." Slade goes on to state that the man "admired her spunk, courted and married her." This letter from the Clements's American Travel Collection speaks to the power of clothing as a form of protection. We never learn the woman's name, but we gain a sense of her determination to avoid mistreatment by co-opting a degree of male privilege through the use of masculine clothing.

The Library cares for a number of items that speak to the social power of dress. Our Geo. F. Mahoney Journal is an especially compelling example. The author documented travel in the western United States but never recorded their gender. Multiple entries reflect people's confusion about the journal writer's masculine clothing. In May 1930, while in Fairbury, Nebraska, Geo. wrote, "I have on hiken suit, every body say look at the woman." A few days later, Geo. continued, "Two girls picked me up in their car, saying wish we could act the boy like you." The focus on Geo.'s gender ambiguity continues throughout the journal. An entry dated July 30th, 1930, in Farmington, Washington, reads: "Every body says I am a w- in mens clothes." The journal concludes with a copied letter, where Geo. acknowledged, "Peopl Don’t know if I am a HE OR A SHE. I have been arrested 7 times for wearing men's clothes." While never directly commenting on gender identity, the journal attests to the hardships caused by ambiguities of gender and dress.

Geo. F. Mahoney Journal, William L. Clements Library

While men's fashion could protect women or serve a vital role in people's self-identification, the Library also has examples of more playful uses of clothing. The Edward Missling Photograph Album, ca. 1900-1908, includes several images of women dressed in men's clothing. Two parallel photos of a group of three ladies features them dressed as men in one sitting and as women in another.

Edward Missling Photograph Album, William L. Clements Library

The reversal of gender norms serves here as a jovial turn amongst a group of friends. Other examples of women's light-spirited cross-dressing appear in the Mark Anderson Gender Studies Collection.

Two photo postcards from the Mark Anderson Gender Studies Collection, William L. Clements Library. Image on the left was taken in Battle Creek, Michigan, 1913, and the image on the right reads, "A pair of Peaches."

Whether they appear mounted in photo albums or as individual items, images from the Graphics Division document women's playful relationships with each other and with men's fashion. Whether done in jest, for protection, or as an expression of identity, the way people use clothing reveals significant details about the role of gender in American life. Women's History Month offers a chance to bring these matters to the forefront of our conversations, but the collections at the Clements Library provide first-hand glimpses into American women's varied experiences year round.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Latest Quarto: Natural History

The Fall-Winter 2014 Quarto is now available. The Quarto is a semi-annual magazine published by the William L. Clements Library and sent to members of the Clements Library Associates. This issue of The Quarto focuses on the Clements Library collections related to natural history, in celebration of our recent acquisition of Audubon's Viviparous Quadrupeds.
  1. "Natural History," by J. Kevin Graffagnino, Director of the Library.
  2. "Natural History Drawn Large," by Emiko Hastings, Curator of Books & Digital Projects Librarian. Large color-plate books of American natural history. 
  3. "Finding Flora," by Jayne Ptolemy, Curatorial Assistant. Botanical samples in the Manuscripts Division. 
  4. "Castor Canadensis," by Brian Leigh Dunnigan, Associate Director & Curator of Maps. The North American beaver.
  5. "Nature Surveyed," by Clayton Lewis, Curator of Graphic Materials. United States railroad surveys. 
  6. "Political Animals," by Diana Sykes, Head of Reader Services. Political cartoons featuring animal caricatures. 
  7. "Developments," by Ann Rock, Director of Development. Acquisition of John James Audubon's Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America
  8. Announcements
  9. Calendar of Events
Read past issues of The Quarto online. Members of the Clements Library Associates will receive the current copy in the mail. If you would like more information about membership, please contact Ann Rock at or 734-358-9770.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Today in History: Miniature Hand-Cut Valentines

According to Ruth Webb Lee's A History of Valentines (1952), the creation and distribution of valentines in America began sometime in the mid-18th century. Prior to the advent of mass-produced, printed notes and cards around 100 years later, women and men made these often anonymous tokens of affection by hand. Valentines took many forms, from acrostics, rebuses, cryptograms, and other puzzles, to elaborately illustrated or cutwork designs. The awe-inspiring valentines shown below suggest the time and dedication required to create these messages of love and esteem using only scissors, quill knives, and/or needles.

