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Reading Obituaries as Historical Texts

Reading Obituaries as Historical Texts

By Kim Bowman, LVA Summer Intern

On February 19, 1887, the Afro-American Churchman published an obituary for Reverend Samuel V. Berry.  From this entry, we learn how Rev. Berry received his calling, where his talents lay in his job, and how much his work was valued by his community.  This entry also tells us about the frequency with which he relocated for work and his major accomplishments with each move.  Just over a decade later, the Clinch Valley News published an obituary for Mrs. Eliza Young.  In it, the author briefly documented her life as an enslaved African American, as a mother, and as a nurse.

Obituaries are a fixture of many newspapers featured in Virginia Chronicle’s database.  When we take time to look closely at their contents, we not only get a sense of the individuals they describe, but also the time period within which they lived and died.  An attentive reader might ask why we learn so much about Rev. Berry’s work when the only mention of Mrs. Young’s years of service as a nurse is limited to one sentence.  These kinds of observations can help identify the expectations placed on people from different backgrounds living in past societies.  For example, in the 1800s, many communities tended to value women who focused on family and the home.  This may be why Mrs. Young’s career outside the home received little attention compared to Rev. Berry’s work.

A paired-text activity like this one can be a powerful critical thinking activity for students in a classroom or an important research experience for someone unearthing their family history.  So, next time you are reading the obituary section, ask yourself “What’s the focus here and why?”, “What might be left unsaid?”, “What opportunities might one person have … read more »

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Back to School

By Kyle Rogers, LVA Newspaper Project volunteer

As the start of the K-12 school year looms, and college students gear up for their fall semester, the Library of Virginia peers back at how the back-to-school frenzy used to look in America’s historical newspapers.  Make sure to check next week on Chronicling America’s #ChronAmParty twitter page to see how newspapers from around the country announced back to school time.

RTD 1920-09-10 Back-to-School ClothesFirst thing’s first, kids: you have to have the right outfit.  As Burk & Co. said, going back to school isn’t easy after summer vacation, but “It’s easier on the boys if they go back wearing stylish new clothes.”  Buy Burk & Co. for “quality that saves money.”  Oh, and don’t forget to buy some new dresses “That’ll truly please [even] the most critical young school miss of six to fourteen years.”[1]

RTD, 1919-09-28 Energy-Giving Meals

And don’t forget the importance of a nutritious breakfast!  Mrs. M. A. Wilson of the Richmond Times-Dispatch reminded parents, “Chilly mornings and evenings mean that from now on the body will require additional heat and energy foods,” and she provides her own recipes for preparing calorie-packed breakfast cereals.  Kettle not included.[2]

Cohen Co. Back-to-School NeedsStudents needed just as many supplies for the classroom during the 1910s as they do now in the 2010s, but how did their parents get them in the era before Amazon…or any online shopping?  They shopped at the Cohen Company, of course!  Don’t forget your writing ink and gum for art class![3]

 

Times-Dispatch 1904-02-17 Proper EyewearI can testify from personal experience about the importance of being able to see well in the classroom.  Students with poor vision need prescription glasses, so that they can see the board and complete their homework assignments without struggling to read the questions.  Luckily, famous optician Charles Lincoln Smith is here to help.  The Times-Dispatch reported … read more »

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WWI Centennial Anniversary – “Queens of the Spy World”

By Kyle Rogers, LVA Newspaper Project volunteer

1917 War Poster – Beware of Female Spies

In recognition of the centennial anniversary of the Allies’ victory in World War I, the Newspaper Project remembers the “Queens of the Spy World Whose Intrigues Sway the Fate of Nations.”  As this melodramatic article published in 1918 by The Sun (New York, NY) demonstrates, women spies not only were instrumental in the gathering of military secrets but also made for sensational headlines on the homefront.  In “Queens of the Spy World,” The Sun compared the often tragic and short-lived espionage careers of Germany’s female agents during The Great War.

