Celia Caust-Ellenbogen

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Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories

Monday, May 7th, 2012

If you’ve been following this blog of the PACSCL-CLIR Hidden Collections Processing Project, you might be interested in learning about the Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories (HCI-PSAR, or the “Small Repository Project” for short). This post could be filed under “PACSCL-CLIR Student Processors–Where Are They Now?” since I, and fellow former student processor Michael Gubicza, are both currently employed on the Small Repository Project. But before you conjure up too many thoughts of drug-addicted 80s TV stars and one-hit-wonder 90s teen queens, think of this post also under the headings “Lessons Learned” and “Project Legacy.” The Small Repository Project carries on PACSCL’s commitment to uncovering hidden archival collections, and builds on the PACSCL-CLIR methodology, tools, and infrastructure–with a few new twists, of course.

Another creative storage solution at Millbrook Society! Hatboro Borough records, stored in a biscuit box.

Another creative storage solution at Millbrook Society! Hatboro Borough records, stored in a biscuit box.

First, some background on the Small Repository Project. It’s an initiative of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania–not coincidentally, one of the repositories where I processed for PACSCL-CLIR–with funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The Small Repository Project aims to make better known and more accessible the important archival collections held at the many small, primarily volunteer-run historical societies, historic sites, and museums in the Philadelphia region. It was envisioned as a three-part project, and right now we’re in the midst of Phase I, which focuses on Philadelphia and Montgomery Counties. My title is Project Surveyor, so my job is to visit all of the small repositories in those two counties and survey their archival collections. There are two major components to the survey work: description and assessment.

Historical Society of Tacony: Frank Shuman, a Tacony resident, developed the world's first solar power plant in 1912-1913!

Historical Society of Tacony: Frank Shuman, a Tacony resident, developed the world's first solar power plant in 1912-1913!

Description In just six months of surveying, we’ve already discovered many amazing collections! From big names–like Pennsylvania Governor Samuel Pennypacker and Civil War naval engineer John Ericsson–to names that didn’t make the history books–like Frank Shuman, who built the world’s first solar power plant in 1912, or Dr. Hiram Corson, an abolitionist and prominent advocate for women physicians. To make these important resources more visible, we are creating what amount to “stub” finding aids: we don’t have the time to physically process any collections, but we can provide collection-level descriptions with very summary information. To be as fast yet thorough as possible, Michael and I use Archivist’s Toolkit, Holly and Courtney’s data-entry best practices, and an Excel-to-XML worksheet of my own devising that was heavily inspired by Matt Herbison’s.

PACSCL and the University of Pennsylvania recently agreed to host our finding aids, so they will be on the PACSCL Finding Aid Site together with the PACSCL-CLIR “Hidden Collections” finding aids. I am personally thrilled about this detail, because it means Philadelphia will be one step closer to having one central database where all area archival collections could be searched. In one place, you will be able to search collections from the biggest professionally-run PACSCL member to the smallest all-volunteer historical society! None of the Small Repository Project finding aids are up quite yet, but keep an eye on the site…

Old York Road Historical Society

Old York Road Historical Society

Assessment As I mentioned, the Hidden Collections Project doesn’t have the time to physically process all the collections that we survey, but we do hope that at least some of them will be processed in the not-too-distant future! Toward that end, we not only describe but also assess each of the collections we survey. We look at the condition of the material, quality of housing, degree of intellectual access (existence of finding aids), physical accessibility (organization), and research value (a combination of an interest ranking, and a rating for how well those interesting topics are documented). These ratings help establish collection care and processing priorities–a collection with a high research value rating but low accessibility ratings should be processed first.

PACSCL did the same sort of assessments for its member institutions a few years back (PACSCL Consortial Survey Initiative), based on a survey project at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania before that. The collections processed for the PACSCL-CLIR “Hidden Collections” Processing Project were those identified by the PACSCL survey as having the highest potential research value.

The assessment methodology that we use in the Small Repository Project, down to the assessment criteria and ratings descriptions, is modeled after the PACSCL survey. Check out Matthew Lyons’ blog post about our methodology. We strive for consistency so that our ratings will be comparable to PACSCL’s. Only the future can say whether anyone will undertake a large-scale, multi-repository processing project like PACSCL-CLIR “Hidden Collections.” But our assessments can help individual small repositories best allocate their own limited resources.