Measuring only around 1-inch across, these hand-cut valentines from the Weld-Grimké Family Papers show great skill. These three valentines were found with 13 others in a small paper enclosure marked "Valuable."

Valentine's Day celebrants may sometimes forget that not all persons share in the warm and comforting embrace of a loved one's attentions. L.S.S.S. wrote the following poem for the Valentine's Day of 1848. It reflects the perspective of a lonely and aging man in North Central New York State:

"A bachelor, a bachelor,
When age with wrinkled face,
Comes creeping on him by degrees,
With slow yet steady pace,
The jovial set whom once he met
An evening hour to pass,
Some some [sic.] are dead and some are wed
For Time still turns his glass -
No friend to cheer his silent home,
No hearts responsive beat
He bears his sorrows all alone
And pity never meets -" [From the George and Frederick Scriba Family Papers]

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

In the Classroom: Photography and African American Identity

Post by Clayton Lewis, Curator of Graphic Materials

During fall semester 2014, University of Michigan Professor Martha Jones's African American Women's History class embarked on a detailed examination of a pair of photograph albums from the Clements Library collection. The albums originally belonged to Arabella Chapman (1859-1927), an African American woman from Albany, New York. They were assembled from 1878 to 1900 using portraits taken from the 1860s to the turn of the century. The photos include Arabella, her family, friends, and admirers, and well-known public figures. The class discovered that these two albums have depth of meaning well beyond what is initially apparent.

Portrait photographs have been presented as a declaration of status and identity since their first widespread use in the 1840s to the Facebook era today. In the first decades, carefully composed studio photographs often showed people in their finest dress or work attire, holding symbolic objects like diplomas, books, or tools. As paper prints replaced the hard-cased Daguerreotype, photos began to be combined into albums, presenting narratives of the social fabric of families and communities. By the late 1880s, amateur photographers with inexpensive Kodak cameras encouraged a casual playfulness that greatly expanded the range of meaning.

"The power of images to construct ideas about race and difference had its origins in early 16th century encounters between Europeans and Africans. With the advent of photography in the 19th century, African American activists reflected on the possibility for this new medium. Photographs might be used to perpetuate racist stereotypes, warned Frederick Douglass. However, photography might be a democratizing technology that would provide Black Americans with the opportunity to craft their own images. It is this latter possibility that Chapman’s albums evidence," said Professor Jones. Her class discovered how African Americans creating and purchasing photographs could steer self-expression and personal identity towards images of empowerment rather than degrading caricatures.

The class began with a close examination of all types of early portrait photography. The Chapman albums were then minutely documented, photographed, and assessed for content -- the who, what, when, where, why, and how. The albums’ individual card-mounted photographs were carefully removed by Clements conservationist Julie Fremuth, revealing hidden information about subjects, places, photographers, and even one additional photograph hidden behind a photograph.

Family genealogy, career paths, and political alliances were uncovered, establishing the Chapmans at the center of active African American communities in eastern New York and Western Massachusetts. The hidden back-stamps of some photographs indicated leisure travel to areas such as Saratoga Springs.

The students concluded that the Chapman albums are an example of a confident, educated, and socially engaged African American woman representing herself to her peers, her family, and posterity. In spite of whatever racist barriers the Chapman family faced, the story told through the images is about accomplishment, pride, and overcoming oppression. Family values are established by the inclusion of commercial portraits of Abraham Lincoln, John Brown, and Frederick Douglass in among the images of family and friends.

The known information about the Chapman family has been greatly expanded by the class work, but some mysteries remain. Who are the unidentified people in the albums? The two albums overlap to some degree -- were they intended for different audiences? How certain can we be about authorship? The albums appear to have been assembled over several decades and annotated by more than one person, including a child of Arabella's. Were they edited by others as well? These and other questions will sustain further research into the Chapman albums for others to pursue.