Germany’s extensive Wilhelmstrasse spy service included such femmes fatales as Felice Schmidt, Mlle. Sumey Depsy, Mata Hari, and Mme. Despina Storch.  The article describes how these women spies infiltrated the governments of the Allies by posing as teachers, courtiers, dancers, courtesans, and even the occasional fruit vendor.  Schmidt, for example, had herself exiled from Germany as a “suspicious character” in 1915, so that she could establish herself in London in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to seduce Britain’s Secretary of State for War, Horatio Herbert Kitchener.[1]  In The New York Evening World’s “Stories of Spies” section, Felice Schmidt – The German Spy Sent to Tempt Kitchener, reporter Albert Terhune elaborated on Schmidt’s story.  After realizing that it was impossible to pry military secrets out of Kitchener, Schmidt instead insinuated herself in Marseilles as an apple seller, so that she could study the French artillery.  After being caught by the French police while making a sketch of their guns, she was tried as a spy and put to death.[2]

One of the Allies’ most famous female spies was British nurse Edith Cavell, who was executed by the German military for helping some 200 Allied soldiers escape from German-occupied Belgium.  Her death by firing … read more »

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Virginia’s Lost Papers

By Kyle Rogers, LVA Newspaper Project volunteer

As part of an ongoing effort to give voice to nineteenth-century African Americans through digital projects like Virginia Untold and Virginia Chronicle, the Virginia Newspaper Project has identified nearly 500 advertisements posted by free African Americans during the antebellum era and the Civil War (c. 1800-1865) concerning their freedom papers. The example, below, was published in the Richmond Daily Dispatch on July 12, 1859:

Two "Lost-Free-Papers" notices from the Richmond Daily Dispatch, July 12, 1859

These notices were grouped with other advertisements for lost or stolen goods, and they could even be found on the same page as rewards posted for the capture of runaway slaves.

Freedom papers, or “free papers,” were protective documents that certified a free African American’s non-slave status.  Frederick Douglass, as usual, best explains the legal and personal significance of free papers to their bearers:

It was the custom in the State of Maryland to require of the free colored people to have what were called free papers. This instrument they were required to renew very often, and by charging a fee for this writing, considerable sums from time to time were collected by the State. In these papers the name, age, color, height and form of the free man were described, together with any scars or other marks upon his person which could assist in his identification. This device of slaveholding ingenuity, like other devices of wickedness, in some measure defeated itself—since more than one man could be found to answer the same general description. Hence many slaves could escape by impersonating the owner of one set of papers… The operation was a hazardous one for the lender as well as for the borrower.  Douglass, Frederick. Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, Written by Himself. pp. 245–246.

A free African American’s papers constituted a legal affidavit which identified him read more »

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The Idle Hour: The Eccentric Life of Capt. John Cussons

By Kyle Rogers, LVA Newspaper Project volunteer

Portrait of young Cussons, courtesy of LVA special collections

Portrait of young Cussons, courtesy of LVA special collections

Captain John Cussons, Jr., is one of Glen Allen’s most fascinating historical figures.  A nineteenth-century English immigrant with an entrepreneurial spirit and an insatiable wanderlust, Cussons left Lincolnshire for the United States in 1855, at the age of seventeen.  During his explorations of the Old West, Cussons encountered a Sioux village, where he simply walked into a young Native American woman’s tipi and remained for four years.

He then wandered southeast to Selma, AL, where he became part owner of the Morning Reporter newspaper  before enlisting in the Confederate Army at the outset of the Civil War.  As a scout, Cussons participated in several early Confederate victories and received rapid promotions before, true to character, he casually wandered behind enemy lines on the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg and was captured by Union soldiers.   Whether Cussons escaped from the Johnson’s Island military prison on Lake Eerie or was simply paroled out in a prisoner exchange is unclear, but Steve Cooke of the Richmond Navigator notes, “The catalog of items in the American Civil War Museum in Richmond lists a ‘Saw made by Captain Cussons when at Johnson’s Island to make his escape.’”

Cussons (left) with Gen. Law (center) of his former 4th Alabama Infantry regiment.

Cussons (left) with Gen. Law (center) of his former 4th Alabama Infantry regiment.

https://civilwartalk.com/threads/gen-law-capt-john-cussons-4th-ala-infantry-need-help-identifying-others-in-photo.124548/

Rather than returning to England after the Civil War, Cussons ventured to Glen Allen, where he married the widow of Benjamin Allen, after whose prominent family the town was named.  Using funds from his successful printing company—Cussons, May, & Co.—the entrepreneurial ex-Confederate constructed the now-defunct Forest Lodge resort on Mountain Road, adjacent to the town’s railroad tracks:

Forest Lodge, 1880s

Forest Lodge, c. 1880s

https://donnawatkins.smugmug.com/Travel/Virginia/Forest-Lodge/i-kckpfFn
Mountain Rd., Glen Allen Historical Marker

Mountain Rd., Glen Allen Historical Marker

http://www.markerhistory.com/glen-allen-marker-e-10/

In its day, Forest … read more »

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Virginia Chronicle and Chronicling America

 

 

 

 

 

If you read this blog, you might know that the Virginia Newspaper Project (VNP) contributes digitized newspapers to two websites, Chronicling America and Virginia Chronicle. These sites are both wonderful repositories of historic newspapers from Virginia, but they aren’t the same, and don’t have exactly the same content.