Social Media While I worked on the PACSCL-CLIR project, I loved sharing my favorite “finds” from the collections I processed on the project Flickr page and blog. We do the same thing at the Small Repository Project! Check out our blog and our photoalbums. For updates, follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

Finally, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Holly, Courtney, and everyone who has worked on the PACSCL-CLIR Hidden Collections Project. The tools, techniques, and wisdom they developed and shared on their project website have proved invaluable to us in implementing the Small Repository Project. I’m sure that many other important and innovative archival projects will build on the PACSCL-CLIR project, and we all, collectively, thank you for enriching our communal knowledge.

Kids say the darndest things

Friday, October 28th, 2011

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A while back I attended a lecture by our fearless leader, the Collector in Chief, Archivist of the United States David Ferriero.  Ferriero told an amusing anecdote about his first meeting with the head archivists of all the Presidential libraries. Unbeknownst to Ferriero, the Presidential archivists prepared for the meeting by digging through their collections for traces of the newly-appointed AOTUS—that day, Ferriero was surprised and delighted to be presented with facsimiles of three letters he had written as a youth to his idols, Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson. You can view these fan letters from an adoring schoolboy on Flickr .

Now, that’s a cute story. But if you asked me to rate the adorableness of kids’ letters in the archives on a scale of 1 to 10, I might give Ferriero a 4. For some seriously sweet correspondence, head over to Temple and ask to see the South Street Dance Company records. On a scale of 1 to 10, Marcus here gets a 12: this letter to the South Street Dance Co. is cavity-inducing.

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Why is this letter in the archives? Ellen Forman, the founder of South Street Dance Company, was more than just a talented dancer and innovative choreographer: she was committed to using dance as an outreach tool. She developed dance-centric community programs for children as well as the elderly, encouraging inter-generational participation in the arts and community-building. The collection, therefore, is a fantastic resource not only for choreographers and dance historians, but also for anyone interested in creative community engagement programs. Because of the stacks of thank-you letters for kids who enjoyed her programs, this would probably also be a useful collection for someone attempting to come up with a systematic classification system for rating adorable-ness of children’s letters, but we’ll call that a secondary research value…

Unfortunately, the PACSCL-CLIR “Hidden Collections” project is drawing to a close, and the South Street Dance Company records was the last collection that Michael and I had the opportunity to process. I’m happy to say that it left a sweet taste in our mouths. Our sincerest thanks go out to the repositories that hosted us over the past eight months—the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, the National Archives and Records Administration (Mid-Atlantic Region), and Temple University. We would also like to thank YOU, dear reader, for your interest in the project and attention to our blog. Thank you for sharing this wonderful experience with us!

What was my favorite part of working on the “Hidden Collections” project? Well, I think Marcus said it best: “I liked when I danced on stage.”

Temple University: Haven for Pinko-Commies and Itinerant Archivists

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

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The academy is stereotypically seen as a haven for “pinko-commies” and other subversive intellectuals, so it seems fitting that the first collection Michael and I processed at Temple University was the records of the Socialist Review. Published from 1970-2006 under the various titles Socialist Revolution, Socialist Review, and Radical Society, this lefty periodical was an important forum for socialist discourses at the end of the twentieth century. SR, as it is often abbreviated, was not narrowly focused on socialism, however: its pages were filled with articles on American politics, labor, feminism, racial and sexual minorities, international relations and development, technology and the environment, and cultural and social theory. I even found a submission entitled “Latke vs. Hamentash: A Feminist Critique”!

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Michael and I have had the opportunity to process some incredible collections during this project, but the Socialist Review collection is one of my favorites. It is a fantastic resource for anyone studying the intellectual history of late 20th century American socialist ideology, or any number of new social movements (feminism, worker’s rights, environmentalism, etc.). Many prominent intellectuals were involved with the journal; I found myself star-struck when I stumbled across correspondence with some of my idols, including Noam Chomsky and Barbara Ehrenreich. There is also a lot of material in the collection that is just plain fun, because the editorial board had a sense of humor and joked around a lot.  My absolute favorite item is a mock form letter for rejected submissions. Editors could simply check off the reason for rejecting a manuscript: “Stalinist / Workerist / Papist / Foolish,” or provide a more detailed critique: “Your succinct analysis and breezy style make this piece too accessible for readers of Socialist Review. Also you should be aware that a piece as relevant and contemporary as this is—in a word—too current for SR. With a lag time of 10-14 months…We’re primarily interested in material with strong library value—they’re our most important subscribers you know.”

