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Libraries Complete Digitization of a 106-Year-Old Film

The Washington University Libraries’ Julian Edison Department of Special Collection has successfully completed the preservation and digitization of the silent short film The Maid of McMillan (1916), which is one of the earliest known student productions still extant. This preservation project was completed with the financial support of a grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation (NFPF). Colorlab conducted the digitization and photochemical processing of the film.

The Maid of McMillan was written and produced by two Washington University students, Dan Bartlett and Donald Stewart, and directed by budding filmmaker J.D. Wooster Lambert. It premiered in May 1916 at that year’s Univee Surkuss, an annual student celebration now known as the Thurtene Carnival.

The film centers on the budding romance of campus jock, Jack Tower, and the titular maid of the McMillan women’s dormitory, Myrtle Maroon, as they face young adulthood’s biggest moments: the big track meet, graduation, marriage, and an encounter with rogue highwaymen! The film includes rare footage of the Washington University campus, the road, then a dirt one, from St. Louis to Clayton, and a view of Forest Park from over a century ago.

The main couple featured in the silent film, The Maid of McMillan (1916).
The main couple featured in the silent film, The Maid of McMillan (1916).

A 16mm reduction print was discovered by Washington University student Mitch Walker in 1982 while working with then University Archivist Beryl H. Manne on a history of Thurtene, a student honorary, and the Thurtene Carnival. Decades earlier, the film was reduced from its original 35mm format to the smaller 16mm gauge.

The NFPF was established by Congress to help preserve the nation’s film heritage. In 2020, it awarded the Film & Media Archive a Basic Preservation grant of $7,630 to support the conservation and digitization of The Maid of McMillan. The grant funded a 4K scan of the best quality original 16mm print of the movie. A new 16mm negative and 16mm print of the film was created, as well as a 35mm negative and 35mm print, to approximate The Maid of McMillan’s original format.

To learn more about the film you can visit the Libraries’ webpage on it, or read an article on its production and rediscovery in the Washington Magazine. A streaming version of The Maid of McMillan can be viewed here.

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