October is Archives Month, and to celebrate, we’ve had some of our staff members in Special Collections pick an item from their collections that they feel is underused, underappreciated, or just plain unusual. In this post, Part One of a series of staff picks, we will look at two very different early 20th-century scrapbooks from collections in the Washington University Archives and the Douglas B. Dowd Modern Graphic History Library.
Washington University Archives
The Washington University Archives collection houses over 300 unique collections that chronicle the history of Washington University from 1853 to today. The collections contain a wealth of primary sources and other historical materials that include manuscripts, photographic prints and negatives, books, film, sound recordings, microfilm, architectural plans, and artifacts. The current University Archivist who cares for this fascinating collection is Sonya Rooney.
“A Physical Form of Facebook”
When asked to select one of the more underappreciated pieces in her collection, Sonya chose an over 100-year-old alumni scrapbook from the early years of Washington University’s history. Sonya writes: “In University Archives, we have a variety of material given to us by alums over the years. Much of this material is part of the Washington University Memorabilia Collection. I really enjoy the scrapbooks compiled by students. One such scrapbook is from Miss Louis Meier who graduated from WashU in 1910. The scrapbook gives a snapshot of her life during her college years. To me it is kind of a physical form of Facebook or Instagram. You can see more material from Miss Meier on the table top display in Risa’s Landing on Level 2 of Olin Library.”
You can also see examples of another student scrapbook in a previous blog post about Inez Schageman, who was a student at Washington University during WWI.
The Modern Graphic History Library
The Douglas B. Dowd Modern Graphic History Library at Washington University is comprised of original art and printed material from many fields of popular American pictorial graphic culture. Focusing on 20th century illustration, the collection includes artists’ working materials and sketches as well as original artwork from books, magazines, and advertising. Skye Lacerte is the current curator of the collection.
The Anderson Scrapbooks:
“A Pre-Internet Pinterest Board”
One of Skye’s favorite underused items in the collection is a scrapbook from the Bishop Family Collection. This collection includes three scrapbooks compiled by the Anderson sisters, Jessie, Dorothy, Martha (Rivers), and Mary (Van Renssalear). To create these scrapbooks, the sisters re-purposed large 16.5” x 22” fabric sample books, from which they had ordered clothing produced in both St. Louis and Chicago. The women filled these books with clippings of illustrations from the 1920s era. The collection was donated to the Modern Graphic History Library by the granddaughter of one of the sisters, Cathleen Bishop, and her husband Randy in June 2013.
Skye writes: “The scrapbooks are interesting to me because they’re sort of a pre-internet Pinterest board. The four sisters scoured the most popular media of the time – magazines – and clipped their favorite images. Themes of children, food, animals, beautiful women, and exotic lands are collaged throughout the pages. They took the greatest care to artistically cut out the shapes and organize them in an aesthetically pleasing way, and almost no trace of the page beneath can be found. I like to imagine the four girls spending hours together creating these vibrant keepsakes, talking and laughing all the while. It feels like their inner selves come alive on the pages. It is a non-textual, non-photographic document of the sisters, their personalities, tastes, and the time in which they lived.”
Look for more staff picks celebrating our archives in next week’s post, “Archives Month Staff Picks, Part 2: Famous Signatures”!