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Ever-selfless, we archivists usually say that we do minimal processing for the benefit of researchers, so that they can have access to more collections with less wait time. Of course that’s our primary motivation, but since starting on the Socialist Review collection, I recognize how I, as a processing archivist, am also benefiting from MPLP. The National Archives was supposed to be Michael’s and my last stop on our grand PACSCL-CLIR tour. However, through our efficient use of minimal processing practices, we were able finish ahead of schedule. That meant we had enough time to move on to Temple University, where the Socialist Review papers turned out to be one of my favorite collections. MPLP benefits processing archivists because it allows us to work on more different collections, and that means the opportunity to discover even more important, interesting, humorous, and beautiful materials hidden in the archives!

Stay tuned, because with two weeks left in the project, Michael and I are lucky to have one more collection waiting for us at Temple University…

Steamy Records at the National Archives

Thursday, August 11th, 2011

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Some might assume that the collection of records relating to the Army Corps of Engineers’ public works projects, located at the National Archives at Philadelphia, would be boring. But based on the number of boiler room reports we found in this collection, I’d have to say it’s pretty steamy.

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I was excited when my coprocessor Michael and I found out we would be working at the National Archives (NARA), because it was an opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes look into the inner workings of our government’s records program. I was also looking forward to getting to know one of NARA’s first-class collections, so I was pleased to learn we would be processing “General correspondence relating to Civil Works projects originating under the Wilmington and Philadelphia Engineers.” The title isn’t pithy, but the collection is an important one. The Army Corps of Engineers has been under increased scrutiny in recent years because of some major controversies, notably the failure of New Orleans’s Army-designed levees during Hurricane Katrina. The records we processed at NARA provide context for current debates, documenting the failures and successes of the agency in the Philadelphia area during the first half of the 20th century. Major projects at the Schuylkill River, the Delaware River, and the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, as well as numerous smaller projects, are well-represented in this collection. In addition to correspondence, bids, memoranda—and yes, boiler room reports—the collection is richly illustrated with photographs, blueprints, and maps.

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Like everyone else, the National Archives is engaged in a constant battle against processing backlog. So, I’m pleased that Michael and I were able help them out by whipping through our collection in record time:  just about 1.1 hours per linear foot!  That’s less than 1/2 the average processing time for this project (2.8 hours per linear foot), and much faster than traditional processing techniques. We were able to move so quickly because, unlike some unruly family papers we’ve dealt with before (ahem, Belfield), the Army Corps of Engineers’ records were arranged with military precision. Not wanting to argue with the War Department’s filing system, we kept the existing order and focused on physical rehousing and writing an excellent finding aid.

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Soon our finding aid will be posted to the PACSCL  Finding Aids site, where researchers can peruse it along with finding aids from other member institutions. We encourage the maritime historians and “bridge nerds” who might already be on the PACSCL site viewing Independence Seaport Museum’s finding aids to also check out this collection. We think they’ll love the blueprints and specifications for bridges and dredging equipment. Marine ecologists already on the PACSCL site to see Academy of Natural Sciences finding aids might also enjoy this collection, which describes in detail changes that the Army Corps of Engineers enacted on nearby waterways. And of course, we hope that YOU, dear reader, will check out the Civil Works projects finding aid before browsing  the other incredible finding aids on the PACSCL Finding Aids site.

The Vote!

Thursday, July 7th, 2011

My partner Michael and I are coming to the end of six months processing at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. We’ll be sad to go, but we’re excited about moving on to the National Archives and Records Administration (Mid-Atlantic Branch). We hear they’ve got an interesting collection for us to dig into! But first things first, we’re finishing up our final collection at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania: the League of Women Voters of Philadelphia records.

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The League of Women Voters (LWV) was formed in 1920, replacing the National American Woman Suffrage Association just before the passage of the 19th Amendment granted American women the right to vote. The Philadelphia branch of LWV was founded soon afterward, with the same goals of educating women voters and generally promoting issues of interest to women. The Philadelphia LWV included among its storied members Sarah Logan Wister Starr, that philanthropic powerhouse of 20th-century Philadelphia’s social and political circles, whom we came to know and love while processing the Belfield papers. She wasn’t the only powerful women in LWV, however. Those ladies knew how to take care of business. Accounting for the special interests of half the American population, the LWV wielded real political power and they knew it. They kept an eye on every politician’s voting record; they tracked developments in issues relating to education, the environment, international relations, and women’s rights; they even found time to hold local events, including car care clinics!