Chronicling America hosts newspapers digitized through the National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP), funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Library of Congress. Newspaper Projects across the country apply for two-year grants that allow  each project to digitize about 100,000 pages per grant cycle. Until 2016, the newspapers digitized through NDNP grants were published between 1836-1922, but that window has been expanded to newspapers published between 1690 and 1963. Currently, Chronicling America has over 13 million pages from newspapers across the country!

The Virginia Newspaper Project has completed four grant cycles, and has been funded for its fifth. As a result, Chronicling America has 489,994 pages of Virginia newspapers.

Virginia Chronicle, which hosts the pages digitized through the NDNP, also contains additional digitization projects undertaken by the VNP. The Virginia Chronicle database currently has 977,408 pages of digitized newspapers–more pages will be added soon, which will put it at or near the one million page mark!

The nearly 500,000 pages on Virginia Chronicle not found on Chronicling America were funded by various sources, including publishers, donors, the Virginia Farm Bureau and the Library of Virginia itself.

Some of the newspapers on Virginia Chronicle do not fall under the scope of the NDNP, like those that are more current and non-traditional newspapers, like those published by high schools or the Civilian Conservation Corps. Virginia Chronicle has 598 issues of The Monocle, John Marshall High School’s newspaper, spanning from 1929-1973. These offer a fun, fascinating … read more »

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Our Own Community Press

Masthead Oct 1981 CROP

In August of 1976, gay and lesbian members of Norfolk’s Unitarian Universalist church formed a branch of the Unitarian Universalist Gay Caucus (UUGC), and quickly decided that they needed a newsletter: Our Own Community Press was born.

First cover positive

 

The first issue of Our Own Community Press asserted that “Not Just Another Gay Group is Born,” followed by an explanation of the guiding philosophy of the Tidewater  UUGC:

We devote ourselves to the improvement of gay life through increased positive visibility. …We are not outwardly visible unless we allow ourselves to be… The gays who are confused, lack self-confidence, or question their unique lifestyle are gays who must be reached. They must be helped to realize whatever decisions they make for themselves cannot be labelled “good” or “bad” by virtue of a simple sexual preference. Gay is good when we first accept it for ourselves, and better when we educate the public with regard to our pride, productivity, and heritage.

 

April 1984 Subscription AD

 

Originally a newsletter, Its first issue was a single, one sided 8.5″ x 11″ sheet. Our Own Community Press changed to newspaper format in January of 1978. The paper was typed, edited, and assembled over a one week period every month by volunteers and staff. It was available for free, though readers could subscribe for a suggested donation. The paper also sold ad space to defray costs, and encouraged readers to “spend your gay money at gay businesses.”

 

 

 

In their coverage, the UUGC stayed true to their promise to provide visibility and hope to gay men and women in the region. In a time where positive gay representation in media was sorely lacking, Our Own Community Press took care to inform readers of new books, movies, or … read more »

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St. Patrick’s Day Miscellanea

By C Johnson, Newspaper Project Intern

times dispatch march 17 1911_2

To celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, we found a selection of the (very) broad ways that newspapers have chosen to acknowledge the feast day over the years.

The Weekly Register from Point Pleasant West Virginia published a poem, “The Shamrock,” in honor of St. Patrick’s Day on March 22, 1899. The next year, the  Virginian-Pilot published “Oran Gailig (Exile’s Song).” Both poems speak about the love an Irishman has for his country, and the longing felt when far from home.

Weekly Register 22 march 1899

Virginian Pilot March 18 1900

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The debate about proposed “Home Rule” versus a continued union with Britain shows up in Virginia papers even on St. Patrick’s Day, as shown in these political cartoons.

Richmond Times-Dispatch, March 17, 1913.

Norfolk Post, March 17, 1923.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Norfolk Post, March 17, 1922.

