The Hering-Knerr family papers and a peek into the Hilles family papers

Written by Courtney Smerz on December 4th, 2009

Unknown size: small.

A big part of my job here is to tackle some of the more complicated collections that have been included in the project but that absolutely require more than the allotted two hours per linear foot.  Over the past few weeks I have been juggling two collections; the Hering-Knerr family papers at Drexel University College of Medicine and the Hilles family papers at Haverford College.  Though both have been deemed family papers and both are nineteenth century collections, the two could not be more different.

The first, the Hering-Knerr family papers, I actually finished on Wednesday this week.  It measures 6 ¼ linear feet and processing was completed in approximately 38 hours.  Physical processing took about 19 hours, data entry and description took another 19 – TOO LONG.  It sounds silly but data entry was slow going because there were a lot of files containing German language articles, which were difficult for me to type into the AT fields.  Description was slower because of the need to learn about Calvin Knerr, a large contributor to the papers, and include a short bio on his life, and to fully describe the nature of the series within the collection, which were not always completely straightforward.  Much of the collection was housed in envelopes and identified though it required quite a bit of arranging and foldering for almost the entire collection.  Papers, especially contemporary newspaper clippings, photocopies of related archives from other repositories, notes and other miscellany were also added to the collection over time, and needed to be removed.  In this case, those items were given their own series at the end called Reference Materials.

Though considered a collection of “family papers,” it is actually primarily a collection of papers of Constantine Hering, none other than the “father of homeopathy in America.”  What ultimately makes it officially a family collection are the discrete groups of material of Calvin Knerr, Hering’s son-in-law and a homeopathic physician himself; Hering’s and Knerr’s children; and correspondence of Hering’s wife’s family.  The collection content is reflective of family relationships as well as Hering’s and Knerr’s medical careers.  Hering’s career is especially showcased as it was lived and seen by himself, Knerr and his son Carl.

Unknown size: small.

There are a few gems in the collection, all connected to Constantine Hering.   There is, a letter (pictured to the left) written by Hering as a child to his mother on her birthday; an uncut telegram tape, supposedly measuring NINE yards long (MPLP does not allow time for double checking such claims), that describes the symptoms of a patient to Hering for consultation; a manuscript written by Hering about the issue or possibility of cholera contaminating New York City harbor; and a letter about one of Hering’s patients requesting exemption from military service based on his contraction of “National Hotel Disease” in 1857.  What’s National Hotel Disease you ask?  That year, at the National Hotel in Washington DC, hotel guests, including soon-to-be president, James Buchanan, were stricken ill with a gastrointestinal ailment from which numerous people died.  I am not quite sure exactly what was decided to be the cause, but many theories, some citing foul play, were discussed at the time.

The Sarah Cooper Tatum Hilles family papers still have a LONG way to go!  As you can see from the picture below, this is a collection of unidentified bundles of letters from the nineteenth century (and that is only a small sampling of the number of bundles actually in the collection).

Unknown size: small.

It was quickly established, both from the survey and from the correspondence itself that a majority of the letters were addressed to Sarah Hilles, but beyond that identification required considerably more effort.  And since the whole point of this project is to provide even greater accessibility to these hidden collections than the survey did, I started to open envelopes, unfold letters and sort them by correspondent.  Phew!  What a task – especially at this rate!  I think Holly already alluded to this when discussing the Rhoads family papers and I am sure any of you who have been in my shoes will not be surprised, but these families were big and they all wrote to each other and they all had the same names across generations.  Needless to say, this has been going FAR SLOWER than two hours per foot, but it still feels like rapid fire when you consider the condition of the materials.  More on that later…

In the meantime, here are a few more snapshots from the Hering-Knerr family papers.

 

1 Comments so far ↓

  1. Anita Knerr Guevara says:

    Thank you for your work with the Knerr-Hering collection, Courtney!

    Calvin B. Knerr and Constantine Hering were my great and great,great grandfathers, respectively.

    And, this happens to have been Constantine’s birthday. He would have been 210 today.

    I am so thrilled that the collection is now at Drexel. And, I hope you know how much my family appreciates the care you take in preserving these things for all to have access to, for years to come.

    Happy New Year to you!

    Kind Regards,
    Anita Guevara

Leave a Comment





1 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. PACSCL Hidden Collections Processing Project » Blog Archive » Drexel University College of Medicine legacy finding aids: Parcelsus and Mary E. Walker