The collection is an amazing resource for anyone studying the League of Women Voters or grassroots political action in the context of an inner-city environment. Because the LWV was tracking a diverse number of subjects and keeping tabs on numerous politicians, education, Philadelphia government reform, and other political and social issues of special concern to the League of Women.

Voters are also well documented in this collection. We hope you’ll come to the Historical Society soon to check it out!

THE (yes, THE) William Penn papers

Friday, June 24th, 2011

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When our friend and co-processor Jenna heard that Michael and I were working on the Penn family papers at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, she was a little bit jealous. “That’s amazing!” she gushed. “But, you do realize, you have officially peaked in your careers as archivists. It doesn’t get any better than William Penn!”

Truly, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania’s collection of William Penn and family is unparalleled. It is a rich and vital source for anyone studying the history of the Pennsylvania colony, the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), European-Native American cultural encounters, colonial administration, inter-colonial disagreements, the transition of colonial government at the time of the American Revolution, and myriad other topics. Michael and I were fascinated to find treaties upon which the Native American parties had drawn “pictograms” of their names next to the English equivalents. We were blown away by the sheer volume of records relating to the Maryland-Pennsylvania border dispute, which dragged on for many decades. I’m a bit of a Quaker history nerd, so I was thrilled to see Penn’s correspondence with George Fox. All of which is to say that from the perspective of a researcher, Jenna is right: it doesn’t get any better than the Penn family papers.

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From the perspective of an archivist, however, I have to say: I hope that wasn’t the peak of my career. The Penn family papers were frustrating to process precisely because they are such an important and frequently-used collection. As an archives student I’m often told that archival processing and description are iterative processes, and this collection really brought that truth home. Almost two centuries have passed since the Historical Society was founded, and the Penn papers seemingly represent a cross-section of every fad, trend, and development in archival theory. There are huge bound volumes of collected documents, custom-size boxes for individual items, and several generations of Hollinger boxes; they are described in volume indexes, outdated finding aids, and a card catalog; important documents have been hand-copied, microfilmed, and photocopied. The collection is all over the place.

Under the auspices of this minimal-processing project, we didn’t have the time to update everything according to today’s standards and best practices. But even if we could, it might not even be desirable. Decades of scholars have used the collection as it is and cited their sources accordingly. While working on this collection, Michael and I had to ensure that nothing we did would inhibit the ability of researchers to find materials they used last week, or chase scholarly citations from 100 years ago. What processing we did was necessarily minimal, but our major objective was to create an online finding aid that would serve as an entry point to the collection. That much we accomplished, and we are pleased to make this contribution to the field. Welcome to the digital world, William Penn!

What have we learned from the experience?

Here are our words of wisdom to researchers: Come to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania! The Penn family papers are an incredible resource. We recommend you consult the card catalog on site to ensure you will have a fruitful experience.

Here are our words of wisdom to archivists: Come to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania! Maybe ask if you can get your hands dirty on an unprocessed collection instead of the Penn family papers. If you do work with the Penn family papers, allow at least 150 years to do a thorough job. At which point archival theory may have changed sufficiently that it will be time to start all over again….but you can worry about that when you get there.

Chaos to Order, in 4 hours or less

Friday, June 3rd, 2011

Written by Celia Caust-Ellenbogen and Michael Gubicza.

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When we first saw the boxes holding the Belfield papers, stacked on shelves in the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, we said to each other: “Ohhh boy, I bet there’s good stuff in there!” That was our Pavlovian response: the collection was stored entirely in candy-bar and liquor boxes.

Our next response was anxiety about our 2-hour-per-linear-foot target processing speed: the collection was stored entirely in candy-bar and liquor boxes. Were these boxes packed by a child or a drunkard?

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We’re still not sure who packed the boxes, but they were truly a mess. Sometimes documents were folded up and tied together in little packets, but more often the materials were just loose. The Belfield papers seemed insurmountable. But we’re proud to say that we managed to process them more or less on time. With help from Holly and Courtney we finished before our 6-week deadline was up, although if you count man-hours we clocked somewhere around 3.7 hours per linear foot. That’s not bad—it’s almost twice our target speed (2 hours per linear foot) and a bit above the project average (2.8 hours per linear foot), but it’s just under the speed Greene and Meissner suggest for minimal processing (4 hours per linear foot, and that’s for large 20th century collections of business records).  It is well under the speed of traditional processing, which can take up to 40 hours per linear foot!

