Rubenstein Technical Services
It is a rare treat for me to have a chance to process some 19th century family letters. The family papers of Col. David S. Wilson, from Dubuque, Iowa, arrived in March 2014, thanks to a generous donation from a Duke alum. The collection was discovered in an attic, and it was honestly one of the dirtiest collections of letters I have ever processed. It reached the Rubenstein Library in disarray, full of rusty pins and covered in black dust. Considering its age and environment, the letters themselves were in terrific condition — just filthy. A lot of my time was spent cleaning the paper with special sponges that attract grime.
Once I got through the dirt, I was pleasantly surprised by the contents of the letters. Col. David S. Wilson is moderately famous in Iowa history for his service in the state legislature in the 1850s and early 1860s, and for raising the 6th Iowa Cavalry in 1862. His regiment fought the Sioux in the Dakota Territory. Wilson later worked as a lawyer in both San Francisco and Washington, D.C., and eventually was appointed district judge back in Dubuque.
The collection does not focus on Wilson’s military career, but instead consists largely of letters between David and his family, particularly his wife, Henrietta, and their four children. The letters cover personal topics such as in-laws, health, and finances, and reveal the hardships the family faced as David was frequently separated from his loved ones. They seemed to genuinely miss each other, and it was nice to see such warmth conveyed in their letters.
Also notable in the collection were the courtship letters received by the couple’s daughter Gertrude (also known as “Gertie”) in the mid-1870s. Gertie had at least six different suitors in 1872 and 1873, and their letters to her dominate the correspondence from that period. Emotions turned raw as she rejected a few declarations of love. Gertie finally married George Brock, from Chicago, in March 1874.
The collection includes more than just correspondence; there are also some legal documents, land grants, and a diary from David S. Wilson’s 1860 term in the General Assembly. One of the land grants includes a signature from President Franklin Pierce. The children’s activities, particularly their schooling, are documented through report cards and flyers. I also came across this handmade score book, which was largely empty, but I was excited to see what sport it was for: baseball. Along with all his other activities, it turns out that David Wilson was also a pitcher.
The Col. David S. Wilson Family Papers are now fully processed and available for researchers. You can explore it for yourself using the collection guide.
Post contributed by Meghan Lyon, Technical Services Archivist.
Our colleague Mary Mellon is currently reprocessing the Benjamin Duke Papers to provide more refined description. Among the many fascinating pieces of correspondence within the collection, she has found is a letter, dated November 16, 1896, from Trustee A. P. Tyer to Ben Duke. In it, he makes a not-so-modest proposal: that Duke give a $500,000 endowment and that the school be renamed Duke College.
“The only hope that Trinity College has of ever being endowed is found in the Dukes. I therefore ask that you give the College five hundred thousand dollars as endowment and allow the Trustees to name it “Duke College.”
In 1896, the school was just four years old in its new Durham location. There was great concern about longterm viability, despite the generosity of the Duke family up to that point, including providing the funds to bring the school to Durham. $500,000 in 1896 would have been around $13 million in today’s money.
To sweeten the deal, Mr. Tyer added,
“This will forever take away the feeling of uncertainty, make the college an assured success forever, put the Dukes in front of all southern benefactors, largely increase the number of students, bring even a better class of patronage to the college, make it possible for others to give to it, be the greatest monument any southern man will ever build, be a perpetual benefit and blessing to the human family, and constantly glorify God your Father.”
Ben Duke remained a steady and heavily involved benefactor, but never made a gift at the level requested in the letter. The month after this letter was received, Washington Duke, Ben’s father, gave a $100,000 endowment, contingent on women being admitted on equal footing with men. In 1924, Ben’s brother, James B. Duke, established the Duke Endowment, which helped fund a massive expansion of the college, and led to the renaming of the school—not to Duke College, but to Duke University.
Post contributed by Valerie Gillispie, University Archivist, with assistance from Mary Mellon, Technical Services Intern.
Every visitor to Technical Services likes to peek down the accessioning shelves and see what new collection materials have recently arrived. One of the most unusual accessions we’ve ever received is a birdhouse, which arrived this spring as part of an addition to the Evans Family Papers. It is a nearly identical miniature of the family’s Durham house, which is still standing (and occupied) on Dacian Avenue. According to the family, the original house was modeled on the style of Le Corbusier. It was built in 1938, making it one of the first examples of “modern architecture” in Durham.
