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Dispatches from the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Duke University
Updated: 2 hours 1 min ago

New Collection: Meet the Wilsons

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 13:54

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.

The original state of the Col. David S. Wilson Family Papers, before they were cleaned and sorted; an up-close view of a rusty pin (used before the invention of the safety pin).

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.

Tiny courtship letters for Gertie from her fellas; a lock of Gertie’s hair returned after a break-up; a crumpled up love-note; Gertie’s doodles of a former suitor’s name.

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.

David Wilson’s score book from his baseball games.

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.

The post New Collection: Meet the Wilsons appeared first on The Devil's Tale.

Duke College?

Wed, 08/13/2014 - 13:30

Benjamin Newton Duke

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.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Post contributed by Valerie Gillispie, University Archivist, with assistance from Mary Mellon, Technical Services Intern.

The post Duke College? appeared first on The Devil's Tale.

What’s on our accession shelf?

Wed, 07/30/2014 - 12:47

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 Evans Family Birdhouse, with a photograph of the original house for comparison.

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.