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Film & Media Archive Receives Grant to Preserve a Unique Piece of WashU and St. Louis History on Film

Washington University Libraries’ Film & Media Archive, in collaboration with University Archives, has received a National Film Preservation Foundation (NFPF) Basic Preservation Grant to preserve and digitize the short silent film The Maid of McMillan (1916). The NFPF awarded a grant of $7,630 to support the project.

WashU students J. D. Wooster Lambert, Dan Bartlett, and Donald Stewart filmed The Maid of McMillan in the spring of 1916 on the WashU campus and in the nearby neighborhoods of St. Louis and Clayton. The students were part of the Thyrsus student drama club on campus. They created the film to be the centerpiece of that year’s Univee Surkuss, the precursor to the ThurtenE Carnival. A review in the student newspaper said it “was the most popular and profitable” attraction at that year’s Surkuss. The reviewer quoted a co-ed as exclaiming, “Oh, it’s perfectly darling,” when asked for her thoughts on the film.

Perhaps the earliest extant student film, with views of campus and city dating from over a century ago, The Maid of McMillan is ripe for preservation. It’s a charming and entertaining short piece with special appeal, as it was written, acted, and directed by amateur student filmmakers. The Maid of McMillan centers on the budding romance of campus jock Jack Tower (played by sophomore Gordon Morrison) and the titular “maid” of the McMillan women’s dormitory, Myrtle Maroon (acted by first-year student Marion McDaris). Chancellor Frederic Aldin Hall and track coach Bill Edmunds made cameo appearances. The film has comedy, true love, heroic sacrifice, a big intercollegiate track race, villainous highwaymen, cheering crowds, and a happy ending.

The University Libraries will use the grant to return the film to its original 35mm film format. At some point in the last half of the previous century, the film was copied onto the smaller 16mm technology, likely because the original nitrate copy was deteriorating. The funding from the NFPF will allow for the creation of a preservation copy of this unique film on 16mm, a digital file, and a new 35mm print, the closest approximation that we can get to its original form.

The NFPF is a nonprofit organization that was established by Congress to help preserve the nation’s film heritage. On September 30, it announced grants to preserve 47 films at 34 institutions around the country.

For more information about the film and the project, contact Andy Uhrich, curator of the Film & Media Archive. For information about University Archives, contact University Archivist Sonya Rooney.

Once the preservation, blow-up, and digitization of The Maid of McMillan are complete, the Film & Media Archive will make the silent short widely available for educational purposes. It will be streamed through Washington University’s unrestricted online repository and made accessible on Vimeo. Access copies will be created for a loan to outside institutions wishing to use the film for educational purposes. There are plans to premiere the preserved film at Washington University with a newly composed live score once it is safe to gather on campus.

About University Archives

University Archives chronicles the history of Washington University in St. Louis from 1853 to today, with over 300 unique collections, including campus publications, reports, photographic prints and negatives, books, film, sound recordings, oral histories, architectural plans, and artifacts. The collections include university records, university and student publications, faculty papers, student group material, alumni materials, and more. We welcome members of the Washington University community and outside researchers. Faculty and students use University Archives for individual research as well as for class sessions. Other researchers include visiting scholars, writers, genealogical researchers, architects, and staff from Washington University offices, such as Alumni & Development and Public Affairs, who use materials to prepare publications, conduct outreach, and plan reunions.

About the Film & Media Archive

A unit of the Washington University Libraries’ Julian Edison Department of Special Collections, the Film & Media Archive collects, preserves, and makes accessible documentary film and other media that chronicle the political and social injustices of the 20th century and beyond. The Archive also preserves the documentary filmmaking process in its entirety through the acquisition of production elements and supporting materials, such as original filmed interviews and outtakes, rare stock footage, photographs, producers’ research and notes, treatments, scripts, storyboards, and correspondence. The Archive was established in 2001 after the University Libraries acquired the collections of Blackside Inc., the largest African-American-owned film production company of its day.