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Most importantly, we are pleased with the finding aid we produced. We didn’t quite manage folder-level description, but we did at least provide subseries-level description. And now that everything is arranged in folders and document boxes, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania can finally grant physical access to the materials.

As much as we dreaded having to paw through the disorganized boxes of the Belfield papers, in retrospect we’re almost glad they were such a mess at the beginning. It forced us to do lots of research and explore related subject material in order to understand the collection well enough to arrange it properly. Don’t get me wrong, this was still minimal processing. We didn’t spend weeks checking books out of the library. But whenever we needed some additional context, we did hop on the computer for a quick Google search or visit to Ancesty.com. Over the course of 6 weeks of processing, we covered a lot of interesting topics. Lucky for us, the Fisher-Wister-Starr-Blain families happened to be involved in some fascinating things. We learned about Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, Colonial Dames of America, the Sesquicentennial Exposition, stamp collecting, world travel during the Great Depression, twentieth century psychiatry, and nineteenth-century industry and legal practice, just for starters. The Belfield papers will prove to be an amazing resource for researchers in these, and many more subject areas, and we are proud to say that we were able to make the collection serviceable for them—in less than 4 hours per linear foot!

Harold E. Cox transportation collection at HSP

Monday, March 28th, 2011

Written by Celia Caust-Ellenbogen and Michael Gubicza

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The Harold E. Cox transportation collection at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (HSP) is a rich resource for anyone wishing to study public transportation in Philadelphia. It consists largely of records from the Philadelphia Transportation Company (PTC), which operated the city’s transit from about 1940-1964, and the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company (PRT), which operated the city’s transit from about 1902-1940. There are also many records from the many small predecessor and subsidiary rail lines that existed before public transit was consolidated.

We just finished processing the collection, and we’re working on a finding aid that will soon be online. Nonetheless, using the collection isn’t as simple as walking through the door and asking to see it. When Dr. Harold E. Cox, Professor of History Emeritus and University Archivist at Wilkes University, donated the collection to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, he made an unusual stipulation:

Anyone wishing to use the Harold E. Cox Transportation Collection shall be told of the heroic efforts of Jeffrey Ray [Curator of Collections at Atwater Kent Museum] to save the collection from destruction and how he has been a ‘living saint’ for the last 13 years and put up with not only me, but all of the crazy idiots who have wanted to use the collection. The recitation of this glorious saga shall last no less than 20 minutes, and be set to verse.

As a courtesy to HSP staff, we put together a few verses just to get things started. Enjoy.

Listen, my researchers, and we shall say,
The midnight ride of Jeffrey Ray.
(If it was midnight, to tell the truth,
We don’t know) but forsooth
He saved everything in this rich collection,
And for over a decade he gave it protection.

Ray got the collection from Dr. Harold E. Cox,
Who kept it in many a big cardboard box.
Cox found it in the bowels of SEPTA’s subway.
Someone had trashed it! But without delay,
He saw it was treasure: maps and reports,
Financial, administrative, and records from courts.

Two-hundred feet of such quality goods!
Cox had no space, and knew that he should
Bring it to Atwater Kent Museum.
He called Jeffrey Ray to come out and see ‘em.
Ray saw the treasure and cried in delight,
“Researchers will love this! I’ll take all in my sight!”
That was nineteen-ninety: the next thirteen years,
Jeffrey Ray faced bravely, and without fear,
All researchers who came to see
The archives of Philly Rapid Transit and the PTC.

But time does pass, and when the Atwater Kent
Became the Philadelphia History Museum, they sent
Their archival holdings our way:
To the Historical Society of P. A.

Now the collection is processed, finding aid online,
So we hope that you’ll come visit some time,
To learn of subways, the trolley and bus,
In Philadelphia—or at least how it was.

Face powder and gun powder

Monday, March 7th, 2011

Everyone recognizes the image of “Rosie the Riveter,” that symbol of female power and resolve born of World War II. Not every woman could be Rosie, but every woman wanted to do her part to assist the war effort. Or at least, that’s the impression we got while processing the Historical Society of Pennsylvania collection of World War II papers this past month, our first processing project at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

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Among the highlights of the collection are photographs taken from inside the Stage Door Canteen, a USO club that offered servicemen on leave in Philadelphia free food and entertainment. And, most importantly, the club had hostesses for those without a date! We gather that this line must have been the most effective advertising technique, because we saw it everywhere. Girls, girls, girls! We found photos of girls dancing, girls serving drinks, and…well…what else do girls do? Oh yes, they look pretty.