The family moved away from Durham in 1950, and kept the birdhouse as a fond token of their former home. We were relieved to learn upon intake that no birds ever took up residence. (That would have made for some interesting conservation concerns!)
Post contributed by Meghan Lyon, Technical Services Archivist.
Anyone who’s ever been to a doctor’s office or clinic has encountered a vast array of items: calendars, pens, coffee mugs, Post-Its, paperweights, tent signs and other items promoting some brand of medicine. This kind of material is routinely distributed along with free samples by traveling route salespersons and representatives for pharmaceutical companies, medical equipment manufacturers and laboratory service providers; doctors and health professionals also encounter a regular stream of this kind of stuff at conferences, meetings and trade shows—as do professionals in a number of other occupations. Swag constitutes an important form of direct marketing but its ubiquity means that it is frequently taken for granted, willfully ignored and drifts into a kind of background invisibility.
One of the most eclectic collections to come to the John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History was donated by the family of Albert Cornell, MD, former head of the gastrointestinal clinic at Mt. Sinai Hospital. Nearly 90 years of medical promotional materials are included beginning in the early 20th century, everything from note pads to mugs, beakers, pamphlets, even three-dimensional models of the colon, and personal items including keychains, golf balls, nail files, pins, and a tie clasp featuring the gastrointestinal tract in miniature.
Men’s and women’s health are covered, such as peptic ulcers, STDs, reproductive wellness and diabetes. Companies like Kellogg’s and Knox produced cookbooks for weight loss, convalescent care and diabetic patients. Pharmaceutical companies promoted new ulcer medications and delivery systems. Other companies advertised clinical equipment, food supplements, even orthopedic shoes for children. Professional organizations like the AMA and the American Dental Association published pamphlets on their organizations, or current health campaigns. In all the Collection of Albert Cornell MD highlights an important niche in both pharmaceutical and health care advertising as well as in health-related direct marketing.
Post contributed by Richard Collier, Technical Services Archivist for the John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History
Today the Abraham Joshua Heschel papers are officially opened and available for use. Having just finished processing the collection with a crack team of interns (thank you Adrienne Krone, Sam Kessler, Annegret Oehme, and Emanuel Fiano!), I can attest to the richness of the collection and am thrilled that patrons will be able to explore Heschel’s personal, academic, and public life. In total, 16 languages are represented. Materials related to all of Heschel’s published books, along with 145 published articles are also in the collection. Some of the more unique and unexpected items in the collection include an audio reel of the broadcasted radio show “Way to Go” with host Ormond Drake in which Heschel speaks about his personal life, an original typed document of Heschel’s deportation from Frankfurt in 1938, and a telegram from President John F. Kennedy requesting Heschel’s presence at the White House.
Look for an opening event sometime in October that will feature Susannah Heschel!
Post contributed by Mary Samouelian, Project Archivist
This marks my last contribution to the Devil’s Tale blog, as I’m moving on to another position at a different institution. I’ve enjoyed my time working for the Rubenstein Library, helping to arrange and describe the rich material housed within the Duke University Archives. Over the past several years, I’ve become quite fond of several of Duke’s early 20th century administrators, such as Robert Flowers. I’ve wanted to recall and survey his personal papers for quite a while now and decided to do so as my last day drew near.
To my surprise, the bulk of the collection actually pertains to his son-in-law and daughter, Dr. Lenox and Virginia Baker. According to our records, Dr. Baker gifted the University Archives with the bulk of this collection, including the numerous letters he wrote to Virginia, letters she received while in school at Wilson College in Pennsylvania, letters to/from Robert Flowers and his wife, Lily, as well as photographs and diplomas.
As I poured through the letters, I kept coming across small, handwritten love notes. It soon became apparent that the notes were usually written by Dr. Baker to Virginia, with others written by her to him. There’s no doubt that they were very much in love. He was her “Doc,” and she was his “Doe.” The death of Virginia hit Dr. Baker hard, as evidenced by the note he wrote on the back of her Durham High School diploma. It’s not often I’m brought to tears by a collection, but this one did just that.
So, as I say good-bye to Duke, please allow me to share with you but a small example of the love shared between Doc and Doe.
Post contributed by Kimberly Sims, outgoing Technical Services Archivist for University Archives