Norfolk Post, March 17, 1922.

 

The men in the Civilian Conservation Corp joined in the St. Patrick’s Day fun with themed covers for their camp newspapers, like this 1936 cover from Company 2344 in Big Stone Gap, Va.

Wise Owl March 23 1936

It wouldn’t have been the 1960s without a gelatin recipe for every occasion, and the Highland Recorder did not disappoint, offering a recipe for “peppermint flavored, green tinted gelatin dotted with miniature marshmallows.” If that sounds odd, give it a chance- they’re “sweet as the music of the harp,” and fully leprechaun endorsed.

Highland Recorder, March 17, 1966.

\ Highland Recorder, March 17, 1966.

If gelatin isn’t your thing, maybe take inspiration from the small boys who decided to take dessert acquisition into their own hands, and stole all the ice cream from this 1922 Norfolk party. We recommend asking first, though.

Norfolk Post, March 18, 1922.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day from the VNP!

Rappahannock Record 13 march 1986

 … read more »

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The 1907 Monuments in the Press

By Claire Johnson, Newspaper Project Intern

In the late spring of 1907, forty-two years after the end of the Civil War, Richmond was flooded with veterans and tourists for a 5 day celebration of the city’s two newest Confederate monuments and the seventeenth reunion of the United Confederate Veterans.

First, on May 30, the equestrian statue of J.E.B. Stuart was unveiled by his eight year old grand-daughter, Virginia Stuart Waller. The following Monday, June 3, on what would have been his 99th birthday, the monument to the President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, was dedicated.

IMG_2458The white press gave huge amounts of space in their papers to the monuments and the Confederate reunion. The Times Dispatch went to great lengths to impress upon its readers the majesty and importance of the days events:

“In the presence of a great multitude of people, and beneath cloudless skies, with the thunder of cannon, the waving of flags, the singing of children and the playing of bands, the equestrian statue of Major-General J. E. B. Stuart was unveiled yesterday by a granddaughter of the world-famous cavalry leader. . .The exercises of the monument were preceded by one of the most notable parades ever seen in Richmond, in which nearly 10,000 men participated, the column taking over an hour to pass a given point.”

The “Grand Parade” was a long one. It began downtown at Capitol Square and moved to the site of the J.E.B. Stuart monument (nearly two miles away), at Monument Avenue and Lombardy Street, then went nearly two more miles to Hollywood Cemetery, adjacent to Richmond’s Oregon Hill neighborhood, to decorate the graves of Confederate soldiers buried there.

IMG_1928 IMG_1930

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1935 IMG_1940 IMG_1941 IMG_1942 IMG_1936 IMG_1939Crowds flooded Richmond for the event, though hard numbers differ. The Alexandria Gazette asserted that 30,000 members … read more »

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“A Carol of Clothes:” Winter Fashion and Hints for the Holiday Hostess

By Claire Johnson, Newspaper Project Intern

Merry Christmas from the VNP!

RTD 12-14-1919 SANTA

The holiday season has long meant family gatherings and a a full social schedule. Women of early twentieth century Richmond who wanted to make sure their parties, menus, and wardrobes were current and stylish had to look no further than the women’s pages of their  newspaper. There they could find decorating tips, menu suggestions, fashion advice, and etiquette help to make sure their holiday parties went off without a hitch.

Times Dispatch 12-3-1911 HEADER

Richmond Dispatch 12-23-1894 HEADER

In celebration of this holiday season, join us on a visual tour of the fads of Christmas past.

1894:

Richmond Dispatch 12-23-1894 CAROL

The times. December 09, 1894 WAISTThe times December 09, 1894 CLOAK N COPY 2

 

1896:

Norfolk Virginian 12-20-1896

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1901-1902:

From The Times, December 1901

The times. (Richmond, Va.) 1890-1903, December 08, 1901 WALK HAND The times Dec 08, 1901 DINNER

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From The Dispatch, December 1901

 

From The Dispatch, January 1902

 Dispatch 1-12-1902 Text

 

1907:

RTD 12-15-1907

1911:

Times Dispatch 12-3-1911

1915:

RTD 12-19-1915

1917:

RTD 12-12-1917 YULETIDE COAT

1919:

RTD 12-14-1919

                        Richmond Times-Dispatch December 14, 1919

1922:

RTD 10-22-1922read more »

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