Nor is the work of the class complete. By spring 2015, they will launch a website devoted to the Chapman albums. It will include scans of the album pages, genealogical information, maps, texts on the history of photograph albums and the role that photography played in African American lives, a portal for crowdsourcing more information, and more.

It is exciting to work with Professor Jones, her innovative teaching methodology, and her ambitious and alert group of students. In an era of electronic media, this class linked past practices to the present in an important and meaningful way.

Wikipedia article on Arabella Chapman
Finding aid for the Arabella Chapman Carte-de-visite Albums, 1878-[1890s]
Pinterest board for the Arabella Chapman Album

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

From the Stacks: Christmas in the Library

Archives specialize in documenting change over time, but the holdings at the William L. Clements Library also reveal how some things remain stable through the years, including the excitement surrounding Christmas morning. On December 20th, 1840, Edward H. Fitzgerald found himself far from home as he served in the United States military. At sea and melancholy, Fitzgerald wrote a wistful journal entry imagining Christmas with his family. 
"I fancy myself at home, sleeping in the passage at the head of the stairs—I have gone to bed with the determination of getting up very early in the morning to catch every one 'Christmas gift' – So great is my anxiety that I think is it possible that I must lay awake till daylight—for go to sleep I cannot—then comes the desire to pass the intervening time in happy unconsciousness—I try every means—every position, first one side, then the other—now on my back—now with both hands under my cheek & now with them clasped over my head—I finally fall asleep with the sheet around my neck & my feet protruding half a yard below the covering."
Many children will experience this same restlessness on Christmas Eve, tossing and turning as they anticipate the morning's excitement.

Much of this fidgety eagerness stems from the expectation of a visit from Santa Claus. The Clements's Mary Jane Daggett family collection includes several delightful letters to Santa from the 1870s. Santa's "Little Friend" Gracie E. Daggett made a special request for toys for herself and her siblings, including a piece of India rubber, a prayer book, and a "little grocery store." The hope of seeing them delivered Christmas morning surely made it difficult for her to sleep.

Gracie E. Daggett ALS to Santa Claus, December 8, 1874, Mary Jane Daggett family collection.

Gracie's younger brother, John, also wrote a letter to Santa Claus, and, in the unbeguiling nature of the young, even admitted to being "one of the naughtiest boys in town." Perhaps the anxiety he felt on Christmas Eve sprung from the fear that his naughty behavior might result in a stocking full of coal.

John [Daggett] ALS to Santa Claus, undated, Mary Jane Daggett family collection.

As children know, Santa has a long way to travel, and at the Clements we have cartographic materials of the North Pole to help illustrate his secluded geographic abode. This 1680 Map of the North-Pole and the Parts Adjoining shows some of the Claus's neighbors, including whale hunters. Unsurprisingly, Santa's elusive reindeer are not represented among the cartouche's arctic wildlife. 

Moses Pitt, A Map of the North-Pole and the Parts Adjoining (Oxford: M. Pitt, 1680).

The Clements's Graphics Division shows us that distance is not the only obstacle to Santa's yearly journey. This 1897 chromolithograph, Held Up: The Robbing of Dear Old Santa Claus by the Big and Little Bears, playfully hints that human children are not the only ones to experience joy and delight over the season's presents.

E. Warde Blaisdell, Held Up: The Robbing of Dear Old Santa Claus by the Big and Little Bears (New York: Judge Publishing Company, 1897).

However you celebrate, all of us at the William L. Clements Library hope that you have a wonderful holiday, punctuated with all the happiness and excitement that the season brings year after year.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Giving Blueday

On the heels of Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday, the Clements Library invites you to join today's global day of giving, Giving Tuesday, and the University of Michigan's parallel university-wide campaign, Giving Blueday.

Donor support helps the Clements Library develop and conserve its stellar collection of early Americana primary source material while also making it increasingly accessible to the public. If you donate today, you can choose from several funds that will sustain the Clements Library's ongoing projects.

Contributing to our Acquisitions Fund helps ensure that the Library is able to make key purchases of early American items when they come on the market. Recently, the Clements Library purchased a sizeable archive of General Henry Burbeck's manuscripts. Burbeck served in the United States artillery from the Revolution through 1815, and his papers, including correspondence, plans of forts, muster rolls, and official paperwork, reflect the incredible work load he undertook.