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But times were tough during the war, so staying pretty was no easy business. Food was rationed, travel was discouraged (gas was rationed too-as were tires!), scrap metal was collected in great quantities. Among the most daunting challenges for our lovely hostesses at the Stage Door was a make-up shortage due to rationed ingredients. It must have been a happy day for servicemen and hostesses alike when a substitute was finally discovered. When we found a press release with this statement in it, we sighed with relief too: “American women-housewives, career girls, and war workers-won’t have to choose between face powder and gun powder!”

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To be sure, being a woman during war time wasn’t all about being pretty. It was also about cooking. And that, too, was made difficult by all the rationing we already mentioned. Luckily, the government had a few crack suggestions for cooking up delicious dishes out of surplus food items. Check out these recipes for spinach. If you’re brave enough to try the Spinach Salad with Mayonnaise Dressing, let us know how it turns out! Molded veggies are always a classy choice.

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We don’t want to give the wrong impression, though. We found some strong female personalities in this collection, and the servicemen’s appreciation for them had nothing to do with their beauty or cooking skills. “Mother” Weber, a member of St. Mark’s Church, corresponded with over 76 Philadelphian servicemen lonely for a voice from their home town. She saved money for their birthday presents (a $1 bill) by skipping her weekly movie. There was Harriet Favorite (her name says it all!), the bold and capable president of the Stage Door Canteen. There were the women who went to work in factories, real-life Rosie the Riveters. And, of course, there were also servicewomen who served our country right alongside the men, and partied with them in USO clubs or in their own Servicewomen’s Club. All of these women did their part with grace and courage, whether their responsibilities required the use of face powder or gun powder.

Wives in the Samuel Hall Chester Papers, or: Who Is Mrs. S. H. Chester?

Friday, February 18th, 2011

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After a whirlwind week of “Archivist Boot Camp,” my processing partner Michael Gubicza and I just finished our first minimal processing project at the Presbyterian Historical Society. We were lucky to have a fascinating collection to start out on: the Samuel Hall Chester papers, 1873-1950. We hope you’ll keep an eye out for our finding aid, which will soon be posted to the PACSCL Finding Aids site. Dr. S. H. Chester, a Presbyterian minister, was the Executive Secretary of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church (United States) from 1893 to 1926—a delicate time for the Committee of Foreign Missions.

While Dr. Chester was on the Committee of Foreign Missions, the knowledge that missionaries were converting polygamous families to the Presbyterian faith was beginning to cause some consternation among Presbyterians in the United States. Some writings on the subject are included in the Samuel Hall Chester papers, although the extremely interesting documents are not very extensive. Dr. Chester, along with others, argued that missionaries should continue to welcome polygamous converts into the Presbyterian Church. In countries where plural wives were common, Dr. Chester pointed out, the Church’s insistence upon monogamy would result in additional wives and their children being abandoned by their husbands. Most likely they would be cast to the streets, and Dr. Chester was sympathetic to the plight of these pitiable women.

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As to Dr. Chester’s own marriage, he appears to have been a devoted husband. On the occasion of his 50th wedding anniversary, he compiled a massive scrapbook stuffed with cards and letters of congratulations from friends, the guest register from the anniversary party, and even dried flowers from the boutineer he wore to the party! But flipping through pages and pages of the scrapbook, Michael and I began notice that one important detail was missing: what was Dr. Chester’s wife’s name? Everywhere she was referred to as “Mrs. S. H. Chester,” or, in correspondence with the children, “Mother.” We began searching through the other materials, and were amazed that her Christian name seemed to be completely absent. No mention in the correspondence; no mention in Dr. Chester’s writings. In scrapbooks we found printed poems written by her, probably published in a newsletter or newspaper—even those were signed only “Mrs. S. H. Chester.” After much searching, we nearly despaired of ever finding out her real name.

Just before putting away the collection, however, we came across a photograph of Presbyterian Church (United States) delegates to the Universal Christian Congress in Panama, 1919. Only a few of those seated in the group portrait were identified, but luckily for us, one of them was Mrs. S. H. Chester. And next to her married name, to our great satisfaction, Michael and I found another name enclosed bashfully in parenthesis—“Mrs. S. H. Chester (Susan Willard).” Finally, we had an answer! Mrs. Chester’s name was Susan.

For permission to use images of items from the Chester papers, please contact the Presbyterian Historical Society.