If you donate today, your contribution to help defray the cost of the Burbeck papers will be matched up to $10,000 by the Frederick S. Upton Foundation.

This plan of Fort Lernoult, later renamed Fort Detroit, is located in the Burbeck papers and shows the fortification much as it would have appeared when the French Americans surrendered it to the British in 1812.

The Clements Library's holdings are as diverse as American history itself. Along with the military treasure trove in the Henry Burbeck papers, the Library recently contributed to the acquisition of the full set of John James Audubon's Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America, featuring 150 hand-colored lithographic plates. Financially supporting this acquisition helps the Clements Library secure this phenomenal collection, helping to make us a premiere research institution frequented by scholars from across the globe.

The generous Board of Governors of the Clements Library Associates will match all donations toward the Viviparous Quadrupeds up to $10,000, doubling the value of your gift.

This wolverine is one of the 150 stunning hand-colored lithographs from the Viviparous Quadrupeds, recently acquired in coordination with the University Library.

To more generally support the Library's acquisitions, you can become a member of the Clements Library Associates. Contributing to this fund enables the Clements to acquire items like this first edition of the "Star Spangled Banner" sheet music, currently on exhibit at the Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library.

This 1814 edition of the sheet music to the "Star Spangled Banner" was the first time the words and music appeared together. It is recognized as the first edition due to the typographical error of "pariotic" instead of "patriotic."
Along with acquiring early Americana, the Clements Library preserves these items and makes them available to scholars, students, and the public. By contributing to our Programs and Outreach, you will support these fundamental aspects of the Clements' mission.

Public outreach continues to be an important objective for the Clements Library. By donating to our Randolph G. Adams Lectureship program, you will help the Library host engaging lectures and discussions with leading figures in early Americana. Exhibits and events are complemented by the Clements Library's new digitization initiative. We are working on an online exhibit of Civil War prison camps and continue to digitize items from our Book Division, some of which are now available through HathiTrust. Financial support for our Technology Fund will help further these digitization efforts, making Clements materials available for use online. Conservation is an ongoing and pressing concern for any archive of historical materials. At the Clements Library's conservation lab, projects range from repairing paper and bindings, making specialized cases and wraps, removing acidic backings, and much more. Donating towards conservation can help ensure these manuscripts, graphics, maps, and books get the care they need to make them available for research.

Left: This Continental Army record book contains military returns from 1778-1783, including those of brigades George Washington commanded at Valley Forge in 1778. This item is in need of conservation and digitization to preserve it for future use. Right: The Clements Library's book scanner has been put to good use, recently digitizing the Clements' rare, color-illustrated books.
This Giving Tuesday, as we celebrate all that we have to be thankful for and share that joy by giving to others, we invite you to consider the William L. Clements Library as a possible place to support.

To learn more about the Clements Library, please visit our website and our online Giving Blueday site:

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Today in History: Thanksgiving

Post by Jayne Ptolemy, Manuscripts Curatorial Assistant

The William L. Clements Library sends warm Thanksgiving greetings and offers a glimpse at holidays past via our Manuscripts Division. In November 1857, William H. Ireland, Jr., sent an illustrated, lyrical letter to his friend to ensure that he would "not have a dull Thanksgiving." In the spirit of the day, Ireland included a pen-and-ink drawing of a turkey. 

William H. Ireland, Jr., ALS to M. A. W. Man[ ], 1857 November 25, Duane Norman Diedrich collection.
Also featuring a holiday turkey, our Charles Snyder papers highlight a specifically Civil War take on the Thanksgiving holiday. Dining with a Union officer's family for Thanksgiving dinner, Snyder commented on their fare. "We discussed to the best of our ability, a very good turkey, nicely cooked, which Mr. M. named 'Jeff Davis.' "
Charles E. [Snyder] ALS to Hannah [Wright], 1863 November 28, Charles Snyder papers, Schoff Civil War collection.
Even if you opt for different culinary fare this holiday, we hope this offering of turkey from the William L. Clements Library's Manuscript Division helps spread some Thanksgiving cheer.